MANHATTAN – Seven years ago, Gary Bettman stood before a podium and explained away the second lockout of his tenure as NHL commissioner.
"The best thing that I can say to our fans is 'we're back, we're going to be better than ever and we're going to make it up to you,'" uttered Bettman in the summer of 2005, rarely changing in either tone or demeanor in announcing an end to the lockout. "We are looking forward to leaving the business of the game in the background. It has been in the forefront for way too long."
What will he say this time around? How will he explain this lockout?
Will he offer the truth, that greed consumed the game and its combatants, knowingly damaging the future of the league?
Will he fight for the owners' supposed right to a greater share of what had been a booming revenue pie? Will he argue against those dreaded, long-term cap-circumventing deals?
Will he argue, as he did seven years ago, that this lockout was necessary for the "benefit of the game"?
"We couldn't continue the way we were," he said with shaded defiance back then. "We couldn't have operated another season the way we were."
Will he defend the fourth work stoppage of his tenure? Will he defend his record and pledge to return? "I'm not going anywhere," he claimed then. "I love my job."
Will he attempt to mend a widening and bitter bridge with the players who represent his league?
"The greatness of hockey and the NHL is best measured by the character and commitment of our players," he once noted.
Will he concede to the inevitable damage levied again to the game and its' brand?
Will he plead to the fans to come back? Again. "You're the best fans in sports, please come back, we want you," said the man who has canceled two thousand, three hundred and twenty-three games at the helm of the league.
"We will return this game to our fans with a promise," he continued in that momentous press conference seven years ago. "We will do everything, everything in our power to be the best that we can be and to earn your continued devotion. We know that this was a terrible time for everyone associated with the game. We pledge to our fans that we will do everything we can to make it up to you."
"It's time our fans have some fun again and our objective is to give them all that they can handle."
What will he say this time? Frankly, what can he say?