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NEW YORK -- The NHL labour battle will go on another day.

A self-imposed deadline for the NHL Players' Association to declare a "disclaimer of interest" passed Wednesday with the league and union agreeing to return to the bargaining table.

They were joined by a United States federal mediator for the talks, and both sides were tight-lipped about what was discussed.

The NHLPA's executive board had until just before midnight to declare that it was dissolving -- a move that could have opened the door for players to file antitrust lawsuits against the league.

Executive director Donald Fehr declined to be specific about what the union's next move would be.

"All I can tell you about that is the players retain all the legal options they have always had and we don't talk about legal matters," said Fehr.

Commissioner Gary Bettman meanwhile would only say talks would continue Thursday at 10 a.m.

"I'm not going to get into the details," said Bettman. "There's been some progress but we're still apart on a number of issues, but as long as the process continues I am hopeful."

One issue that remained unsolved was the pension fund, which was discussed in a small group meeting on Wednesday morning. The players are seeking to have their pension switched to a defined benefit program but the league wasn't enthused about assuming the financial risk that comes with it, according to sources.

It was another long day of negotiations after the NHLPA submitted the latest in a number of exchanged proposals. That offer came after the NHL presented a 288-page contract to the union last week.

"On some issues we agreed, on some we moved towards each other, and on some we said 'no' and I think that applies to both parties and how they've proceeded during this process," said Bettman.

"We talked about lots of things. We even had some philosophical discussions about why particular issues were important to each of us, and that's part of the process."

There have been a few hints the 109-day lockout may be nearing its end. Players who spent the last couple months in Europe are starting to trickle back to North America, including New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who posted a message Tuesday on Twitter saying that "hopefully I'm coming back for the right reason."

The lockout is now the second longest in league history -- behind only the labour dispute that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season -- and saw the NHL miss out on in its signature event on Tuesday.

Rather than having more than 100,000 fans packed into Michigan Stadium for the Winter Classic and a national television audience in both Canada and the U.S., all of the attention given to the league centred around its latest work stoppage