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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Inching closer to a season

Hope for deal flares again after NHL, players endure marathon meeting

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NEW YORK -- A deal to save the NHL season hadn't even been signed before hockey fans started talking about Scot L. Beckenbaugh as an early candidate for the Hart Trophy.

The U.S. federal mediator got the NHL and NHL Players' Association back to the bargaining table on Saturday afternoon and they remained there more than six hours later. It was no small feat given some of the bad feelings that emerged earlier in the week, but Beckenbaugh managed to cool things off during a series of independent meetings with the two sides on Friday.

The resumption of negotiations came with a flood of optimism -- particularly with word surfacing that the parties both had flexibility to move -- but there was nothing to suggest an agreement was finally at hand.

"Lots of meetings, some progress," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email on Saturday night.

"Parties are both working hard to get things resolved."

Meantime, the players are believed to have restored their executive board's authority to declare a "disclaimer of interest."

The first such vote passed overwhelming last month and the same result was expected again, although the NHLPA elected not to disclose the results.

The "disclaimer of interest" gives the 30-member committee the ability to dissolve the union, which would open the door for antitrust lawsuits and bring even more uncertainty to the bargaining process.

It's only an option the NHLPA would seriously consider if talks hit another snag.

The sides have moved closer to one another with a series of proposals since Dec. 27, but still need to find agreement on a number of issues, including the salary cap for next season, the length of player contracts, salary variance, the length of the CBA and pension plan.

While reports started to leak out on Saturday night that tentative deals had been reached in some of those areas, a source close to the talks cautioned that nothing would be set in stone until the entire document was agreed to.

Beckenbaugh has been present for talks all week and witnessed first-hand as the process was briefly halted after the NHLPA let the first "disclaimer of interest" deadline pass just before midnight on Wednesday night.

The deputy director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, who was also part of talks during the NHL's 2004-05 lockout, then became familiar with the three-block walk between the league office and NHLPA's hotel during almost 13 hours of meetings on Friday.

The sides are seeking to reach an agreement that would allow training camps to open by Jan. 12 and salvage a shortened 48-game season.

The lockout hit its 112th day on Saturday, making it the second longest labour dispute in NHL history.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2013 B3

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