NEW YORK - 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 wiped out 510 games. Overall, 2,208 games have been lost by labor disputes during his tenure. But Bettman was quick to call any speculation he might consider stepping down from his post as "unfounded."
Players are expected to vote on the deal Friday and Saturday. If a majority of the more than 700 members in good standing agree to the terms, training camps can open Sunday. A 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 open. The players' association wants as much of the document as possible to be completed before 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.
There will be no more than seven days between the opening of camps and the start of the season, and no preseason games will be played. Teams will be challenged to be ready right from the start.
The agreement is for 10 years, but either side can opt out after eight. The previous deal was in effect for seven seasons.
"It's 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," Bettman said. "It guarantees that our attention from now on will stay where it belongs, on the ice."
After the players vote to ratify, clubs can then begin the process of winning back 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."
The NHL won't release the new schedule until the players ratify the deal.
Last season, the NHL generated $3.3 billion of revenue. The new deal will lower the players' percentage from 57 to 50.