NHL labor talks on the upswing?

New York - A rollercoaster week in the NHL owners' lockout was back on the upswing Saturday with the resumption of face-to-face negotiations.

After meeting separately in the morning with both sides, federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh brought them together for a small-group meeting at the Manhattan hotel the union is using as its base of operations. That meeting began at approximately 12:45 p.m. and was still ongoing.

That fueled optimism that a deal might be done as soon as Sunday, but also the admonition that there was still a lot of work to do and things could easily unravel with a wrong step.

One player source said he was cautiously optimistic and waiting to hear good news, but reminded that he had been in that same position several times before during this 113-day lockout. Another warned that the wave of optimism that built Saturday afternoon was overblown.

Although termed a "small-group" meeting, it concerned all the big, unresolved issues, including player pensions, contract lengths, year-to-year salary variance and the 2013-14 salary cap/salary floor. The league was represented by commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and attorneys. The union contingent included executive director Donald Fehr, special counsel Steve Fehr and players.

After talks ground to a halt Thursday morning, Beckenbaugh worked through two days of meeting separately with the parties to help identify the areas in which they were willing to move. With both sides knowing there was room to negotiate, what had been a negative mood turned positive again.

It was enough that the union held off again Saturday from filing a disclaimer of interest-which would transform the union in the trade association and free the players to file antitrust suits challenging the lockout's legality. A vote to authorize the executive board to file the disclaimer was completed at 6 p.m. Saturday. A previous authorization expired at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

There were reports of progress on pensions and the NHL being willing to move up some from its request for a $60 million cap in 2013-14 (the players offered a $65 million cap), but the lower limit that season still remained an issue with the league wanting a $16 million gap between the upper and lower limit.

A source said that the players had agreed to the league's wishes for the next collective bargaining agreement to be 10 seasons with a mutual out option after eight seasons. (The players had previously wanted the out option after seven seasons).

Still, all of these issues were said to be intertwined, so it's possible none of them will officially be settled until they all are.

Jan. 19 remains the deadline for starting a 48-game season with a deal needing to be finalized by Friday to allow for a one-week training camp. Otherwise, the remainder of the 2012-13 season will be canceled.

If a deal were completed in the next couple of days, a 50-game (or more) schedule is still possible.


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