NHL commissioner Gary Bettman apologized to fans Wednesday for the 113-day hockey lockout, just moments after league owners voted in favour of a deal that will put players back on the ice.

Addressing reporters after NHL owners unanimously voted in favour of a new collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players’ Association, Bettman said the league has “a lot of work to do” to bring frustrated fans back to the rinks.  

“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,” he said.

“I know that an explanation or apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the past few months, but I owe you an apology nevertheless.”

Bettman refused to divulge details of the new CBA before the players vote on it Thursday and Friday, but said the agreement is the result of a “long and extremely difficult negotiation; one that took a lot longer than anybody wanted.”

“In the end, neither side got everything it wanted and everyone lost in the short term,” Bettman said. “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.”

The 10-year deal will “stand the test of time,” Bettman said, adding that the league must work on its “outreach” to fans in the meantime.

The collective agreement was reached early Sunday after 16 hours of negotiations in New York City, with a mediator helping the two sides come to a compromise.

The 700 players represented by the NHLPA will vote on the agreement electronically on Thursday and Friday.

If the players approve the deal, a 48-game season is expected to begin by late next week following a week of pre-season training camps.

Bettman said the season schedule will be released as soon as the players finish voting.

Both sides were under a deadline to reach a deal after Bettman said an agreement had to be in place by Jan. 11 in order to start a 48-game season -- the minimum length that was deemed profitable.

The lockout began on Sept. 16 with players and team owners at odds over a number of key issues, including profit-sharing and contract lengths.

But there is still one key piece of business that needs to be completed before a deal can be finalized. Both sides must agree on a summary document that will become a memorandum of understanding to be signed after the players and owners have ratified the tentative agreement.

"(We) don't need a signed document to complete ratification process," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email. "But we do need a signed agreement to open camps. The goal is to get that done by Saturday so that we can open camps on Sunday.”

The NHL 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 cited by AP.