A request for a temporary injunction against an NHL lockout was rejected Friday, but both the league and the players' union claimed victory.
The Quebec Labour Relations Board turned down the injunction request after an emergency session, but it also ruled that more hearings are needed to make a final decision on an application by 16 members of the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL Players' Association to declare a lockout illegal in Quebec.
No date was set for further hearings.
With the ruling, Canadiens players will be locked out with their colleagues on the NHL's 29 other clubs if a work stoppage goes ahead on schedule for just before midnight on Saturday.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly saw the board's ruling as a win for the league.
"We are pleased but not surprised with the Quebec labour board's ruling that any lockout of players will be effective on a league-wide basis, including in Quebec," Daly said in a statement. "And we are extremely appreciative of the expeditious and decisive manner in which the matter was handled.
"We are hopeful that this ruling will cause the players' association to cease pursuing these needless distractions and instead focus all of its efforts and energies on making progress at the bargaining table."
The NHLPA and players from the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers have also asked the Alberta Labour Relations Board to declare a lockout illegal in that province. A hearing is set for Sept. 21, the day NHL training camps were scheduled to open.
Although the NHL viewed the Quebec ruling as a victory for the league, NHLPA general counsel Don Zavelo saw it was a step forward for the players.
"We are pleased with the ruling that the commission released," he said in a statement. "While the commission denied the players' request for emergency relief, it also rejected the NHL's request to dismiss the case.
"The ruling acknowledges that the players have raised issues about the legality of the NHL's planned lockout that require full hearing on the merits.
"We remain confident that the lockout is prohibited by the Quebec labour code and look forward to presenting our case to the commission in the near future. Should the NHL carry out its threat to lock out the players in Quebec, it will do so at its own risk."
Lawyers for the players and the league stated their cases at an emergency hearing. The NHLPA asked for a quick decision so that Montreal players would not be locked out when the work stoppage begins.
NHLPA director of operations Alexandra Dagg said the aim was to prevent Canadiens, Oilers and Flames players from being locked out and to allow them to attend training camp. They also asked that players be paid while they are locked out.
While lawyers argued, NHL clubs opened their wallets to get their key players signed ahead of the lockout, spending a total of US$106.25 million in a single day.
Veteran unrestricted free agent Shane Doan, who reportedly considered jumping to the Vancouver Canucks, opted to stay with the Phoenix Coyotes, signing a four-year deal worth $23.2 million, while gritty forward Alex Burrows signed a four-year, $18-million deal with Vancouver.
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen inked a five-year, $29.5-million pact with the Dallas Stars, defenceman John Carlson signed for six years at $23.8 million with the Washington Capitals and forward Gabriel Bourque signed a two-year contract worth $1.55 million with the Nashville Predators.
The Detroit Red Wings signed forward Justin Abdelkader to a four-year deal for $7.2 million and added unrestricted free agent Carlo Calaiacovo from the St. Louis Blues on a two-year, $5-million contract.
In Montreal, labour lawyer Michael Cohen led a three-man team that presented the players' arguments while a five-member team from the Heenan Blaikie law firm represented the Canadiens and the NHL.
The NHLPA argued that because it is not certified as a union with the province, it's members cannot be locked out under Quebec labour law. The NHL disagreed.
In Alberta, the players will argue that proper procedure wasn't followed, including using a mediator.
No players attended the hearings in Montreal. The players listed on the decision were Peter Budaj, Colby Armstrong, David Desharnais, Brian Gionta, Andre Markov, Max Pacioretty, Brandon Prust, Yannick Weber, Rene Bourque, Erik Cole, Lars Eller, Josh Gorges, Petteri Nokelainen, Carey Price, Travis Moen and Ryan White.
Meanwhile in New York, the NHL and the union say they have been in touch but no new negotiating sessions are scheduled ahead of Saturday's deadline.