NEW YORK, N.Y. – Gary Bettman says he’s sorry.
The NHL commissioner has apologized to hockey fans for the lockout that delayed the start of the season by three months.
The apology came during a news conference Wednesday to announce that NHL owners have voted in favour of ratifying the new collective bargaining agreement with their players.
“To the players who were very clear they wanted to be on the ice and not negotiating labour contracts, to our partners who support the league financially and personally, and most importantly to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I’m sorry,” Bettman said in a prepared statement. “I know that an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the past few months but I owe you an apology nevertheless.”
Bettman wouldn’t say specifically what the league would do to make it up to the fans, but said there are plans in the works.
He added that as commissioner he is sometimes forced to make tough decisions that disappoint and occasionally anger players and fans.
“This was a long and extremely difficult negotiation,” Bettman said. “One that took a lot longer than anybody wanted. I know it caused frustration, disappointment and even suffering to a lot of people who have supported the National Hockey League in many different ways.”
The players aren’t expected to start their own ratification vote until Friday. It will be conducted electronically over two days and needs majority support from the roughly 740 union members to pass.
If all goes to plan, the process would be completed by Saturday and training camps would open around the league on Sunday.
Out of respect for the player vote, Bettman wouldn’t answer any specific questions about the labour process.
“In the end neither side got everything it wanted and everyone lost in the short term,” he said. “But the NHL gained a long-term agreement that’s good for players and good for teams, and should guarantee the future success of NHL hockey for many years to come. It will help the game to grow, ensuring greater economic stability for all of our teams.”
Since the tentative agreement was reached Sunday morning, there have been some suggestions that Bettman’s job may be in danger. He called it “nothing more than unfounded speculation.”
“I’m looking forward to continuing to grow this game both on and off the ice as we have over the last 20 years,” he said. “I think the opportunities are great and I’m excited to be a part of them.”
The owners gave Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly a vote of confidence Wednesday.
“Gary and Bill have the complete and unconditional support of the board as well as our gratitude,” said Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the NHL board of governors.
The NHL is targeting a 48-game season beginning Jan. 19, which leaves no time for teams to squeeze in any exhibition games. The schedule is expected to be released in the coming days.
A 48-game season was played following the 1994-95 NHL lockout and that allowed for a balanced intraconference schedule in what was then a 26-team league.
It’s going to be a little more complicated this time around.
The league is planning to have teams play three games against the 10 opponents within the same conference but outside their division. They will then have an unbalanced schedule against division rivals, with five games coming against two teams and four against the two others, according to a source.
The CBA process will continue behind the scenes even after the season gets underway. The league and NHLPA have agreed to meet over 10 consecutive days in February to finish off a document that will total several hundred pages once it is finished.
Bettman is confident this deal will bring extended labour peace.
“It’s a 10-year agreement, one that will stand the test of time with a system where all teams can be competitive and have a chance to make the playoffs and even win the Stanley Cup,” he said. “It guarantees that our attention from now on will stay where it belongs. On the ice.”