Gary Bettman says he's sorry.

The NHL commissioner has apologized to hockey fans for the lockout that delayed the start of the season by three months.

He says he knows the apology will not ease hard feelings that have built up over the past few months but he feels the fans deserve one.

The apology came during a news conference to announce that NHL owners have voted in favour of ratifying the new collective bargaining agreement with their players.

The two sides came to a tentative agreement to end the lockout early Sunday morning.

Bettman wouldn't say specifically what the league would do to make it up to the fans.

He adds that as commissioner he is sometimes forced to make tough decisions that disappoint and occasionally anger players and fans.

Perhaps to try and stem the tide, the owners gave Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly a vote of confidence on Wednesday. Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the NHL's board of governors, made a rare public statement prior to Bettman's appearance at the podium.

"Gary and Bill have the complete and unconditional support of the board as well as our gratitude," said Jacobs.

Players' turn

The players aren't expected to start their own ratification vote until Friday. It will be conducted electronically over two days and needs majority support from the roughly 740 union members to pass.

If all goes to plan, the process would be completed by Saturday and training camps would open around the league on Sunday.

The NHL is targeting a 48-game season beginning Jan. 19, which leaves no time for teams to squeeze in any exhibition games. The schedule is expected to be released in the coming days.

A 48-game season was played following the 1994-95 NHL lockout and that allowed for a balanced intraconference schedule in what was then a 26-team league.

It's going to be a little more complicated this time around.

The league is planning to have teams play three games against the 10 opponents within the same conference but outside their division. They will then have an unbalanced schedule against division rivals, with five games coming against two teams and four against the two others, according to a source.

The CBA process will continue behind the scenes even after the season gets underway. The league and NHLPA have agreed to meet over 10 consecutive days in February to finish off a document that will total several hundred pages once it is finished.

Transcript of Bettman's statement

"To the players who were very clear they wanted to be on the ice and not negotiating labour 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 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.

"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. And third, it guarantees that our attention from now on will stay where it belongs. On the ice.

"I thank the National Hockey League Players' Association, Don Fehr, and particularly the players on the negotiating committee of their efforts in helping to secure the stability and success of NHL hockey for seasons to come.

"They fought hard for what they believed in and represented their fellow players extraordinarily well. Once the players ratify the agreement all the things that you love most about NHL hockey — the speed, the intensity, the skill, the teamwork and the incredible passion— will greet you once again.

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