NHL, union talking, differ on imminence of deal

| Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, 2:14 p.m.

The NHL labor script flipped Saturday in New York.

Bargaining resumed between the NHL and Players' Association, though with mixed signals as to whether the sides were closer to ending a nearly four-month lockout.

Sources said top NHL officials believed an agreement was within reach. Union brass did not share that confidence, the sources said.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said only that the sides were making “slow progress.”

Prior to Monday, when negotiations resumed after three weeks of limited activity, top league officials disputed union leadership's insistence that a new deal was close.

The issue of players' pensions was resolved Saturday, sources said. The union believed it had reached an agreement with the NHL on pensions after two days of meetings in early December.

The sources said the sides remain apart on bigger issues such as variance on players' salary from year to year, the salary-cap total for the 2013 and 2013-14 seasons and veteran contract term limits.

A deal was close Wednesday, the sources said, but talks broke and did not resume until Saturday.

Federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh spent 12 hours meeting separately with the league and union Friday, and those sessions picked up early Saturday before the sides agreed to another bargaining session.

A small group of players attended the union's mediated sessions. More players were expected to arrive as early as Saturday night for the resumption of bargaining.

Penguins union rep Craig Adams said he was flying to New York late Saturday afternoon. He spent Monday and Tuesday there for group negotiations but returned to Pittsburgh and practiced with teammates at Southpointe later in the week.

“Not sure about the vibe right now because I haven't been there,” he said in a text message.

The NHL and union were prepared to bargain late into the night Saturday, the sources said.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has set a Friday deadline to save the season. If a new pact is not in place by then, training camps will not open Saturday and a 48-game season will not begin Jan. 19.

Owners enacted a lockout Sept. 15, when the last labor deal expired.

The union had until 6 p.m. Saturday to authorize its executive board to file a disclaimer of interest that would disband the union and end collective bargaining. More than 700 players began voting Thursday night.

Players were expected to overwhelmingly grant the union executive board approval to file the disclaimer, the sources said.

The most recent NBA lockout ended within days of the basketball players' union disbanding in November 2011.

NHL players previously authorized their union's executive board to file the disclaimer, but the NHLPA allowed a deadline of midnight Wednesday to pass.

Note: Ten Penguins and former teammate Jordan Staal will participate in a charity event in Johnstown on Wednesday.

Wingers Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke will captain two teams. Deryk Engelland, Pascal Dupuis, Staal and Joe Vitale will play for Team Kunitz, while Ben Lovejoy, Brooks Orpik, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Kennedy and Craig Adams will dress for Team Cooke.

The game, which sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale Friday, is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at War Memorial Arena.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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