NHLPA begins disclaimer vote

NEW YORK -- The NHLPA began another vote to reauthorize the executive board the right to disclaim interest, a source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com, as the union and league spent Thursday without any formal labor negotiations.

Although the two sides are expected to continue the mediation process Friday morning, it appears the mounting optimism from earlier this week has dulled. As conflicts between the NHL and union resurfaced, so has the possibility of the union disbanding.

The voting process began at 6 p.m. ET Thursday and will continue until the 48-hour window expires at 6 p.m. ET Saturday. The vote, held electronically, was spread out over five days the last time, but the process is being expedited given the time constraints at negotiations.

If the vote passes -- the last vote was a resounding 'Yes' -- the executive board has the green light to dissolve the union. Breaking up the NHLPA would prohibit players from collectively bargaining as a union. It would, however, allow players to bring an antitrust lawsuit against the league in an attempt to end the lockout.

The second vote came less than a day after the union elected not to exercise the option by its self-imposed deadline of midnight Wednesday.

A source confirmed that NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr was authorized the sole discretion on deciding whether to disclaim interest Wednesday night, in anticipation of the night's negotiations going long, and decided against it.

That may soon change, however.

Word of discontent among the players filtered out Thursday after a small-group session between the two sides to clear up a matter on hockey-related revenue.

Although the NHL initially attempted to modify the penalties for cap circumvention -- a move that did not go over well with the NHLPA -- it is believed the league ultimately reverted back to the understanding after Thursday's meeting, a source said.

The NHLPA also responded to the NHL's class-action complaint in New York federal court on Thursday, ESPNNewYork.com confirmed. The union filed a motion that asserts the league's attempt to declare the lockout legal and immune to antitrust litigation lacks the required subject matter jurisdiction.

The NHLPA, which characterized the league's filing as "gun-jumping" and an attempt at "forum-shopping," also claims the league is trying to force the union to remain intact by pre-emptively attacking the union's option to disclaim interest.

"Not only is it virtually unheard of for an employer to insist on the unionization of its employees, it is also directly contradicted by the rights guaranteed to employees under ... the National Labor Relations Act," the union argued.

According to a New York Southern District Court spokesperson, a status conference has been scheduled between NHL and NHLPA for 9:30 a.m. Monday. The conference, with the time-sensitive negotiations in mind, will be held to set a schedule and determine a "case-management plan" to "resolve their disputes with dispatch."

The league already has canceled all games through Jan. 14, and the deadline to salvage the season is looming. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said a deal would need to be reached by Jan. 11 in order for a 48-game season to be possible.

Information from ESPN's Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press was used in this report.