"I think they're great. I think it transcends the game in hockey. It doesn't just become a hockey game. It's bigger than that. Hopefully they bring more fans in."
-- Mark Messier on NHL outdoor games
Mark Messier is sitting on the sidelines these days, enjoying the early stages of his new life as a retired NHL legend. Even still, few of the game's legends are as tuned in to today's NHL as Messier.
He's opinionated. He's eloquent. He's passionate.
NHL.com was lucky enough to hear Messier be all those things and more in an exclusive phone interview Monday morning. We asked him about free agency, the Detroit Red Wings, the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Winter Classic and a whole lot more.
Here is a transcript of the Q&A:
NHL.com: What do you think about the signings that took place the first week of July?
Mark Messier: I think from a player's standpoint, or an ex-player's standpoint, it's awesome. The salary cap has moved up and the players are being paid more money because there is more money to be made and teams are willing to show that they will do what it takes to improve their teams. I think it's great. I don't have any problem with anybody making as much money as they can. Hopefully they understand the impact they have in their responsibilities off the ice as well. They're not getting paid that much money just to go play from 7-10 four nights a week.
NHL.com: Does four Cups in 11 years and having a core group of players — Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty and Tomas Holmstrom — playing on all four championship teams make the Detroit Red Wings a dynasty?
MM: You have to really respect what they have been able to do for a long period of time, without having great draft picks. To call it a dynasty — I don't know. You might have to win five Cups in seven years like we did in Edmonton to call it a dynasty. As a franchise, they have definitely set the standard for everybody else to follow. They have treated players well, drafted well, coached well, managed well, and owned well. If you're looking at a model franchise right now they would have to be one of them. I am not sure what defines a dynasty.
NHL.com: How excited are you that Glenn Anderson will be joining you in the Hall of Fame?
MM: He's been an important part of my career for a long time and a good friend. I and everybody else that played with Glenn know what kind of player and teammate he was. To see him get the recognition he deserved is gratifying for a lot of us.
NHL.com: Is there anyone else from that dynastic team that you feel still deserves inclusion into the Hall of Fame?
MM: We're hoping Kevin Lowe gets in. He has all the All-Stars and the Stanley Cups, a lot of the things it takes to get there. We're hoping the panel sees it fit to let Kevin Lowe in.
NHL.com: I know you played in the alumni game before the Heritage Classic in Edmonton, but would you have liked to play in one of these outdoor games that actually counts for something?
MM: Yeah, sure. I think they're great. I think it transcends the game in hockey. It doesn't just become a hockey game. It's bigger than that. Hopefully they bring more fans in. Promoting players is important. I think overall it's important and it's been a great thing for our game. To see them doing it in these historic venues is great. It's going to be cold up there, but they have ways to keep it safe. The biggest challenge we have for this is the ice conditions because it is a real game, so if we can iron that out people can bear the cold for a few hours.
NHL.com: Did you ever believe Wayne Gretzky would become an NHL coach?
MM: I always knew Wayne would be involved in hockey in some capacity. It's in him. It's what he loves and knows the best. As it turns out, what he loves the best is being down in the action. He has tried it all, from management to president in a lot of different areas, including Team Canada, but what he found is he really enjoys the interaction with the players and being in the heat of the game. It doesn't surprise me that he's down there.
NHL.com: Putting you on the spot now, who do you think is the best player in today's game?
MM: I believe it is Sidney Crosby. Everybody has their own styles and likes and dislikes, but for me the first time I saw him play you could see he was something special. He plays with a lot of courage and in all the tough areas on the ice. He's tremendously skilled and uses the people around him unbelievably well. Not only is he an excellent playmaker, but he scores the goals, too.
NHL.com: Probably more apropos for you, who is the best leader in today's game?
MM: That's hard for me to say unless you're in the trenches with them. A lot of the things go on behind closed doors that we're not privileged of hearing about. That is so hard to tell right now, especially for a guy looking in like me.
NHL.com: And, finally, if you could rewind time and relive one moment of your career — and only one — which of the many would you choose?
MM: Impossible to answer. I have been asked it a lot, but I just can't answer it. The first Stanley Cup was a dream come true. Making the NHL was a dream come true. The Cup in New York was a dream come true. The Canada Cups; to pick one is just impossible.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com