As Getzlaf calls it a career in Anaheim, a Hall of Fame bid awaits
“To tell you the honest truth, last year’s trade deadline was the hardest two days of my life,” said the 36-year-old, turning his gaze in a room full of teammates, friends, family and alumni to his wife.
“Me and Paige stayed up long nights talking about it, and ultimately the decision to stay here was based on the loyalty shown to me. It just didn’t feel right to go anywhere. When I was drafted by Anaheim, that was home to me. I’ve always had a sense of loyalty to the organization, as they’ve shown to me. It’s just been such an honour to play my entire career with one organization.”
And so, it is here, in Southern California, where the Regina native who made such an indelible mark on the organization and community, will stay to raise his four kids.
Tearing up as he looked at the four youngsters seated front and center at his send-off announcement, he explained how he knew it was time to walk away from a game that may very well call him back for a Hall of Fame speech someday.
“I’ve kind of always said I was going to let my body and mind dictate when I was going to retire,” he said, joking that initially he figured he’d wrap it up 10 years earlier.
“The grind of the everyday, and the prep for every season, gets harder as you get older.
“I’ve created an atmosphere of support around me, a loving family that I’d like to go home to. Kids that I’d like to grow up playing with, not watching play.
“That was a big thing for me, to step away from the game before I was unable to do that sort of stuff.”
And so he’ll suit up for his last NHL game April 24 against the Blues, allowing an adoring Honda Center crowd to wave goodbye to one of the most dominating centers and playmakers of his era.
A man whose 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame has helped him join some of the game’s elite by adding a Stanley Cup crown in 2007 to two Olympic golds, a world junior crown and a world championship title while also playing 1,150 regular season games.
“Those are rugby miles on his body,” said former Ducks GM Brian Burke, who admits he couldn’t have fathomed a player as physical as Getzlaf could endure as much as he has.
“It’s one thing to play that much, but it’s another to play that hard. I only had him a few years, but all we did when Getzy was there was win.”
Burke vividly remembers how professional Getzlaf was in his rookie year, in 2005, when Burke decided to send him and Corey Perry down to the AHL after two months despite the fact both were performing admirably.
“We didn’t like our leadership group at the time and we didn’t feel like it was a good group for them to learn from, so I told them, ‘This might be the most unfair demotion in hockey history but we need to keep you far from this group,’” said Burke, pointing out Getzlaf averaged two points a game in Portland and returned in January for good.
“They handled it like champions.”
Later that year, after the Ducks lost in Game 5 of a grueling run to the conference final, the young duo was asked moments afterward to return to Portland, where the affiliate had a Game 7 of their own in the Calder Cup semifinals.
“They didn’t complain or ask why, they said, ‘What time is the flight?’” said Burke of the franchise’s all-time scoring leader.
“Getzy hit the post in overtime of that game but they ended up losing.”
One year later, he was instrumental in helping the Ducks win the Stanley Cup, as part of a career that saw him record almost a point a game in 125 playoff games, earning him a captaincy that has lasted 12 years – the longest in franchise lore.
“He learned in Anaheim at the knees of Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Teemu Selanne, but he turned out to be a leader all on his own,” said Burke.
“He did it by playing every role asked, including winning big faceoffs, killing penalties, fighting. Whatever it took.”
So, the obvious question now is whether Getzlaf belongs in hockey’s pantheon of greatness in Toronto as a Hall of Famer.
Burke declined an opinion, citing the fact he’s on the selection committee.
Getzlaf checks all the boxes with a Cup win, his international championships and his work in the community that has done so well to help build up hockey in Southern California.
His playmaking ability is such that he holds the NHL record with 24 overtime assists, and is the 11th man in league lore to captain and rack up 1,000 points with the same team – an illustrious list that includes Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Jean Beliveau, Alex Delvecchio, Jarome Iginla, Ron Francis, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
He finished second in Hart Trophy voting in 2013-14, and top-seven twice more.
Only 12 other players have won two Olympic golds and a Cup.
Indeed, the Hall of Fame will come calling on one of the era’s best leaders.
Running through a long list of people to thank, Getzlaf got particularly choked up when praising the trainers who’d done so much to help him through the rigors of a long career.
He spoke of how honoured he was to have his teammates on hand – a young group he’s spent the last few years mentoring.
“It means the world to me to know I’ve had an impact in your life somehow,” said Getzlaf, who sits 88th in NHL scoring history, recording the fifth-most assists since joining the league.
“Team is everything to me and the thing I’ll miss the most. Going to battle with guys who didn’t grow up together … we all came together for a game we love. I love you guys.”
Perhaps no one more than the man he broke in with and who went through that early, crushing demotion with, Corey Perry.
“Perrs has been my best friend through all of this,” said Getzlaf, voice cracking, of the man he won Olympic gold beside in 2010 and 2014.
“We started together on this journey and it would have been great to finish that, but our business is what it is. I want to give a special thanks for everything he’s done and we went through together. He’s been an inspiration as far as someone that maybe wasn’t gifted with what everyone in this room has, but definitely learned how to battle and claw for whatever he got. He was my partner through all of it when we were kids, growing up in this organization. We supported each other all along the way.”