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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says ‘I’m sorry’ to NHL players, fans for lockout

Sean Leahy
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The podium stood inside the Westin Hotel in New York City as it did on Dec. 6, the night the NHL's 113-day CBA negotiations took its strangest and wildest turn. On that night, optimism quickly devolved into anger, which finally ended in all around confusion.

Thirty-four days since that night, the podium was back inside the Westin, but there was good news to deliver this time around. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took to the microphone to officially announce that the NHL's Board of Governors had ratified the collective bargaining agreement by a unanimous 30-0 vote.

Since the CBA news broke early Sunday morning, teams around the NHL have publicly apologized to the fans for the lockout. On Wednesday, it was Bettman's turn to do so.

"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. 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 the end, neither side got everything it wanted and everyone lost in the short-term. 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."

As George Costanza once famously said, "You can stuff your sorries in a sack, mister".

Apologies won't cut it for many. Two lockouts in eight years has been enough to drive some fans away. Bettman did mention that the league is currently in the planning stages of "outreaches, campaigns and efforts" that will be announced before the league starts up on Jan. 19.

Will it be enough to win back those fans who have left? The NHL sure will try.

"The NHL has responsibility to earn back your [the fans] trust and support, whether you watch one game or every game," said Bettman.

During his remarks, Bettman also confirmed that the deal is a 10-year agreement that "will stand the test of time with a system where all 30 teams can be competitive and have a chance to make the playoffs and even win the Stanley Cup.".

Regarding the latest dust-up between the league and the KHL, Bettman said, "The NHL represents the highest level of hockey in the world. We expect that the best players in the world will want to play here." Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk are expected to participate in Sunday's KHL All-Star Game.

Bettman also did not comment much on the CBA negotiations themselves out of respect for the players and their ratification process.The NHLPA will hold their voting on the CBA on Friday and Saturday, according to Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press, so training camps are still expected to officially open on Sunday.

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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