TORONTO - NHL players have moved a step closer to dissolving their union.

A vote of the NHL Players' Association membership this week has given their union's executive board the power to file a "disclaimer of interest" until Jan. 2. A source confirmed the vote produced more than the two-thirds of membership support needed.

A union spokesman declined to comment on the "internal PA matter."

If the NHLPA's executive board elects to go ahead and file the disclaimer, the union will be dissolved and transformed into a trade association. That would allow players to file anti-trust lawsuits against the NHL.

The legality of the lockout is already set to be tried in a federal U.S. court after the NHL filed a class-action lawsuit last week against the NHLPA, which claimed the union was only using the threat of a "disclaimer of interest" as a bargaining tactic. The NHL also submitted an unfair labour practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

Negotiations between the league and union have been at a standstill since talks went off the rails on Dec. 6.

The NHLPA now appears set to follow the lead set by NFL and NBA players, who both dissolved their unions during lockouts last year. The NBA's labour dispute ended less than two weeks after the union was disbanded.

Jeffrey Kessler, the lead negotiator for the National Basketball Players Association in that dispute, believes the NHLPA would be wise to go ahead with the "disclaimer of interest."

"I think this is much more likely to lead to a settlement sooner," Kessler told The Canadian Press on Dec. 14. "The players have concluded that they are on the verge of possibly deciding that it is better not to be a union and using the anti-trust laws to attack the lockout, which all fans should be happy with because it'll work.

"I assume the fans would like the lockout to end."

The NHL doesn't share that view.

The league's Board of Governors discussed the possibility of a "disclaimer of interest" on Dec. 5 and commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters afterwards that the NHL didn't see it as a significant threat.

"The board was completely and thoroughly briefed on the subject," said Bettman. "And we don't view it in the same way in terms of its impact as apparently the union may."

Time is running short to save the NHL season. All games through Jan. 14 have been cancelled and a new deal would need to be in place by about that time to salvage a 48-game schedule, the minimum Bettman says needs to be played.

There are currently no talks scheduled between the sides.

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