TORONTO -- The game's greatest Hall of Famer, Wayne Gretzky, was on hand Monday. He talked about the memories that came flooding back to him when he was inducted in 1999.
"To make the Hockey Hall of Fame is really hard. You've got to be a real special person because that’s what makes it a special place," Gretzky told a gaggle of reporters.
"I was just telling some friends today, I was telling my boys, I still come here to visit the Hall of Fame. When I was a kid, I used to come here and just stare at all the equipment and the names. I got a chance this summer to bring my 13-year-old son here and just spend a couple of hours here."
Gretzky said coming into the Hall of Fame is a chance to share a tremendous honor with those who helped build the path to the NHL and a place in the Hall.
"The moms are the ones that don’t get enough credit that they deserve because they’re the ones that get up at 5 a.m. and take them to practices when you’re a kid, take you to games because your father’s working. It’s a great honor not only for the players and the athletes but for the families," Gretzky said.
"It’s extremely emotional. Once you get there. Listen, the NHL coaches and the management are so wonderful and they’re so good. But it’s the people who get you there. Your pee wee coach, your novice coach, your bantam coach, your high school teacher or principal that really believes in you and gives you that extra little push and nudge that says you can do it. And those are the people, when I stood up there, I was sort of thinking about when I made the Hall of Fame because without those people at 12, 13, 14, 15, I would never have made it."
As always, a great night for those who love a little emotion with their ceremony. Brendan Shanahan dedicated his honor to his father, who died of Alzheimer’s and never saw him play in the NHL. He talked lovingly about the influence of his mother, who, with his father ailing, drove to London, Ontario, to spend time with him while he was playing junior hockey. And he praised his older brothers, who never said no to him when he wanted to come and play lacrosse with them.
Scott Niedermayer talked about the joy of being able to spend the final days of his career in Anaheim, where he got a chance to play and win a Stanley Cup with his brother Rob. The two had faced each other in the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, but in 2007, Scott Niedermayer took the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and handed it to his brother, more than making up for the 2003 clash.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated speech of the night was Chris Chelios', because there was a sense he might take a shot at Bettman, with whom he warred over the years. Instead, the rugged defenseman noted that the labor disputes were the parts of his career he hated the most, and that nobody won. At the end of his speech, he brought his entire family onto the stage with him.
Canadian women’s great Geraldine Heaney thanked her parents for never telling her that hockey wasn’t for girls.
And then there was Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who took to the podium to accept the Hall of Fame honor for his father, former Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero. He asked the many former Flyers players and colleagues in attendance to stand so he could honor them as they had honored his father by attending. Very nice.
Harding keeps Wild in hunt
The Minnesota Wild are back in the hunt in the Central Division after a very up-and-down start to the season, and you don’t have to look very far to see who one of the main catalysts has been: netminder Josh Harding.
GM Chuck Fletcher said it goes back to last season when Harding, who missed most of the regular season dealing with medication and protocols for treating multiple sclerosis, was forced into action in the first round of the playoffs against Chicago when Niklas Backstrom went down with an injury before Game 1.
This season, Harding has rolled up a 9-2-2 record, a .947 save percentage and 1.22 goals-against average -- the latter two of which are among the league leaders.
"He came into camp, he had a very good training camp and he’s played well," Fletcher said. "He’s always been a good goaltender and again the doctors are confident they can work with Josh to manage the situation. Life is full of uncertainty, you never know what will happen, but right now, he’s just a good NHL goaltender. There doesn’t need any asterisks next to what he’s doing."
Someone asked the Minnesota exec if he’d seen any sign of Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman scouting Harding, who would be a dark horse to make the Canadian team for the Sochi Olympics.
"Ha, ha, ha. I don’t know about all [that] but we’re happy to have him," Fletcher said.
"We knew they’d be better, but we needed them to do more than just wear a jersey this year. We needed them to contribute and help our team win," Fletcher said. "But at lot of the credit goes to the veteran players."
"Every time (Granlund) makes a great play Pominville puts it in the net, that in turn helps with both those guys’ confidence," Fletcher said
Goalies coach Burke shares moment with Shanahan
Among those in attendance at Monday’s ceremony was Phoenix Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke, who diverted from the Yotes’ road trip to share a Hall of Fame moment with his old pal Shanahan, with whom he played as a young man in New Jersey.
"We both basically broke in together. He was with the team that year that I came from the Olympic club in ’88 and joined the team," Burke told ESPN.com.
"Him and I moved in together the year after, two young players. We ended up playing in Hartford together as well and really just stayed friends over the years," Burke added. "He’s a guy that is well deserving of this, as everybody knows. But when you play with a guy, you really appreciate even more because of how hard you see them work day in and day out. He definitely made himself into a heck of a player.”
Vote for Mike Smith
Speaking of Olympic goaltending and which direction Canada might turn, Burke is rooting for his charge in Arizona: Mike Smith.
“You come into the season, I definitely wanted it to be a factor for him. Something he thought about," Burke said. "That helps your preparation in the summer, it helps when the season starts getting a focus not only on your own team but something else as well.
“There’s a lot of good goalies. I don’t think Canada has anywhere near the problems in goal that everybody makes that out to be. But I do think Smitty’s the type of guy that, if you have him in the three-hole or you have him as the guy playing, he can fill that role. He’s definitely the type of player, when he gets hot he can carry you for a long time. In a tournament like the Olympics, you only need a guy to be good for two and a half, three weeks. He’s the type of player that can raise his game to that level. So I really would like to see him be a part of that team, but like I said, there’s a lot of good goalies.”
There were lot of connections on Hall of Fame night with Chelios and Shanahan having played together in Detroit. Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock coached both, and he also coached Scott Niedermayer in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics and the 2004 World Championships, as well as losing to Niedermayer’s New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Stanley Cup finals when he was head coach in Anaheim.
“I’m real fortunate. I got an opportunity obviously to coach Niedermayer two times and had an opportunity to coach Cheli and Shanny in Detroit, so you’re proud of those guys,” Babcock said.
“Not many guys are fortunate enough to have coached as many Hall of Famers that I’ve been lucky enough to coach, and you feel fortunate to have coached such great players.”
Goalie fights debate
Among the topics expected to be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting in Toronto of NHL general managers will be what to do about fighting goaltenders in the wake of an ugly incident recently involving Ray Emery of the Philadelphia Flyers and his unwilling dance partner, Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals.
“No, it’s not part of the game,” Glenn Healy, a longtime NHL netminder and now a national analyst, told ESPN.com.
“If you’ve got a goaltender who wants to actively pursue another goaltender or wants to defend a teammate, that’s fine. Gloves off, Marquess of Queensberry rules. But in this case, you have one that didn’t really want to, and I wouldn’t either. So I think there’s one rule that makes it nice and easy, nice and tidy -- and that is, if you instigate a fight with a goalie who doesn’t want to combat, there’s a suspension. Then you end the garbage.”
Suspending a goaltender would make things complicated for teams, as they would have to call someone up to replace him for that period of time and, depending on the situation, could end up having to send another player down, possibly exposing one to the waiver wire.
“That then becomes a big issue. You initiate with a goalie, you’re getting whacked, you’re going to get suspended," Healy said. "Keep it simple. None of this over the blue line, behind the blue line if he goes over center. No, no. You initiate, you’re done."
Hall of Famer Igor Larionov is enjoying a good turn as a player agent these days. He is headed later this week to Edmonton to get a better handle on what’s happening with his young client, Nail Yakupov, who was selected first overall in the 2012 draft but has been a healthy scratch and seen his ice time ride up and down as the Oilers have stumbled through the first quarter of the season.
The key is obvious, according to Larionov: Confidence on the part of Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien and GM Marc Bergevin.
“That’s the answer for that. That’s the answer," Larionov said. "I talked to Michel, I talked to Marc Bergevin at the beginning of the season."
And while they knew there it wouldn't always be smooth sailing for Galchenyuk, they were prepared to live with that, Larionov said.
“He’s going to make some mistakes, but you can see he’s getting better every time he steps on the ice. They try him on the left wing, they try him in the middle, so they have a player that can play any position," Larionov said. "Obviously you don’t want to put too much pressure on a 19-year-old guy, but when he’s playing so well it’s a shame not to let him go. He’s going to make like 10 great plays and maybe three bad plays, but still, he’s going to be good for the game."