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Talks Conclude With NHL Counteroffer

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NEW YORK — The proposals are flying back and forth between the NHL and the players’ association. Whether significant progress is being made in the process still isn’t all that clear.

The league made a counteroffer on Tuesday night in response to one it received from the players on Monday and now the NHL is waiting for another answer.

A full day of smaller group meetings wrapped up with a full bargaining session that lasted about 30 minutes Tuesday night. The union took the league’s latest offer back to its headquarters to begin reviewing it.

“They did make a comprehensive response to what we gave them yesterday,” executive director Donald Fehr said. “We asked a couple of questions, and now what we have to do is go through the document, try to make some sense out of it, compare it and see what the appropriate thing is to do next.”

Fehr said he will get back in touch with the NHL on Wednesday morning, and added he anticipates the sides will get back together during the day.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declined to provide details of the league’s latest offer, but said it addressed specific areas the union requested.

“There were certain things that the players’ association asked for that we agreed to, there were some things that we moved in their direction, and there were other things that we said no,” he said. “That’s part of the process.”

But it’s a process that has limited time to be completed. Bettman said Monday the NHL has told the union a deal needs to be in place by Jan. 11 so a 48-game season can begin eight days later.

It is unclear how many issues still need to be resolved and how far apart the sides are in key areas.

Both sides agreed that it is a positive sign they are getting into a rhythm of talking and meeting and exchanging ideas on a regular basis.

The only way to bridge the gaps to a deal that would save the season is to keep working at it together.

Small groups from each side met and conferred by conference calls all afternoon about provisions of a potential collective bargaining agreement. A full meeting of the negotiating teams didn’t begin until 9 p.m. and wrapped up relatively quickly after the NHL presented its counterproposal.

The afternoon sessions were more for informational purposes.

There is a little less than two weeks left to reach an agreement and hold one week of training camp before starting the season. All games through Jan. 14 have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule.

The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout. A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January.

The NHL was supposed to be celebrating its annual outdoor Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday — the 108th day of the lockout — at Michigan Stadium. But that game was canceled long ago along with the All-Star game.

When the sides met Monday, for the first time since Dec. 13, the union brought a condensed counterproposal in response to the NHL’s 288-page contract offer. There were some discussions between the negotiators and some time spent apart in internal meetings.

It is still possible this dispute eventually could be settled in the courts if the sides can’t reach a deal on their own.

The NHL filed a class-action suit this month in U.S. District Court in New York in an effort to show its lockout is legal. In a separate move, the league filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, contending bad-faith bargaining by the union.

Those moves were made because the players’ association took steps toward potentially declaring a “disclaimer of interest,” which would dissolve the union and make it a trade association. That would allow players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to give their board the power to file the disclaimer by Wednesday. If that deadline passes, another authorization vote could be held to approve a later filing.

If progress in negotiations is made Wednesday, it seems likely that the union will let its self-imposed deadline pass with a disclaimer declaration.

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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Material may not be redistributed.

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