The NHL's Board of Governors voted unanimously to ratify the league's new collective-bargaining agreement yesterday, then apologized repeatedly for the damage inflicted on the game and its fans during a 113-day lockout.
"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," commissioner Gary Bettman said at a news conference in New York. "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."
On Saturday, it will be the players union's turn to approve the deal and seek atonement. By then, two days of electronic voting will be complete, and the league can begin taking steps toward putting this chapter behind them.
Already, some details are emerging.
Training camps are likely to open on Sunday. The regular season, cut to 48 games, will begin Jan. 19, with the complete NHL schedule to be released on Saturday after the players' ratification. Barring a last-minute change to the schedule, the Blue Jackets will open on Jan. 19 at the Nashville Predators, one of their least favorite stops. They will play their first game in Nationwide Arena on Jan. 21 against the Detroit Red Wings.
In the meantime, NHL clubs are eager to begin preparing for the season but not quite sure how the transition rules will work. The league must establish some one-time protocols. A waiver wire, a roster deadline and new rules regarding minor-league call-ups and junior call-ups need to be established.
Bob McKenzie of TSN, a Canadian sports network, reported that junior players will be allowed to play no more than six games before the first year of their entry-level contracts are engaged. Previously, the number had been 10 games. This affects the Blue Jackets, who are planning to recall center Boone Jenner from his junior club in Oshawa, Ontario.
The rest of the rules remain a mystery. There were reports yesterday that the trade deadline has been moved to April 3 and the season will end on April 27, but the league said that those dates could change.
The biggest indecision is because most teams are waiting for players to return from overseas.
The Blue Jackets had four players in Russia. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Artem Anisimov are expected to arrive today. Defenseman Fedor Tyutin arrived in Toronto on Tuesday or yesterday, and defenseman Nikita Nikitin is expected to arrive on Friday.
Winger Vinny Prospal, who played in the Czech Republic, is expected to arrive by Friday.
NHL clubs are also debating how many players to bring to training camp. With only five-day camps at most, there won't be much time to compete for roster spots, so most clubs will have 25 to 28 players. Typically, they would open with at least 50.
The Blue Jackets plan to have 25 or 26, including Jenner and five or six players from minor-league Springfield. Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, Tim Erixon, Nick Holden, Ryan Johansen, John Moore and David Savard appear to be the top candidates. Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson anticipates getting transition rules by Friday.
And the league and union are busy with other things, such as voting and making right with the fans.
"It's a 10-year agreement, 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."
Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, the chairman of the Board of Governors and seen as one of the hard-liners during the lockout, also tried to reconcile with fans.
"This great game has been gone for far too long," Jacobs said. "For that, we are truly sorry."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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