Gretzky honors former teammates

Updated: November 9, 2009, 10:34 PM ET
By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

TORONTO -- The NHL avoided what would have been a major embarrassment when Wayne Gretzky arrived at the Hall of Fame ceremonies Monday night.

His decision to come and honor former NHL teammates Luc Robitaille, Brian Leetch and Brett Hull, and international teammate Steve Yzerman and New Jersey Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello prevented what would have been a dark stain on the evening's proceedings.

Although Gretzky told reporters before the ceremony it was "speculation" that he might not attend the annual induction ceremonies, sources close to the game's greatest player confirmed that he wrestled with whether to come right up until the last minute because he remains angered at how he's been treated by the NHL in the wake of the Phoenix Coyotes' bankruptcy proceedings.

[+] EnlargeWayne Gretzky
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesWayne Gretzky is surrounded by cameras as he arrives at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies Monday.

Gretzky is owed $8.2 million in deferred salary and the NHL, while insisting they will help Gretzky recoup as much of that money as possible via the courts, have refused to guarantee he will be paid in full.

Gretzky insisted he wasn't bitter.

"No, not at all. What's there to be upset by?" Gretzky said. "It's the greatest game in the world. There's nothing better than our sport. I'm very proud of it, and life goes on.

"It is what it is right now. Right now it's just my time to sit back and enjoy my kids. And you know what? The game is bigger than any individual or any person. Right now, it's just not part of my life. It's as simple as that," Gretzky added.

The former head coach of the Coyotes, who stepped away from the team during training camp, said he hopes the franchise thrives.

"Like I said from day one, it's really not my issue -- this was an issue between Mr. Moyes, the parties trying to buy the team and the National Hockey League. It had nothing to do with me," Gretzky said.

"Phoenix is a great city, and I hope it does well there, and I hope the people of Southern Ontario one day get their wish and get an NHL franchise. My opinion hasn't changed since the first day this all transpired."

As for suggestions that Gretzky might rejoin the Kings organization, Gretzky was non-committal.

"Dean [Lombardi, Kings' GM] and I have been friends for a lot of years, and we often chat, and he was one of the first to call when I decided to step away from the NHL, and I told him we'd get together down the road. He's doing a nice job in L.A.," Gretzky said.

"Down the road, we'll sit down and chat."

There was much discussion in the days leading up to Monday's induction ceremony that Gretzky was so disappointed in his treatment by the league that he would stay home.

Lamoriello, for one, had nothing but high praise for the game's greatest player.

"Wayne Gretzky, is to me, without question, what the NHL is all about," Lamoriello said. "What he has done for the game I don't think anyone can ever articulate and give him justice in what he's done. I have so much respect for him. And I've got to know him over the years in many different capacities and he is a gentleman. He is just what symbolizes what our great game is."

Hull, who finished his career playing for Gretzky briefly in Phoenix, likewise praised the hockey icon.

"He didn't just play the game," Hull said. "He is the game and always will be."

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