NEW YORK — In a move arranged by a federal mediator, Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr met Saturday for the first face-to-face talks between the NHL and the players union in three days.
The bargaining session began just hours before the players were to finish voting on a measure authorizing Fehr to dissolve the union if negotiations stalled. The session lasted into the night as reports seeped out of progress being made on key issues and tempered optimism a deal could be reached in the next two or three days.
Scot Beckenbaugh, deputy director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, spent 12 hours Friday shuttling between the NHL office in midtown Manhattan and the union's hotel two blocks away. At no point were union or league officials in the same room.
Beckenbaugh met each side separately Saturday morning, then believing sufficient progress had been made, called a face-to-face meeting at 1:15 p.m. at the union's hotel. Among the players present was the Lightning's Marty St. Louis, the union said.
Lightning wing B.J. Crombeen is a member of the union's negotiating committee. He is not at the sessions but is being briefed on them.
"We always felt if we had two sides in the room and were able to negotiate and talk, it was the best thing for the process," he told the Tampa Bay Times on Saturday night. "It's a big positive … to be talking and negotiating.
"There's still going to be a bit of work to be done, but we're all hopeful something gets done here in the short term."
Asked what sense he got of how negotiations were going, he said, "It's really tough to say. There have been a few times before where we've been going along and things changed, and (the league) changed their tone, and we haven't been able to get it done. So we're going to stay with an even keel. But any time they're negotiating together, it's a big positive for both sides because both sides want to get back to playing.
Voting by players on the measure authorizing Fehr to disclaim interest was scheduled to end at 6 p.m. The measure was expected to pass overwhelmingly. The union did not announce the result.
The league has said it will play no less than a 48-game schedule. That means games will have to start at the latest on Jan. 19, though there is probably wiggle room. That means a collective bargaining agreement must be done by around Saturday.
The NHL has 50-game and 48-game schedules drawn up, ESPN reported.
Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report.