The Stars have it all: goaltending, a premier defense, two
scoring lines, wicked specialty teams, revered grinders, plenty
of leadership and the best quotes in hockey now that Brett Hull
has arrived to narrowly tip the balance of power from the
splendid Red Wings.
Hull is the world's noisiest 27-goal scorer, a fountain of
opinion and candor in a mealy-mouthed league. Hull, a one-way
winger, is the antithesis of his general manager, Bob Gainey,
who's as measured now as he was stoic when he starred as a
defensive forward for the Canadiens in the 1970s and '80s.
Hull's style might not be Gainey's style, but after seeing sly
Detroit shut down Dallas center Mike Modano last spring in the
Western Conference finals en route to their second straight
Stanley Cup, Gainey knew the Stars were at least one
game-breaker from a championship. Hull, signed as an
unrestricted free agent, will cost $17 million for the next
three seasons, not back-checking money. Although he has averaged
only 37 goals the past three years and hasn't scored 50 since
1993-94, he's still capable, at age 34, of at least
40--especially with the quality minutes he'll get on the power
"The main thing I want to be is a champion," says Hull, a
righthanded shot who will start at left wing on Modano's line.
"When the Stars called, I knew it was an opportunity to win."
"Brett has some challenges ahead of himself," Dallas coach Ken
Hitchcock says. "It will be a question of how quickly he makes
an emotional contact with the group."
There's also the question of how quickly Hull makes an emotional
contact with Hitchcock. During his more than 10 seasons in St.
Louis, Hull's relationship with several coaches, notably Mike
Keenan, was headline-grabbingly rocky. Hitchcock is a stickler
for detail who rarely lets anything slide, not a comforting
thought for an instinctive player like Hull. As one former Star
put it, "I like Hitch, but he doesn't trust his players."
The abundance of leadership in the Dallas dressing room (in
addition to captain Derian Hatcher, six other Stars have been
NHL captains: Hull, Guy Carbonneau, Mike Keane, Joe Nieuwendyk,
Brian Skrudland and Pat Verbeek) should smooth over the
inevitable eruptions. The downside of veteran leadership is that
it's veteran. Dallas is the NHL's oldest team, averaging 29.2
years old. There's a wealth of mid-20's talent, including
defensemen Hatcher and Richard Matvichuk and defensive
specialist Jere Lehtinen, who will ride shotgun with Modano and
Hull, but the window of Stanley Cup opportunity for this
franchise is small because of the high mileage on many of its
The six former captains average 34 years of age, and four other
important players--goaltender Ed Belfour, defensemen Craig
Ludwig and Shawn Chambers and checker Dave Reid--are all past
30. Because of the age factor, it will be to the Stars'
advantage that the new divisional setup and revised schedule has
reduced the arduous travel that marked last season. Hitchcock
has calculated that the Stars will fly 11,000 fewer miles, have
18 more practices and four or five extra days off this year.
That, folks, is planning.
"You look at the teams that have won the Stanley Cup the past
three years, Colorado and Detroit, you see great contributions
from role players offensively and defensively," Hitchcock says.
"But before you can get to that technical level, you have to
make some strides on the emotional level. We have some players
like Lehtinen, Modano and [superb power-play defenseman Sergei]
Zubov who should be at their prime physically, but we have to
make sure that everyone gets there in the emotional areas at the
same time. We're not there yet."
But the Stars should be there in June.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID E. KLUTHO Big shot The Stars hope the addition of the high-scoring Hull will help them reach their goal. [Brett Hull hitting shot]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
Left wing Jamie Langenbrunner had 39 points as a rookie two
seasons ago. Last year he scored 52 to become the only rookie
among the top 10 first-year men of 1996-97 to increase his total
in his second season.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--Center Joe Nieuwendyk, who has the speed and skill to create
offense, needs to make a strong comeback after undergoing
surgery on both knees in the off-season.
--Free-agent signee Brett Hull must buy into the team-first
concept. If he doesn't, unrest will reign in the Stars' dressing