Board ratifies NHL agreement

NEW YORK -- The board of governors ratified the tentative agreement reached Sunday between the NHL and NHLPA, commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed Wednesday.

The 30 governors on hand for the league's board of governors meeting voted unanimously to pass, completing one half of ratification.

All that is needed for the deal to become official is for the players to vote. The vote, which will be held electronically for the 700-plus membership, is expected to be finished by Friday or Saturday, a source told ESPNNewYork.com. Training camps are tentatively set to open Sunday, the source said, with a 48-game regular season scheduled to start Jan. 19.

Assuming the players ratify as well, the lockout officially will come to a close after almost four months.

In a statement following Wednesday's meeting in midtown Manhattan, Bettman offered an apology to the fans for the lockout, the third work stoppage during his tenure as commissioner.

"We know no words of apology or explanation will soften the disappointment. I read the letters, I followed the tweets, I read the blogs. 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. And that effort begins today."

Bettman said there would be initiatives and campaigns to win back the fans, but said they would be announced at the "appropriate time."

Despite the resounding support Bettman received in the vote, there was speculation his future could be in jeopardy as a result of the long, bitter battle that cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It's nothing more than speculation and it's nothing more than unfounded speculation," Bettman said. "I'm looking forward to continuing to grow this game, both on and off the ice as we have over the last 20 years. I think the opportunities are great and I'm glad to be a part of them."

Bettman said realignment and Olympic participation, neither of which were included in the new (tentative) CBA, will be dealt with separately, and soon.

When asked whether any violation of the league's agreement with Russia's Kontinental Hockey League could threaten Olympic participation, Bettman declined to place any blame.

"I don't want to get into 'what ifs,' " he said. "We'll see what happens and deal with it in an appropriate fashion."

New Jersey forward Ilya Kovalchuk's return to the NHL from Russia has yet to be verified, but Bettman did not issue any threats when questioned about the matter.

"The NHL represents the highest level of hockey in the world," he said. "We expect that the best players will want to play here."

Bettman said he hopes to build a relationship with what he called a "stable union with strong leadership" and one that provided the opportunity to create a partnership. He admitted that the 113 days it took to reach a deal with the union was a "long and extremely difficult" negotiation in which "everyone lost in the short term."

He said he hoped the 10-year deal, pending ratification, would provide stability to the game moving forward.

The memorandum of understanding, the document the players will be voting on, was still being finalized by lawyers on both sides Wednesday afternoon, a source confirmed.

Bettman declined to provide details about the schedule, other than that one won't be released until after the CBA is signed.

He did acknowledge that, for hockey fans, that day cannot come soon enough.

"The players are ready to play their hearts out for you, the teams are prepared to welcome you back with welcome arms, the wait is just about over," he said. "Like all of you, we can't wait to drop the puck."

Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun was used in this report.