With the assistance of a federal mediator, there was movement toward ending the lengthy NHL lockout Saturday as key negotiators for the NHL and the NHL Players Association met face-to-face for the first time in three days.
Progress was made but work remained to be done, according to cautiously optimistic players who requested anonymity after being briefed Saturday afternoon. They said the parties inched closer on a proposed 10-year deal and in areas that had been sticking points, such as the salary cap for the 2013-14 season, contract term limits and pensions.
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The sides met with mediator Scot Beckenbaugh in a midtown Manhattan hotel starting at 1:15 p.m. and continued past 9 p.m. as the pace of the talks finally quickened. The joint session came after Beckenbaugh met with the PA for about an hour Saturday morning and then shifted to the NHL offices on Sixth Avenue at about 11:45. He returned to speak with the PA about an hour after that.
It was the third consecutive day that Beckenbaugh assisted in the process by shuttling between the sides, which have been warring for 111 days and face a drop-dead date of Jan. 19 for a 48-game season to begin.
Commissioner Gary Bettman set that deadline last month, and for that to happen, it would be necessary for a compromise on a new collective-bargaining agreement to be reached by Thursday so training camps could open. In 1995, the league began a 48-game season on Jan. 20 after a lockout, and the Devils won the Stanley Cup in June.
Since the lockout began on Sept. 15, 625 games have been canceled through Jan. 14, including the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game.
The league, which was represented Saturday by Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and counsel Bob Batterman, was in the room with PA executive director Donald Fehr, outside counsel Steve Fehr and at least eight players for the first time since a bargaining session that started Wednesday night and concluded Thursday morning. But later that day, after a week of exchanging four proposals and closing the gap on some issues, disputes derailed any progress until Saturday.
Just before a self-imposed midnight deadline on Wednesday, the PA chose not to declare a "disclaimer of interest" that would have dissolved the union and opened the door for antitrust suits by individual players. However, a second vote by the more than 700 players that concluded at 6 p.m. Saturday night put the option back on the table.
On Monday, the two sides are scheduled to appear before U.S. District Court judge Paul Englemayer for a conference on the mid-December lawsuit filed by the NHL that asks to have the lockout declared legal. On Friday, the union asked the court to dismiss it.