No more Golden Brett
New-style Hull could lead Dallas to Stanley Cup heights
Posted: Saturday May 22, 1999 06:21 PM
DALLAS (AP) -- The Brett Hull who knocked St. Louis out of the Stanley Cup playoffs doesn't resemble the guy who spent a decade trying to lead the Blues to a championship.
This guy thinks about checking first, defense second and scoring third. This guy was moved from the first line to the second and third lines and fought as hard as ever.
This guy is going to the Western Conference finals with the Dallas Stars.
"When they brought me in, they said, `You're a checker who can score,' " Hull said. "People didn't think I could do that. But I proved them wrong."
Hull never wanted to leave St. Louis. He'd been with the Blues since March 1988 and he considered the city his home and the team his family.
At about his 10-year anniversary in St. Louis, the Blues offered him a $15 million contract, but it didn't have the no-trade clause he wanted. It ended up being a deal-breaker.
Lots of teams wanted Hull, one of the game's most prolific scorers, but he didn't want many of them. The Stars made his short list because they were a good team that was one shooter away from being great. Dallas saw the same thing and put Hull on its short list.
It took only two days for Hull and Stars officials to agree on a three-year, $17.5 million contract that included a fourth-year option and a no-trade clause.
But before he signed, he had to agree to change his game to fit in with the team. Scoring would no longer be a priority. In Dallas, forwards focus on checking and defense, with offensive opportunities coming when the other things are done right.
No problem, Hull said. If that's what it took to get a no-trade clause from a team that could win the Stanley Cup, he'd do it. And the results, so far, have been just what Hull and his new team hoped for.
Dallas, which had the league's best regular-season record, wrapped up its second-round series Monday night against the Blues and advanced to Saturday night's conference-final opener against Colorado.
In the 2-1 Game 6 victory in St. Louis, Hull assisted on the game-tying goal late in the third period and on the series-winner in overtime. The production was especially nice considering early in the game he rejoined the first line for the first time in three games.
But beating the Blues in St. Louis made the victory even sweeter for Hull. Over in the home locker room, the Blues were sulking over lost opportunities and the finality of their season. Somewhere, team officials had to be wondering if things would've been different if Hull had been on their side.
"I think there was a sense of urgency on his part not to lose to St. Louis," said teammate Mike Modano, who scored the series-winner. "It would've been real disappointing to him and St. Louis would've rubbed it in to him real bad. It probably would've affected him in a way that if we had lost, we might not have won the series."
Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said Hull played as if he were trying to prove a point.
"He accomplished everything offensively and defensively that he wanted and he did it because he got involved," Hitchcock said. "He had more turnovers in one game than he had in the other five combined, and he had more shots on goal. He just did everything. But it was all caused by his willingness to dig in deep with the rest of us."
The truth is, Stars general manager Bob Gainey wouldn't have signed Hull if he didn't believe Hull would fit in. It wasn't just Hull's promise that sold them, it was the fact Gainey saw Hull play a team-first approach when he led Team USA to the 1996 World Cup championship.
"He had to change or he wasn't going to play here. It was really that simple," said Modano, who finally began reaching his superstar potential after he bought into the concept under Gainey, then Hitchcock. "He's already had all the accolades -- the MVPs, the 1,000 points -- but like a lot of guys here, he was missing something very special."
The 34-year-old Hull came into this season with the fifth-most goals among active players. Three of the four guys ahead of him have their name on the Stanley Cup. His father, Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, has his name on there, too.
The closest Brett Hull came was in 1986, when he made his NHL debut in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals for Calgary. The Flames lost to Montreal in five games.
He was traded to St. Louis two years later and never got past the second round of the playoffs.
Although the Stars' focus this year is the Stanley Cup, Hull was excited about winning the President's Cup for the best regular-season record. Teammates didn't think much of the trophy, especially because the 1994 New York Rangers were the last President's winner to win the Stanley Cup.
The President's Cup was supposed to arrive at Reunion Arena in time for a pre-game ceremony April 11. It didn't show up until the second period, and Hull was steamed.
"That's the first team trophy he's ever gotten," Hitchcock said. "He made a big issue of it and rightfully so. It meant that much to him."
As surprising as Hull's on-ice change has been, some would say his off-ice demeanor has changed even more. The outburst over the trophy was the biggest of the year for Hull, and it wasn't much of a fit. It's another testament to Hull's renaissance.
Early in the season, he spouted off about needing more playing time, but it blew over quickly. If he were going to make some more noise, it would've been midway through the St. Louis series.
Instead of complaining, Hull said, "That's what coaches are for. He's here to make changes to better the team."
"With this team, all we're looking at is wins and losses. Who cares if I score, and we lose?"
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