On the same day NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was delivering a hollow apology for the lockout in New York, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was back with his teammates Wednesday in Chicago talking about how the players were going to try to make it up to those fans bitter about the last three months.
"I think it's something you try to do every day no matter what," Toews said. "I don't think having a lockout changes anything. In a normal situation you should still take the time to spend talking with your fans and sign autographs on a daily basis.
Contact information ( * required )
"But I think that's something that's going to reach a new level, just interacting with our fans, signing autographs, that kind of thing.
"People in Chicago know the Hawks are really good at that. We appreciate everything the fans have given us in this city.
"To play here, everyone in this league knows it's an honor and a privilege. We definitely appreciate that, but there's another level we can take it to show that appreciation."
The Hawks tentatively are scheduled to open their shortened 48-game schedule Jan. 19 in Los Angeles against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings. A formal announcement won't be made on the schedule until after the players ratify the collective-bargaining agreement in a few days.
Toews had a noticeable jump in his step Wednesday, his first practice since the lockout ended. The smile he wore while talking to reporters was a stark contrast to the days he would meet the media, so frustrated with the lack of progress being made.
"There's two sides of it -- the excitement of the fact we haven't played hockey in so long that we're excited to get back together in front of our fans and not only that just be together on a daily basis," Toews said.
"Then there's the realistic thing that kind of sets in is, did it really have to go this far, did we really have to miss over three months?
"It's an unfortunate thing, and we know we have a long road ahead of us to build this game back and earn that respect from the fans again."
Toews and Patrick Sharp know it's going to be a wide-open race for the playoffs with just 48 games.
"I really don't know what to expect, to be honest with you," Sharp said. "Once you get into the swing of things it's going to be business as usual, it's just getting into that swing."
"Top to bottom, you've seen it so close over the past couple years, teams trying to make the playoffs, and I think it's going to be even closer this year," Toews said.
"You'll see every single team in the conference thinking they can make the playoffs and if you can get off to a good start, you never know."
Toews, who missed the final six weeks of last season with a concussion, thinks the last three months definitely caused some resentment between the players and the league.
"I think there's definitely some resentment there, just from the fact there wasn't a whole lot of trust, or a whole lot of give and take these past couple months," Toews said.
"I just hope that now that we have a deal we don't want to talk about that type of thing too much. I think the thing we can learn from is both sides need to have that mutual understanding and mutual respect.
"You need to work hard together for the fans and for the good of the game and not just argue over who makes more money or who takes this or who takes that. It's frustrating that it's not as simple as it should be."