-- Wayne Gretzky
handled his appearance Monday night at the Hockey Hall of Fame with the same deftness with which he handled the puck during his legendary career.
There was much speculation that Gretzky would not make an appearance during Monday's ceremony because of the complex issues surrounding the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes
"Nobody ever talked to me," Gretzky said on the HHOF red carpet. "I was working over the weekend and I took the red-eye and came here to be a part of this. It was purely speculation."
Gretzky, the former coach and minority owner of the Coyotes, stepped down during training camp as the future of the team was decided in United States Bankruptcy Court.
The NHL's bid to purchase the team was accepted in October.
For Gretzky, Monday night was not about the fallout from the sale of the Phoenix franchise, but rather a celebration of the career achievements of the Hall of Fame inductees -- Luc Robitaille
, Brian Leetch
, Steve Yzerman
and Brett Hull
"It is what it is right now," Gretzky said. "Right now, it's just my time to sit back and enjoy my kids. You know what? The game is bigger than any individual or any person. Right now, it is just not a part of my life. It's as simple as that."
And, contrary to the speculation, he says he harbors no bitterness.
"No, not at all," Gretzky said. "What's there to be upset by? It's the greatest game in the world. There's nothing better than our sport. I'm very proud of it. Life goes on."
While hockey is not at the forefront of Gretzky's life at the moment, its tentacles remain. Not surprisingly, Gretzky has significant ties to almost all of Monday night's inductees.
While in Los Angeles, Gretzky played with Robitaille on a Kings team that took over the city for several years. In New York, Gretzky played with Leetch on a Rangers team that could never get over the hump to repeat the Stanley Cup championship Leetch helped the team win before Gretzky arrived. In St. Louis, he played with Hull for part of one magical season. Yzerman and Gretzky played together for Team Canada.
"This is a great honor for them," Gretzky said. "They're all champions and they are all really great guys. One of the great things about (the Hockey Hall of Fame) is that your friends and family are there, grandparents, ex-teammates.
"I played with most of those guys, other than Stevie -- and we played in the World Cup together. It's a nice day for everyone."