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January 1, 2017
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
GARY BETTMAN: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome and Happy New Year. May this be a year of health and happiness for everyone. And what a better way to start the new year than with a great outdoor event here in Toronto and to, in affect, begin a historic moment for the National Hockey League, because as you all know, 2017 represents the league's centennial, 100 years of NHL hockey and as you've heard me say regularly, we think that's a real big deal. It's also a hundred years for the Leafs, 125 years for the Stanley Cup, and 150 years for the Confederation of Canada. So, 2017 is special in all those ways.
I don't know if you've had a chance to walk around the pre-game and see the Fan Village, which is going to serve as our traveling truck tour to celebrate the centennial, which will go to all of our markets. But to see the variety of sweaters, particularly people wearing sweaters with the names of legends on them, is real very special. And incredible number of people that were here four hours ago just waiting to sample everything that the centennial project has to offer. And again, this is just another way of our recognizing the great history and tradition of our game.
As I think you all know, we were and have been embarked on our greatest 100 players project. And today, we're going to announce the 33 players of the hundred who played principally in the first 50 years of the league. And we are honored to be honoring them. It's a testament to the strength, longevity, and tradition of the game, but it's also recognizing great people who have contributed so much to this game and without whom we wouldn't be at this point today.
Last night, we had a dinner for the players from that era who are still with us and could be here today. And for those who couldn't, their families. And what I said to them was, while I've always believed and felt that giving out the Stanley Cup each year was the greatest honor and best part of my job, even if I occasionally get booed, the fact of the matter is, calling the hundred, either the individuals themselves, each of them, or their family members, was real thrilling. And in fact, a number of them said to me last night, it was so exciting to get your call. And I said, no, the excitement was really from me to have the privilege to make these calls and to hear the reactions and the emotions that went with them.
So, we are thrilled to be recognizing 33 of the hundred today. The other 67 will be recognized Friday night of All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, and we'll look forward to seeing all of you there.
As it relates to the 33, just some statistics. The 33 honorees from the first 50 years represent 140 Stanley Cups, 25 Hart, 24 Vezina's, 13 Art Ross, eight Norris, and six Calder. It is an incredible group of individuals who contributed mightily to the game.
In addition to contributions to the game, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the gentleman on my left, Mr. Gretzky, affectionately known as "The Great One," who is also known now as our Centennial Ambassador. And he's been on a whirlwind schedule, participating in the alumni game yesterday in St. Louis, being here today, and then going back to St. Louis tomorrow. So, this has been a whirlwind for you and thank you for all you've been doing.
As part of the two outdoor games back to back, it is an incredible undertaking by our hockey operations and events people. I think that you've all seen enough of these games to know what goes into them and to do them back to back is Herculean by some people who have given up their holidays to do this and for that we are grateful. But the end result shows how incredibly dedicated and talented they are.
As part of these two games, we will also have our legacy projects here in Toronto. We and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Authority and MLSE are going to improve community rink and launch a new hockey program in Moss Park. And in Saint Louis we're going to open another Lion's Den at St. Louis Children's Hospital with the Companions in Courage group.
So, we find ourselves at a opportune time to start the new year, to celebrate a hundred years, and look forward to the next hundred years. And while everybody's real busy, I think that it's a great time to reflect on where the game has been and the opportunities that are in front of us. And at this point it is my pleasure to turn the proceedings over to The Great One, our centennial ambassador, who I'm told was, as he always is, a rock star out at the pre-game. And you also were kind of blown away by the truck tour. So, anyway, the floor is yours.
WAYNE GRETZKY: All right. Thank you very much. As Commissioner alluded to about phone calls, I was thrilled when he called me to ask me to be part of the hundredth anniversary and to be an ambassador on behalf of the players and the league and I was ecstatic to say the least.
As I said a million times, it's the greatest game in the world, and I was fortunate enough to be part of the National Hockey League. And as he said, I was yesterday in St. Louis. It was so, to me, overwhelming to how great the whole atmosphere was and the support, not only from the fans and the corporate sponsorships, but the players themselves, the current players and the alumni players, everyone was genuinely enthusiastic, everyone was totally on board and really felt like they were a part of history and a part of something really special.
And then to fly up here today and to do the tour of the truck, the truck is like a moving mini Hall of Fame. I truly enjoyed my time in there. I think kids and fans and players are going to truly enjoy the tours that they get through the truck.
And then we get to the hundred players. We were at dinner the other night, Brett Hull and I, who seems to always have a lot to say. And we were debating the hundred players. And it's so remarkable that I think it's hard to come up with a hundred players, because there's probably two or three hundred great players. So for all the hundred guys who are on this list, it is pretty special. Each and every guy who gets to play in the National Hockey League always feels honored. But to be part of this hundred is very unique, and I think each and every guy will be honored and thrilled. And it will be something that will be talked about for a long time, because there's a lot of great players who could be part of that hundred.
So, in saying that, it's a pleasure to be here today. I look forward to the game, I look forward to going back to St. Louis for the game tomorrow, and I'm thrilled to be part of the hundredth anniversary and the All-Star Game heading to L.A. at the end of the month. So thank you very much.
GARY BETTMAN: We're going to take a few minutes of questions, and then we're going to do something else. So, don't think when the questions are over we're done. One more treat we have. Frank has final say, I can't help it.
Q. Wayne, I know as a kid you used to come to Exhibition Place to tour what was the Hockey Hall of Fame then, before it moved to its current location. Can you discuss what that was like when you got that opportunity back in those days and then today, given all that you've accomplished in the game, to be able to walk through the mini Hall of Fame, the museum truck, on the same grounds as you did when you were a kid.
WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, it's like the game itself, we have expanded so much and the game's gotten so much more popular and so much bigger in so many ways; by attendance, by the amount of kids playing, the TV, and people who follow our sport now. And that's how the Hall of Fame was. When I used to go to the Hall of Fame in the late '60s, early '70s, there was one little section with the NHL Hall of Fame and on the other side of that was the Canadian International Hall of Fame. So we had these two little rooms that weren't very big, and I could kind of walk through there within one minute. But I would spend hours in there, just staring at the old sticks, the old jerseys. I remember I thought it was so thrilling when they brought in Tretiak's old jersey from '72 and Esposito's jersey from that '72 series.
So, for me it was just part of my life. Always to be and want to be around the game of hockey. And as I said, from there, we have expanded into the Hall of Fame that we have today, which is so wonderful.
Q. I know you've spoken about your affinity for Gordie Howe, but when you were a boy, but were there any other players that you looked up to when you were young that might be part of the first group of guys?
WAYNE GRETZKY: Oh, yeah. So many of them. My dad's favorite player was Stan Mikita and. My first game, I got to face off against Stan Mikita my first shift.
My grandmother's favorite player was Frank Mahovlich, and she used to go on for hours about how great a player Frank Mahovlich was.
And I had friends that idolized Red Kelly because he could play forward and he played defense.
And of course Jean Beliveau and the class that he brought to life and to the game.
And Rocket Richard and everybody talked about his eyes and once he got to the blue line, you couldn't stop him.
The grace of Bobby Orr and how he skated and how he made his team better and how he changed the game of hockey from you could be an offensive defenseman and play in the NHL.
So each and every guy I learned about and followed and studied, absolutely. But I still seem to key right back to that one guy that wore No. 9.
GARY BETTMAN: You can ask him questions all day.
Q. It's an easy one. When the league turns a hundred, it's a rather unique number, you had an opportunity, I suppose, if you wanted to, to update some of the names of the trophies. You could have changed the Lady Byng to the Wayne, you could have changed any number of --
WAYNE GRETZKY: Can I answer that one?
GARY BETTMAN: Please.
Q. -- but you chose not to and I wonder why you kept the names that go a long, long way back.
WAYNE GRETZKY: The greatest thing about our game is the history of our game. And, obviously, sometimes change is part of life. But as he said, his greatest thrill as commissioner is giving out the Stanley Cup. As a player and as a captain, you want the commissioner with the cup to hand it to you. That's part of our history. That's part of our tradition. The same as the trophies that we have. The Art Ross, the Hart, the Lady Byng.
From my point of view, I think they should stay the way they are, because that's the history of our game. And I really believe that that's what separates our sport from every other sport, is some of the history that we have.
GARY BETTMAN: See, he's The Great One on and off the ice. By the way, I couldn't have said it any better. And frankly, while there will be certain players we'll have to find ways to commemorate and respect for all eternity, disrespecting those who have been given the honor of having their names on trophies, doesn't strike me as a fair or appropriate thing to do. But it's a good question. And I'm glad Wayne answered it.
Q. In terms of deciding on next year's outdoor games, in terms of the number, how much of that is impacted, obviously, by the potential of a two-week Olympic break or not?
GARY BETTMAN: Well, the Olympic break or not is something that is still far from being decided, and I think everybody kind of knows where things currently stand on that.
I think when we did the Olympics, what, in Sochi, we actually did five games that year. We did one going out to the Olympics, one coming back. We're focused on a game on the same day that we played our first game. Obviously, we're focused on a Winter Classic. So my guess is we're probably talking about three games next year, give or take, but none have been finalized.
GARY BETTMAN: Regardless.
Q. And on the Olympics, can you update us on where you feel things are? Obviously, there's a clock ticking right now.
GARY BETTMAN: Well, we're not the ones who are setting the deadline on the clock, others seem to be doing it. Nothing is really new to report since the board meeting in December. The Players Association told us where they were in advance of that meeting. We haven't had any further discussions with the IOC, the IIHF, and absent some compelling reason, I'm not sure there's a whole lot of sentiment on the part of the clubs to go through the disruption of taking almost three weeks off during the season. We have been there, done that five times. And while Vancouver and Salt Lake City were different, when you're halfway around the world, it's not the easiest thing to have in our season. Not just the risk of injury, because I see it discussed and reported during the Olympics, the compression to the regular season is something that concerns us. We're hearing complaints now about the five-day break. While players say they like the five-day break, they're also saying they don't like the compression that goes along with it. And that's something that's of great concern to us as well.
Q. We know the game is in a good place. There's lots of looking back this weekend, but as we look forward, perhaps each of you maybe want to answer this, what do you see as the major challenges for the game of hockey as it continues its fight in a very crowded sports and entertainment market?
GARY BETTMAN: I view it as nothing but opportunities. We're getting more exposure than we have ever had on all media platforms throughout the world. Our fans have never had more connectivity, the ability to connect to the game, they can get what they want, when they want, how they want it. We have international opportunities. We have the most diverse fan base of any of the North American sports leagues.
The thing we focus on day in and day out is what's taking place on the ice. Is the game competitive? Is it as exciting? Is it entertaining? Is it safe? And those are the things that drive us because nothing we do around the game, none of the marketing, none of the promotion, none of the distribution on every platform imaginable, that doesn't matter unless the game is good. And I think most people think the game has never been better, our season has never been more competitive, every team when the season starts virtually has a chance of making the playoffs, most teams are in the hunt until the end. And we all know that the playoffs have been incredible and unpredictable. That's the most important thing for us, is the game itself. But we think we have lots of opportunities to continue to grow the game and as Wayne said, even at the grass roots level there's never been more participation than there is now. Would you like to add something?
WAYNE GRETZKY: No, you said it very well.
GARY BETTMAN: Well, thank you.
Q. Wayne, I think it's safe to say that there's no more famous outdoor rink than the one your dad built for you in Brantford. Is it kind of surreal to think now that kids can now play in their play in their backyards and dream of one day playing in an event like this?
WAYNE GRETZKY: Yeah, you know, we always talk about the greatest thing about these outdoor games is it takes you back to being a kid, whether you did it in the backyard or on a pond or a lake or river frozen, some of the kids in our era, we grew up, we played in outdoor rinks, and we had league games that were in rinks that outdoors. And so I think that's what this brings back to the kids. And as importantly, I think to the fans. Parents come to these games with their kids, and they think about when they were kids and their dads and moms would take them to the park, and they would watch them skate and participate.
So, I think this, these outdoor games, I real enjoy them, I think they're wonderful. And I think the thing about it too is we have gone from cold weather like today, we have had snow in Buffalo and Pittsburgh and Boston. St. Louis is going to be relatively warm. Yesterday was a nice day. And I was really proud of the game we played in L.A. It was 65 degrees and there's 55,000 people there. And 30 years ago, probably, somebody would say you know, one day we're going to sellout Dodger Stadium and have a NHL game here against two California teams. People probably wouldn't have believed it. And that shows you how far hockey has come.
GARY BETTMAN: Especially in California since you got there.
Q. You played in the game at Caesar's Palace, and you kind of answered my question, that when you were walking through the casino to get to the rink that night you probably never thought that we would have this proliferation of outdoor hockey. How much do you think that night and all the fun that came with it lent to the evolution of the outdoor game that's being played annually now by the NHL?
WAYNE GRETZKY: Oh, I don't know that particular one game had a big impact. Obviously, it took note of what was accomplished there. But I think that, over the years, just these games have gotten even that much more fun and exciting and bigger and better. But that was just a jump start. I don't think that was the sort of beginning of this.
Hockey's made to be played anywhere and that's the one thing the NHL and hockey is trying to show. Whether it's cold weather, warm weather, wherever it is, the game itself can stand on its own. And we're in Vegas, we're in Dallas, we're in southern California, we're in Florida, Vancouver, Edmonton, people love the game of hockey. And I think that, most importantly, people are enjoying watching our sport, and as the commissioner said, the game is better today and the players are bigger and stronger, the equipment's better, the game is in a real good place and it's exciting to watch. And I think the people of Vegas are going to be excited about, not only their team, but watching the NHL come to their city, it's going to be fun for them.
Q. Your take on the way the NHL gives out points these days with some games worth three points, some games worth two points with the overtime and the shootout. Would you like to see a 3, 2, 1, 0 format?
WAYNE GRETZKY: That's not for me to decide, I'm here to wave and sign autographs.
I said this earlier, he didn't tell me how to play hockey, I don't tell him how to be a commissioner. He keeps everything fine. But I will tell you this, I learned something really new today going through the truck, you used to be able to get four assists on a goal. And I thought I knew a lot about the game of hockey, and I didn't know that until today, which, wow, I wish that was around in the '80s.
And don't change the rule for Jagr now.
GARY BETTMAN: Bear with us for a second while we set up. It's our pleasure to recognize and honor Johnny Bower, Johnny Bucyk, Dave Keon, Glenn Hall and Red Kelly. They are among the 33 of the greatest hundred that are here today to be honored.
GARY BETTMAN: We're going to do a short media avail with the five up here.
Q. Dave, it's been a big year for you, named the greatest Maple Leaf of the 100 and now among the 100 greatest players of all time, according to the NHL. How do you sort of absorb what's going on for you this year?
DAVE KEON: It's going to take a few years for all of that to sink in. It's been, the last three months have been pretty overwhelming for me, October and this weekend. So I'm thrilled that I was chosen and it's a great honor.
Q. Dave, along the same lines, can you describe the feeling what it's like to be able to be wearing the blue and white, walking around the stadium, being received by the fans, what it's like to be here for this event?
DAVE KEON: Well, in Toronto, I played here for awhile and we had some success, so there's an affiliation and we won some Cups and the people all remember that. So, it's pretty thrilling and pretty humbling at the same time.
Q. Glenn, I'm curious what you think of today's goaltending equipment and today's goalies, how that particular position has changed since you played?
GLENN HALL: Certainly we knew nothing about good equipment, so, but, yeah, today's goalkeepers, they're absolutely great. I'll tell you, the goalkeeper gets educated by the forwards. And you learn in practice a little bit what you, in practice, now I learned until I was 25 years old, and then after 25, practice become a problem rather than a solution. But, yeah, today's goalkeepers are great and you get some skinny little fella and he's got pants on that are 10 times too large, but they're -- we used to move to stop the puck and now, now the goalkeeper moves so the puck hits him. But, yeah. Sorry that took so long.
Q. For Glenn and Johnny. Which one of you guys was better?
GLENN HALL: I got it first.
Let's just look who is the best looking.
JOHNNY BOWER: I'm a little hard of hearing from all these pucks I stopped and kept a lot of these guys in the league, but I just want to say, you have to speak up a little bit, okay? I can't speak too well, I just had my front ones bashed down and back and I'm forgetting what I'm saying, so I just want to say I'm very happy and pleased to be here at this special event and the voting, I thank everybody in Toronto and I still think and I know that the greatest fans are here. They're great fans and it helps the players, too. You have your days, too, you get booed, I got booed, too, because I let a few goals go in, but I couldn't see them, so I blame my defensemen for that. But anyway -- not really -- it's just great to be here and I thank you very much for inviting me here.
Q. Glenn, I want to ask you to just relate to the people here the story about Johnny and his teeth. It's too good not to share.
GLENN HALL: Well, I think I just told Dave about that, that was when I was playing in the American league in Indianapolis and John was in Pittsburgh, and we were at the deal in Toronto here, years and years ago, and I told Johnny, I said, "John, do you remember that I was the goalkeeper in the other end when I think you lost six teeth?" And Nancy, John's wife, she pipes in, she says, "Nine." And said, "Holy crow, John," I said, "but if there were nine teeth laying on the ice," I said, "I'm glad they were at your end." And he come back and finished the game, with nine teeth gone.
Q. For Red and Johnny, Red, you were the first coach of the Kings, in the expansion six, and Johnny played in Boston all those years. What are your thoughts about the growth of the game here in the states or down in the states in these nontraditional market, Las Vegas is getting a team for the first time, you're in Texas, you're in Florida, Arizona, places that you might want to just visit on vacation, now they're full-fledged NHL cities. Any thoughts about the growth of the game there?
JOHNNY BUCYK: Well, I think it's growing pretty good and, in Boston, it's pretty hard to get a ticket for a game there. But I think a lot of, going to Florida and going to where it's nice and warm, is good for the players. Sometimes I think they forget they're going there to play a hockey game. But it's growing real well. I think the NHL, Mr. Bettman is doing a great job promoting the game and everywhere we go, like we -- I don't travel any more with the team, I quit that last year -- but I saw the crowds getting bigger and bigger. And maybe it's because the Bruins have always been a good drawing attraction.
Q. Red, what are your thoughts about that?
RED KELLY: Well, I was the first coach I guess in the L.A. expansion, so I kind of know what the new clubs are going through. It's great for the players to have more teams, there's more positions that are open. It's not easy for those new teams to come in and play against the older teams, they usually, they get some talent, but they usually don't get the top talent, that takes a few years to build up. So, the fans have to be good fans in those cities, because they're going to have to maybe put up with a, not a winning team right off the bat. So, but if they get the coaching and the management in those organizations, and they draft well, it will be maybe a few years down the line, but they can gradually make it. And as they get better, then the fans will get behind them more so than -- L.A. was, Jack Kent Cooke said that he knew there were 650,000 residents in L.A. that were Canadians or former Canadians, but he said they moved down there because they didn't like hockey. But that was the way it was back then. So the teams expanding I think is good for the players.
Q. Another one for Red, you switched from the defense to forward in the NHL, seemed to do it seamlessly. Are you, was it a big deal when you switched positions then and are you surprised it doesn't happen more often these days?
RED KELLY: Well, I never really thought much about it. For me, it was like a new life. I was like -- because when I retired, they said I was going to be disbanded from hockey, wouldn't be able to referee, coach or anything to do with hockey, if I didn't report. And so I, you grew up as a young boy, growing up, and you played hockey, and that was your life. And all of a sudden, boom, overnight, they said, you're going to be barred from any of those positions. So, that was kind of, you know, a shock. I just eloped six months before that and now I had a wife to look after and, you know, it costs money and I hadn't planned on it. So, now to become a forward, when they asked me to play forward, I hadn't been on the ice for about 10 days and so I thank goodness there's a defenseman behind me, if I make a mistake, he'll be able to cover up for me. So, I had no problem moving to the forward line and I played there as a wingman when I was Midget and Junior B growing up, and so that was no problem. And I could skate, so it wasn't -- I enjoyed it. Here, you're always, as a defenseman, they're always chasing you in there, you know, you got to get the puck and they're right on you. Whereas, now, it's my turn, I can go up and chase those guys in their end. So, it made it a little different.
Q. Dave, as you look at the current Leaf roster and they're celebrating the franchise celebrating a hundred years, we know it's a new year, new horizons, moving in the right direction, but what do you see as some of the keys for the team to have sustained success, which we haven't seen in this city for decades, really.
DAVE KEON: Well, I think probably the young players now have to improve and keep improving and I think in the next year or two years into the draft and some of the players that they have in the minors, develop them and develop an attitude of competing and not sitting back after having a little bit of success. Because I think that's counterproductive.
So, you have to keep pushing and it seems that some of the young players are playing very, very well and they're learning as they go and I think hopefully they will keep it up.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports