League, players continue to talk as deadline looms

Thu Jan 3, 2013 2:35am EST
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(Reuters) - The National Hockey League and locked out players appeared closer to a new labor deal that would salvage a partial season after Wednesday's midnight deadline passed without the union filing a disclaimer of interest and dissolving.

With the lockout reaching its 110th day, negotiations began under an NHL Players Association (NHLPA) threat to decertify, freeing individual players to file anti-trust lawsuits against the league.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters that the union never played the disclaimer card during any negotiations and that both parties and a U.S. mediator would be back at the bargaining table at 10 am ET (1500 GMT) on Thursday.

"The word disclaimer has yet to be uttered to us by the players association," Bettman told reporters as he left meetings at the league's Manhattan offices. "When you disclaim interest as a union you notify the other side.

"We have not been notified. It has never been discussed so there is no disclaimer."

While one deadline passed, another is looming large on the horizon, Bettman having set a January 19 limit for the puck to drop on a shortened 48-game schedule.

With the clock ticking, both Bettman and NHLPA chief Donald Fehr could agree on one thing - that much work needs to be done if there is to be a season.

"If you have a river to cross you have to build a bridge or do something else if you are going to cross the river," said Fehr, deflecting any questions about the disclaimer of interest. "We've moved closer on some issues but work remains to be done."

The two sides have spent three days in New York exchanging proposals and counter proposals and appeared to inching slowly towards a deal.   Continued...

A worker lowers the U.S. flag outside of NHL headquarters in New York, January 2, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson