TORONTO - Union chief Donald Fehr said he was sticking to his belief that the NHL and the players' association were close to a deal before talks broke off Thursday night.

Fehr repeated his stance Saturday during a speech to the Canadian Auto Workers union. He then told reporters he thought the owners and players were "very close" to agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman angrily disputed the claim Thursday night.

Fehr said that he hasn't spoken directly with NHL representatives, and that no talks were scheduled. He added that negotiations were further ahead than a week ago, even after the collapse of talks.

The union executive director also said there is a tentative agreement on a pension plan, to be funded by the players, but other key issues, including salaries and contract lengths, are further away from being settled.