The NHL officially apologized for the lockout Wednesday and told fans to sit tight until the weekend to learn when their favorite team is going to open the shortened 2013 season.
But the start of the campaign has started to emerge through other channels and the Sabres are likely to open the season Jan. 20, in a Sunday afternoon game against the Philadelphia Flyers in First Niagara Center, according to multiple NHL sources.
The Delaware County Times reported late Wednesday night the Flyers will open by hosting Pittsburgh on Jan. 19 and then travel to Buffalo. A Sabres spokesman said the teams have only received the schedule in draft form and all information will be released by the league.
The schedule could change but outlets in other cities have reported matchups for the Jan. 19 opening day that would leave the Sabres as the odd team out in the Eastern Conference.
Those games will feature Toronto vs. Montreal, Boston vs. the New York Rangers, Ottawa vs. Winnipeg and Washington vs. Florida. Because openers are either division or rivalry games, the other two matchups expected to take place are New Jersey against the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay against Carolina.
Commissioner Gary Bettman issued a strong apology for the 113-day lockout that nearly wiped out the season, but he disappointed fans across North America by telling them they’re going to have to wait several more days for information on the season.
The NHL Board of Governors unanimously approved the league’s new 10-year collective bargaining agreement during its meeting in New York City, and the document has now been turned over to the 740-member NHL Players’ Association.
They will vote on it electronically starting today and only after it’s ratified can the league proceed with letting its teams, sponsors and fans know the details of the 48-game schedule.
“I think the prevailing thing is that our fans are incredibly passionate about our game,” Bettman said during a news conference at the Westin Times Square in Manhattan. “They were frustrated and disappointed by the fact that we weren’t playing. Frankly, they didn’t care who was at fault. They wanted hockey back. And I completely understand that. ... It’s my responsibility to them to try to make it right.”
The player balloting will take at least until Friday and might not be completed until Saturday. Bettman said the schedule would be released almost instantaneously from that point, meaning it could come out the day before training camps open Sunday.
Fans waiting for news on their favorite teams got one more set of apologies for the 113-day lockout that nearly canceled an NHL season for the second time in eight years.
“To the players who were very clear that they wanted to be on the ice and not negotiating labor contracts, to our partners who support the league ... and most importantly to our fans who love and have missed NHL hockey, I’m sorry,” Bettman said. “I know an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the last few months, but I owe you an apology nonetheless.”
Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the board, voiced a similar sentiment in a prepared statement that read in part, “... to our fans all around the globe, hockey is back. This great game has been gone for far too long, and for that we are truly sorry.”
As for any rumors about the future of Bettman or Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Jacobs quickly defused those.
“Gary and Bill have the complete and unconditional support of the Board — and our gratitude,” said Jacobs, chairman of the Buffalo-based Delaware North Companies.
Sabres owner Terry Pegula was represented in the 30-0 vote by team president Ted Black, who revealed here Tuesday that the team was in full support of the lockout.
Without providing any details, Bettman said fans can expect “outreaches, campaigns and efforts that will be made clear as we get closer to dropping the puck.” And he said he understands the PR hammering the league is taking.
“I read the letters, I followed the tweets. I read the blogs,” Bettman said. “We have a lot of work to do. The National Hockey League has a lot of responsibility to earn back your trust and support, whether you watch one game or every game.”