TORONTO -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took the stage for his usual annual address during Monday night’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction show.
Of course, this isn’t your usual year.
"Being here in this great Hall, the sanctuary of our game, celebrates everything that is good and right about hockey," Bettman said during his speech. "Even in difficult times, we find ourselves reassured to be here to recognize ultimate achievements on the ice. All of us, fans, teams and players, look forward to the time the game returns there."
On the front of trying to get the game back "there," still no official bargaining talks scheduled as of Monday night, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com before the induction, which was also echoed by NHLPA executive director Don Fehr as he entered the Hall. Fehr otherwise politely declined to speak to the media out of respect for the night's festivities, a decision Bettman also made.
Fehr said Sunday after the last meeting between the two sides that he hoped talks would resume this week in Toronto, but, at this point, things appear to be on hold after the sides hit a snag once again in talks last week in New York City.
It goes without saying that the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is an emotional moment for the inductees, and it was so for Adam Oates. He singled out teammates Ray Bourque and Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins and, of course, his St. Louis teammate Brett Hull. All three are Hall of Famers and all three were in attendance Monday night.
Hull and Oates formed one of the most dynamic duos in NHL history, although they played together for only parts of three seasons before Oates was traded to Boston.
“I can’t believe it was only three years, because it felt like forever,” Oates said.
The annual Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies provided a pleasant respite from the mind-numbing stalemate that is the NHL’s lockout, but the labor dispute was a constant source of discussion.
Take Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, who warned that the NHL and its players are doing what could be irreparable harm to the game.
“Extremely frustrating. It’s frustrating to me as a father, but even more as a person who is connected to the sport,” Stastny told ESPN.com Monday. "Every day, every day there is more and more damage done. Some of it’s irreparable. So the sooner the better.
“They’re not that far apart, they’re relatively close. ... They’re talking a few hundreds of millions or a few 10s of millions per year, and they’re ready to sacrifice $3.3 billion almost. It doesn’t make sense mathematically.”
Stastny recorded 1,239 points in 977 NHL games and his son, Paul, is a center with the Colorado Avalanche.
“I was hoping they would meet tonight,” he added.
Another Hall of Famer, Igor Larionov, echoed Stastny’s frustration.
“Watching the game develop and gain [new] heights, and now [a] stoppage for another two months or three months, it’s not very good for the game,” said Larionov, who is now a player agent. "Obviously frustrating because you want to see the young talent coming up and they’re ready to play."
Larionov, who along with Stastny was instrumental in breaking down barriers that allowed European players to play in the NHL, warned that if the NHL loses a second season to a labor dispute, “that’s going to be big trouble for the game."
Still, Larionov remained optimistic that a resolution will come sooner than later.
“I hope it’s going to be resolved soon," he said. "I’m very positive it’s going to be resolved by in a matter of weeks, maybe two weeks, three weeks and we’ll see the game back in shape."
Glenn Anderson, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008, said the fans are the ones that feel the most pain during a time like this.
“Any time that you’re not playing hockey, it’s going to be a difficult time,” Anderson told ESPN.com.
“I’ve done this my whole career, it’s just another situation that we have to deal with. It’s like with any other sport, you have to ride the wave and go with it. It’s just sad that it takes away from the fans. And that’s what’s really sad, that you don’t have the capability of watching it.”
Speaking of Paul Stastny, the Avs center is contemplating going to Europe.
“We were trying to get him to Nuremberg and get him to play with his brother. That was my dream,” Peter Stastny said, referring to Paul’s older brother, Yan, who is in his second season with the German elite league team.
“Didn’t work out, but if everything works out, [Paul] might at the end of the week, he might be playing in Europe somewhere. I know where, but I’m not going to tell you where. You’ll find out.”
Although Larionov is new to the agent gig, he said he is watching a lot of hockey -- everything but NHL hockey, as it turns out -- and is hoping to grow his business slowly by adding two or three high-end players every year.
One of his clients is the first overall pick in last June’s draft, Nail Yakupov.
The skilled forward is tearing it up in the Kontinental Hockey League with 10 goals and four assists in 13 games for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.
The Edmonton Oilers prospect was initially slated to play in the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting before an agreement was worked out for him to return to Russia to play during the lockout.
“I guess when you’ve got a player 19 years old score more goals than Ovechkin and Malkin and Datsyuk and Kovalchuk, I think it’s good. Thirteen games with 10 goals, it’s not bad playing for an average team,” Larionov said.
Being a captain in hockey-crazed Toronto is no easy chore. But Mats Sundin would never have it any other way.
"It’s a special place to play, it adds pressure to the team, the city cares so much about the team and it’s great," Sundin said Monday. "At the same time, it asks a little bit more of the guys than playing in a Tampa or Carolina. Which is not always easy. It’s great when you win, but when things aren't going as well as they should, it affects the team and you get more pressure from the outside. A 10-game losing streak in Carolina, no one’s going to notice. But you lose 10 games here, the guys on the team don’t really want to go out and have dinner. It affects it a lot more."
Fellow HHOF inductee Joe Sakic marveled at Sundin’s ability to stay calm under pressure in this market.
"He did it with nothing but class. What a tremendous leader," Sakic said. "When you thought of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you thought of Mats Sundin. He really carried this team."
A few times this weekend, Joe Sakic paid homage to his NHL roots, recalling the fans of Quebec City.
When Sakic arrived in Quebec as an NHL rookie, the team was rebuilding and suffered through a lot of losing.
"I wish we had been a little better earlier," Sakic said Monday. "When we turned the corner, what an exciting place, you saw the passion of the fans. Really, and I mean this, I don’t know if there’s another city that has as much passion as fans have there."