NEW YORK (AP) - NHL owners unanimously ratified the tentative labor deal Wednesday. All that now remains is player approval to finally start the hockey season.
The league's board of governors met in a Manhattan hotel and overwhelmingly approved the agreement that was reached early Sunday on the 113th day of the NHL lockout.
A relieved Commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement those in hockey waited nearly four months to hear. He then apologized to players, sponsors and hockey supporters for taking so long to deliver it.
``Most importantly to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I am sorry,'' Bettman said. ``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.''
Players are expected to vote Friday and Saturday. If two-thirds of the more than 700 members agree to the terms, training camps can open Sunday. An expected 48-game season can then begin Jan. 19.
The NHL and the union are still drafting a memorandum of understanding that must be signed before training camps can open. The players' association wants as much of the document as possible to be completed before the voting begins.
The union is busy calling players and agents to educate them about the changes and additions to the agreement. The vote will be done electronically.
Bettman said the NHL won't release the new schedule until the players ratify the deal. The regular season was supposed to begin Oct. 11, but the lockout wrecked those plans after it took effect Sept. 16.
The outdoor Winter Classic and the All-Star game won't be played this season.