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Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews questions length of NHL lockout

Jonathan Toews practices during Blackhawks training camp United Center Saturday Sept. 17 2011 Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Jonathan Toews practices during Blackhawks training camp at the United Center Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 9, 2013 10:32PM

After he wrecked the place, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wants to help clean up the mess. What a guy.

‘‘I am sorry,’’ Bettman said after the NHL board of governors unanimously approved the 10-year collective-bargaining agreement with the NHL Players Association on Wednesday in New York. ‘‘I know an explanation or apology won’t erase hard feelings, but I owe you one nonetheless.

‘‘No words of apology or explanation will help ease the disappointment. We have a lot of work to do to win back your trust and support. That work begins today.’’

It could be awhile before Bettman can assess the damage of the 113-days-and-counting lockout. The players will vote on the agreement Friday and Saturday, with a majority needed to ratify the deal. Training camps would open Sunday. The 48-game season would begin on Jan. 19, with the Blackhawks facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in Los Angeles.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was among those not celebrating the end of a nightmare. He thought it would be over in October.

‘‘It’s just more of a relief,’’ said Toews after the Blackhawks practiced with most of their veterans for the first time Wednesday. ‘‘We’re excited to get back in front of our fans and just be together on a daily basis. But the realistic thing that sets in is: Did it really have to go this far? Did we really have to miss over three months?

‘‘It’s unfortunate. We know we’ve got a long road ahead of us to try and build this game back and earn the respect from the fans again.’’

Toews is a great player, a better teammate and is as loyal to Blackhawk fans as he is to the organization that employs him. But most of all, he has a reverence for the game of hockey — past, present and future — that magnifies every word he says. When Toews speaks, everyone listens — or should. Maybe even Gary Bettman.

Especially Bettman, in fact, when Toews responded to a question about the challenge players face in overcoming any lingering resentment over the way the NHL nearly drove its own league into the ground to get the best deal.

‘‘There is definitely some resentment, just from the fact that there wasn’t a whole lot of trust,’’ Toews said. ‘‘There wasn’t a whole lot of give-and-take these past couple of months. I just hope that now that we have a deal, we don’t want to talk about that type of thing too much.’’

Not surprisingly to many NHL observers, it was the 24-year-old Toews and not Bettman who was looking at the big picture and trying to lay the groundwork to avoid losing three months of a season to find common ground in the future.

‘‘The thing that we can learn from it,’’ Toews said, ‘‘is that both sides need to have that mutual understanding, that mutual respect where they need to work hard together for the fans and for the good of the game — not just arguing over who makes more money or who takes this or who takes that.

‘‘There are some things you can take away from that. It’s frustrating that not everything is as simple as it should be.

But hopefully this is something that for now has kind of hurt our game a little bit, but in the long run and decades from now is going to make it one of the best leagues in the world. We know it’s the best sport. Hopefully in the long run this is going to help everybody.’’

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