The NHL board of governors unanimously approved the new collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday.
Then it was time for Commissioner Gary Bettman and board chairman Jeremy Jacobs, who owns the Boston Bruins, to offer apologies to the players, fans and sponsors.
"To the players who were very clear they wanted to be on the ice and not negotiating labor 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 intended to do to make it up to the fans, but said there are plans in the works.
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.
That would pave the way for training camps to open Sunday and the 48-game season on Jan. 19. The Hawks are expected to open in Los Angeles against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings.
"In the end neither side got everything it wanted and everyone lost in the short term," Bettman said. "But the NHL gained a long-term agreement (10 years) that's good for players and good for teams, and should guarantee the future success of NHL hockey for many years to come."
On whether his job might now be in jeopardy, Bettman said it was "nothing more than unfounded speculation."
As for Jacobs and his apology, it was as hollow as Bettman's.
"This great game has been gone for far too long, and for that we are truly sorry," Jacobs said in his statement.
Slowly the Blackhawks are trickling back to town.
On Wednesday, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews and Niklas Hjalmarsson re-joined the informal practice session at Johnny's IceHouse West.
They joined the group of Dave Bolland, Marian Hossa, Corey Crawford, Jamal Mayers, Sheldon Brookbank, Patrick Sharp and Daniel Carcillo. Andrew Shaw, Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger are up from Rockford for training camp.
Chiacgo Wolves skating and skills coach Kenny McCuddy has been running the drills for the players.
Best to stay:
Jonathan Toews turned down several lucrative offers to play in Europe during the lockout.
"It was a constant idea that something was going to be settled," Toews said. "Everyone is different. Some guys feel they need to be doing something and need to keep playing. Myself, I just felt it was a good thing for my body to rest and just get myself in a place where I would be in control of what I wanted to do on and off the ice for the next handful of years.
"I definitely don't feel burnt out by any means, but I'm back to that place where I love the game and am excited to show up at the rink every day. Sometimes to get away from it a little bit is a good thing."
Toews missed the last six weeks of the 2011-12 season with a concussion suffered in an auto accident. He returned for the playoffs.
Shock waves could be felt throughout the NHL on Wednesday when Brian Burke was fired as general manager in Toronto and replaced by Dave Nonis.
Burke was asked to stay on as a senior advisor and agreed.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.