In full-page advertisements this week in newspapers across North America — including this one — the National Hockey League told fans it wanted to "apologize to you for the time we've missed," its quaint spin on the lockout it imposed and the labor dispute that delayed the season's opening.

There now, don't you feel better?

The ad was signed "The National Hockey League," not "Commissioner Gary Bettman," maybe on the premise fans are more likely to welcome back the league itself than the commissioner who has presided over a lost season and two lockout-shortened versions.

In any case, "the time we've missed" is nearly over.

A little more than seven months after the Kings won the Stanley Cup in one of the most dominant playoff performances in league history, they will raise their banner and get their bling Saturday at Staples Center before a nationally televised game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Bettman will be in the house but won't participate in the ceremony, and an NHL spokesman said the commissioner always attends these occasions but never goes on the ice. Bettman couldn't save us from a labor war, but he will at least spare us the distraction of hearing him mercilessly booed.

What will happen after the Cup banner goes up and the curtain is raised on this curtailed NHL season is difficult to predict.

One theory holds that teams whose players skated with European or minor league clubs will have an advantage because they won't need time to regain their form. If that's the case, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington could thrive.

Another theory suggests teams that made few roster moves will be in good shape because they won't have to learn new players' tendencies. That includes the Kings, who have brought back every player from last season except little-used enforcer Kevin Westgarth, and the Chicago Blackhawks, who have made few changes.

Who will have an advantage?

"It's a great question, but let's be perfectly clear: This is uncharted territory for the entire league," said Ed Olczyk, a former King who will be an analyst on NBC's telecast Saturday.

"Back in the lockout of '94-95, we had a 31/2 -week training camp and played eight or nine exhibition games and then we got locked out and didn't come back until January to play the 48-game schedule. So at least you had an idea and a feel and a sense of system and lines and all those types of things. I think this is really wide open."

Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, the only current NHL coach who coached during the previous lockout-shortened season, said his experience leading the 1994-95 Blackhawks probably won't be of much value now.