The NHL is one step closer to dropping the puck on the truncated 2013 regular season.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced in a late afternoon press conference yesterday that the Board of Governors unanimously voted to approve the new collective bargaining agreement.
Bettman used the platform to apologize to the players, partners and fans for the lockout. The NHL’s third lockout in 18 years — all under Bettman’s stewardship as commissioner — lasted 113 days and cost the league 625 regular season games.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Bettman said. “The National Hockey League has a responsibility to earn back your trust and support whether you watch one game or every game. That effort begins today.”
Bettman was joined by Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs. Jacobs serves as the Chairman of the Board of Governors, and was a key member of the league negotiating committee.
“Hockey is back,” Jacobs said.
Bettman was circumspect about the details of the agreement. The CBA will now be sent to the NHLPA for ratification, and it is expected that union will sign off of the agreement. It is believed that training camps will begin Sunday and the 48-game season will start on Jan. 19 with a slate of rivalry games.
“Now we’re ready to play hockey,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. “[The season is] going to be a little bit different. Anything could happen. I’m looking forward to it.”
According to multiple reports, among the games expected to be played on Jan. 19 will be Maple Leafs-Canadiens, Penguins-Flyers and Islanders-Rangers. Bettman would not divulge details of the modified schedule other than saying once “the ratification process is complete, we will release the schedule instantaneously.”
There will only be intraconference games due to the abbreviated nature of the season. Highly anticipated intraconference games, such as Rick Nash’s first game in Columbus as a member of the New York Rangers and Zach Parise’s return to Newark, will be postponed until the 2013-14 season.
Other than saying the league and the NHLPA needed “to build a relationship” to guarantee there will never be another lockout, Bettman offered vague ideas on the NHL’s effort to rebuild “trust and support” from fans and business partners. Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said the league and teams need to “say were going to be very happy to see [the fans]. I think the best thing we can do is not talk about it.”
Steve Rosner, a partner at 16W, a Rutherford-based marketing and consulting firm told Metro in a phone conversation prior to the press conference that “the league has work to do” to appease fans and sponsors angered by the length of the lockout.
“I think anything you can do [is a positive],” Rosner said. He predicted that the first “30-to-60 days” of the season will be key in determining potential fan reaction and backlash stemming from the lockout. Rosner also suggested the league and individual teams need to conduct a “PR push” but noted sponsors “are going to look for make goods.”
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.