Commentary

Scene and heard: Hockey HOF fete

Updated: November 10, 2009, 1:51 AM ET
By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

With Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman and Lou Lamoriello being inducted into the 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun were on hand for the proceedings Monday in Toronto. Here, they catalog the best sights and sounds of the evening -- and offer some of their own thoughts.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hull
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesBrett Hull demonstrated again Monday night that he's as fast with a quip as he was firing on net.

Kudos to Brett Hull, the most irreverent and controversial of the five inductees, for producing a thoughtful and at times emotional acceptance speech.

He joked that between himself, his father (Bobby) and uncle (Dennis), they produced 1,654 NHL goals -- and his son, Jude, is a goalie.

As for his father, who went into the Hall of Fame in 1983 when Brett was playing junior hockey in Penticton, British Columbia, he said, "You gave me giant footsteps to fill."

Brett then recalled words of advice his father gave him: "The further you are from the play, the closer you are to it."

"And I'm fortunate to have figured out what the hell he was talking about," Hull joked.

His work is never done

Steve Yzerman talked glowingly about his minor hockey days in Nepean, Ontario, on the outskirts of Ottawa.

Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen reminded Yzerman that the arena in which he played is now named after Yzerman.

"Yeah, for the time being," Yzerman joked, a nod to the pressure he's under to bring home a gold medal for Canada as the executive director of the Canadian Olympic team.

One year too many?

Yzerman, who retired after the 2005-06 season -- the first post-lockout season -- admitted that if he had to do it again, he might have called it quits before that final year.

"I really debated, 'Should I come back; is this the right thing or not?'" Yzerman said. "Looking back on the thing, I wouldn't have done it. If I had the opportunity [to do it again], I wouldn't have come back and played."

"I was hoping, actually, the year off was going to help me," Yzerman said. "I was hoping that if I trained, I could come back stronger and play. It really didn't make much of a difference at all. It didn't make any difference."

"At least when I retired, I knew I was done."

[+] EnlargeSteve Yzerman
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesIf he had it to do over again, Steve Yzerman would have called it quits before his final NHL season.

No Hall of Fame front line

Some have suggested Yzerman, Hull and Robitaille would make a pretty potent forward combination. Yzerman said it had been tried when the three were together in Detroit during the 2002 Stanley Cup season under legendary coach Scotty Bowman.

"Scotty tried that," Yzerman said. "He hated it. He split us up and put us on different lines."

Time running out for Savard-Bruins pact

The agent for star center Marc Savard says contract talks continue with the Boston Bruins, but time is becoming of the essence.

"We continue to discuss regularly," agent Larry Kelly told ESPN.com on Monday night at the Hockey Hall of Fame. "Both sides are interested in getting something done. But obviously there are issues we are working through."

The longer it takes, the closer Savard gets to July 1, when he would become an unrestricted free agent. It's clear from what Kelly said that the clock is ticking.

Ward injury update

Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford had a busy day before arriving in Toronto, signing veteran goalie Manny Legace to a one-year, $500,000 deal in the wake of Cam Ward's injury.

But Rutherford revealed that the Legace signing already had been in the works.

"We had actually been talking to his agent for a couple of weeks prior to this," Rutherford told ESPN.com. "We were trying to get a little depth at the position. So, as it turned out, it was a necessity."

Rutherford also had an update on his star goalie, who was injured in a game Saturday night and was taken to a hospital.

"He visited our doctors today; they were real pleased with what they saw," Rutherford said. "It's probably going to be three weeks or so."

Rutherford is also in town for the GMs meeting, which will be held Tuesday and Wednesday here in Toronto. He figures he'll get some love from his colleagues looking for a desperate GM to make a trade, given his team's last-place standing in the NHL.

"I'll be popular for the next couple of days, I'm sure," Rutherford said. "When you get in our position, people are wondering when we're going to move some guys. But I'm not in a fire sale at this point. I still think we can come out of it, but we can't dig too deep."

NHL to return to Quebec?

Marcel Aubut remains optimistic that the return of the NHL to Quebec City is a possibility. The former president and owner of the Quebec Nordiques met with commissioner Gary Bettman last month along with the mayor of Quebec City, and the message from the NHL was simple: Build a new arena and then we'll see.

"As the commissioner said, there's nothing possible without a new rink," Aubut told ESPN.com. "The mayor has been re-elected in Quebec City; he's got the full support to build a $400-million arena. It's going to happen. Then, once you have the rink, you never know."

The knock on Quebec City, which lost its team to Denver in 1995, is the apparent lack of corporate support. But Aubut disputes that.

"I was president and owner in Quebec City for 22 years," Aubut said. "We have access to the whole province. Two teams have access to the whole province. You've got nine million people for two teams. It should be enough."

But do the Montreal Canadiens want the Nordiques back?

"I think the best times they had was when we were around," Aubut said with a smile.

On the receiving end …

Kay Whitmore, a former NHL goalie who works in the NHL's hockey operations department, had the unenviable task of trying to stop all four of this year's player inductees. Did Yzerman, Hull, Robitaille and Leetch each score on him?

"I would bet yes," Whitmore said without knowing the answer for sure.

"But I know for a fact Hull scored twice on me in one game," he added.

It was during Hull's 76-goal season.

"He was up to 70-something goals, and the only team he hadn't scored on yet was the Whale," said the former Hartford Whalers goalie. "So he came into Hartford that night, and it was a big thing in the media. When he scored the first goal, the PA guy says, '72nd goal of the year.' I was like, 'Wow, that sounds like so many goals.' When he got his 73rd goal, I was like, 'Why did anyone have to tell him he hadn't scored against us yet?' He was trying twice as hard."

[+] EnlargeLou Lamoriello
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesLou Lamoriello was the only non-player inducted Monday, but he had no shortage of admirers.

Go figure

Lou Lamoriello was asked about the sight of his former tough-as-nails defenseman Ken Daneyko taking part in the wildly popular Canadian reality show "Battle of the Blades," which partners former NHLers such as Daneyko, Bob Probert, Tie Domi and national analyst Craig Simpson with real figure skaters.

Lamoriello seemed slightly at a loss for words. "Probably the most graceful player we've ever seen," Lamoriello said of Daneyko, who also provides color commentary on Devils broadcasts.

He noted that Daneyko would have been "at the bottom of a list" of players you could imagine ending up wearing figure skates on television.

Fan favorite

The fan forum, a Sunday staple at Hall of Fame weekend since Wayne Gretzky was inducted back in 1999, allows fans to ask questions of their heroes and continues to be one of the weekend's most popular events. This year, fans began lining up at 6 p.m. Saturday for an event that didn't take place until 11:30 Sunday morning.

It's a Hall world after all

We often say hockey is like a small town scattered across North America (and beyond). Lamoriello described how he has known legendary netminder (and fellow Hall of Famer) Johnny Bower for as long as he can remember.

Bower played for the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League in the mid-1950s before he became an elite netminder for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he and his wife, Nancy, lived with Lamoriello's parents in Providence when Lamoriello would have been in his early teens.

"Johnny sticks out to this day," Lamoriello said. "And I remind him of that when I see him."

Coincidentally, Bower celebrated his 85th birthday this weekend and was feted by the Air Canada Centre crowd at Saturday's game.

In praise of Lou

As Pierre LeBrun wrote Monday, Lamoriello's 20-year tenure at Providence College included coaching future hockey heavyweights Toronto GM Brian Burke, Toronto coach Ron Wilson and head of Hockey Canada Bob Nicholson.

Wilson recalled how Lamoriello recruited him when he was a 17-year-old player.

"When you're deciding on a college, that's the biggest decision you're probably ever going to make," Wilson said. "A lot of people questioned my decision back then going to Providence. It wasn't a good program, and I put my trust in Louie, and so it's kind of, for me today, confirmation that, at 17 or 18 years old, I made an intelligent decision.

"Lou is by far and away the most sincere and up-front and honest person, and I think today confirms that," Wilson said. "That's how he's always managed his teams and managed his life."

[+] EnlargeLuc Robitaille
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesLuc Robitaille wasn't the fastest skater, but he had a knack for scoring -- and a sense of humor.

As fast as he needed to be

There were lots of good-natured shots taken at Luc Robitaille this weekend relating to his lack of foot speed.

He recalled on Monday how a writer in Quebec early in his career suggested he would never be an NHLer because he was slower than a Zamboni.

"It was a really fast one," Robitaille joked. "It was a turbo Zamboni. It was the only one made that way." He did say he asked his dad at one point whether he was really that slow.

"My dad was always positive and pushing me, and he says, 'All I know is when there's a loose puck, you seem to be first on it every time.' I said, 'OK.'"

In the early 1980s, Robitaille said he even went as far as to buy a pair of inline skates and practiced all summer trying to improve his stride.

"It was always my first three steps that I was trying to improve on," he said.

"I remember being 38 years old and trying to do some pickup drills out there just to figure out my three steps. So I tried every day to get better."

Picking diamonds over ice

More than once, Robitaille was reminded that the L.A. Kings actually drafted a baseball player, Tom Glavine, before they got around to selecting him with the 171st pick in the 1984 entry draft.

"That's how much they believed in me," he quipped.

For the record, Glavine was selected with the 69th pick in that entry draft and went on to record 305 wins in the (baseball) majors.

The confidence game

During the fan forum Sunday, Brett Hull was asked which goalie he would pick if he had to win one game.

"I didn't think any of them were any good when I was shooting," Hull joked.

As fast as he needed to be, Part II

Kudos to International Ice Hockey Federation communications guru Szymon Szemberg, who asked Robitaille in the fan forum about his record-setting performance at the 1994 IIHF World Championship. Robitaille became the first player to score two shootout goals in the same game as Canada won its first gold medal in 33 years.

The second goal, which came after the first five shooters had shot and the score remained tied, featured a near bungle by Robitaille, who momentarily lost the puck but regained control and managed to score.

"I was going so slow, I was able to get it back," Robitaille said.

Minor moves, major payoff

Lamoriello has, of course, made blockbuster deals since assuming the helm of the Devils in 1987. But it was interesting to hear him mention the deal to bring Grant Marshall to the Devils in March 2003 as one of the most memorable or noteworthy.

Lamoriello used the deal to illustrate his point that championship teams are always built on the foundation of players who will accept different roles without question. Marshall came from Columbus for a fourth-round pick at the '03 trade deadline. He played 24 playoff games that year for the Devils, scoring six times and adding two assists as the Devils won their third Stanley Cup championship.

"You can't get it done without them," Lamoriello said of those character players.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.