NHL owners ratify new labor agreement
NEW YORK (AP) -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman secured unanimous ownership support for the pending labor deal, then apologized to everyone hurt by the long lockout and said he isn't going anywhere.
The league's board of governors met in a Manhattan hotel Wednesday and overwhelmingly approved the agreement that was reached early Sunday on the 113th day of the lockout.
Bettman felt the full brunt of anger, especially from fans, during the four-month dispute that kept hockey off the ice. But he was contrite in announcing the latest step by the owners. He said he wants to look forward and not back at the mess created by the work stoppage.
"Most importantly to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I am sorry," Bettman said. "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.
"As commissioner of the National Hockey League it sometimes falls upon me to make tough decisions that disappoint and occasionally anger players and fans. This was a long and extremely difficult negotiation - 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."
In his nearly 20 years as commissioner, Bettman has presided over three lockouts. One caused the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, another led to a 48-game season in 1995 - much like is expected for this season.
The latest lockout led to the loss of 510 games. Overall, 2,208 games have been wiped out by labor disputes during his tenure. But Bettman was quick to call any speculation he might consider stepping down from his post as "unfounded."
"I am 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 am excited to be a part of them."
Players are expected to vote on the deal Friday and Saturday. If two-thirds of the more than 700 members agree to the terms, training camps can open Sunday. An expected 48-game season is likely to begin Jan. 19.
The NHL and the union are still drafting a memorandum of understanding that must be signed before training camps can open. The players' association wants as much of the document as possible to be completed before the voting begins.
The union is busy calling players and agents to educate them about the changes and additions to the agreement. The vote will be done electronically.
After the players vote to ratify, clubs with then begin the process of winning back their fans. Bettman declined to give specifics because he didn't want to be presumptuous that the union would give its approval.
"The National Hockey League has the responsibility to earn back your trust and support, whether you watch one game or every game," Bettman said. "That effort begins today. The players are ready to play their hearts out for you, the teams are preparing to welcome you back with open arms, the wait is just about over.
"Like all of you, we can't wait to drop the puck."
Bettman said the NHL won't release the new schedule until the players ratify the deal. The regular season was supposed to begin Oct. 11, but the lockout wrecked those plans after it took effect Sept. 16.
The outdoor Winter Classic and the All-Star game won't be played this season.
Issues such as whether NHL players will participate in the 2014 Olympics and realignment within the league will be addressed with the union down the line.