He's a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer and the NHL's biggest
crank. Brett Hull, the Dallas Stars' new wing, admits that his
celebrated mouth is as big as Texas, and he acknowledges that by
last July, when he had reached the bitter end of his 10-year
career with the St. Louis Blues, "I was portrayed as some sort
of monster, a coach killer, a guy who shoots from the hip."
Were those descriptions correct?
"Well," Hull says with a smirk, "I am a pain in the ass. I give
other guys crap. I'm a yapper. They say they want the truth, and
then they say, 'How can he say that?' I think, Well, it's the
truth, isn't it? So what's the big deal?"
He's sitting on a bench in the Dallas locker room as he talks,
and by the way he folds his hands in his lap like a schoolboy
there's no reason to suspect that Hull is telling you anything
but the truth. Still, he knows that some of those words he so
freely tosses out are verbal hand grenades and that on occasion
he has lobbed one into his team's bunker. "That's why I came to
Dallas a few weeks before training camp, just to skate with the
guys, become a familiar face," Hull says. "I bet a lot of guys
here have heard stories about me and were wondering, What the
hell kind of guy is he? What kind of tornado is coming in? Ask
"Was I worried?" says Dallas captain Derian Hatcher when pressed
about Hull's reputation. "Well.... " Long pause. "Yeah."
The Stars had the NHL's best regular-season record last season
(49-22-11), but in the Western Conference finals they fell in
six games to the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red
Wings. So Dallas gambled on the high-scoring Hull, hoping he
would be the missing piece in its puzzle, signing the
34-year-old unrestricted free agent to a three-year, $17.5
million deal that included the no-trade clause he was demanding.
Says one NHL player, "If Hull scores 15 goals the first month,
who'll be able to make him backcheck or keep his mouth shut?"
Many of Hull's salvos are delivered with a swaggering, almost
roguish air. He never settles for a tepid word when a caustic
one comes to mind. To him, something isn't just disappointing,
it's stupid, ridiculous, pathetic. People who make him unhappy
aren't irritating, they're morons, idiots, jerks. When Wayne
Gretzky played 31 games with the Blues at the end of the 1995-96
season, he told Hull, "You say all the things I wish I could say."
"What the hell, I never plan it," Hull says. "I'm an emotional
Says Hull's wife, Allison, "It's not just to teammates. Some days
he'll look at me and say, 'God, that's an ugly dress.'"
Ugly might be an appropriate word to describe Hull's
relationship with Iron Mike Keenan, who was the Blues' coach
from July 1994 until December '96. During an October 1995 game
Hull barked at Blues goalie Grant Fuhr because Fuhr had given
away the puck, then after the match Hull and Keenan got into a
heated argument over Hull's comments. That prompted Keenan to
strip Hull of his captaincy, telling reporters, "It's nothing
personal." Hull retorted, "The hell it's not."
During a practice about a month later, Fuhr made a similarly
careless pass, and an unrepentant Hull yelled, "Hey, Fuhr, that's
the same play that cost me my C!"
Stars players say Hull hasn't said anything like that in Dallas.
At a recent morning practice before a road game against the
Carolina Hurricanes, raucous laughter could be heard coming from
the Stars' dressing room. Visitors found Hull leaning on a
training table and entertaining his giggling
teammates--political correctness be damned. "How are you doing?"
Hull asked a reporter. Then Hull smiled and revealed a
realistic-looking set of false teeth that gave him a goonish
gap-toothed grin. Breaking into a hillbilly twang, Hull had his
teammates howling by saying, "Just tryin' to fit in down here in
"I don't know if I think Hullie's funny," Stars defenseman Craig
Ludwig says. "But I can tell you this: He sure thinks he is."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman scolded Hull last January after
reading newspaper accounts in which Hull said the
clutch-and-grab tactics employed by many teams are the reason
"the games suck." Hull, who had just returned to action after
missing a month because his hand had been broken by a slash,
also said, "I wouldn't pay to watch. It's boring. The whole
style of the game is terrible. There's no flow. When a guy like
[Mario] Lemieux leaves the game and tells you why he's leaving,
and you don't address it, that's stupid. But the players don't
say crap. That's why I always look like the big mouth."
Asked at the time if he was worried that he might irk Bettman,
Hull said, "They can't get rid of you because you say something."
Hull probably would have re-signed with the Blues had they
budged from their comparatively low offer (three years, $15
million) and refusal to add a no-trade clause. At one time Hull
captivated the city as Mark McGwire does today. "The way it
ended hurt," says Hull.
In St. Louis, Hull was an eight-time All-Star, a three-time NHL
goal-scoring champion and the 1990-91 league MVP. Like Gretzky,
he's not particularly swift, but he's extremely smart on the
ice. He excels at anticipating the action and making creative
passes. When he gets the puck in shooting position, Hull snaps
off one of the quickest, hardest one-timers in the game. "He's
the absolute best I've seen doing that," says Mike Modano,
Hull's new center.
Hull's 86 goals in '90-91 are the third-best single-season total
in league history. With 555 career goals at week's end, he
should surpass his father Bobby's total of 610, which is seventh
on the alltime list. With his next hat trick, his 29th, he'll
pass his dad and have sole possession of fifth place on that
alltime list. But Brett's accomplishments come with an asterisk:
None of his Blues teams advanced past the second round of the
This summer St. Louis decided to change the course of the
franchise. Veteran Blues defenseman Marc Bergevin said he didn't
think the team would ever win the Cup with Hull because of his
selfishness. Last season Hull was unhappy over the prospect of
leaving the Blues, and during a training camp practice he fired
a puck at coach Joel Quenneville. Hull was startled when
Quenneville retaliated and fired it back. "I don't want to talk
about it," Quenneville said tersely last week. "Brett and I
addressed it. We moved on."
Or did they? Says Blues general manager Larry Pleau, "With
anybody, not just Brett, if you give him a no-trade contract,
you're giving the player more power than the coach, more power
than the other players or management."
So why did Hull get that clause from Dallas, a contending team
with a no-nonsense coach (Ken Hitchcock) and general manager
(Bob Gainey), and so much at stake? Hull arches his eyebrows and
says, "That's a real head scratcher. I thought, Dallas wants me?"
When Hitchcock and Gainey reviewed Dallas's loss to Detroit in
last season's playoffs, they decided the Stars needed more
firepower. Hitchcock also noted Dallas's 16-8 record in one-goal
games. "We lived on the edge a lot," he says, "and we weren't
sure we'd be able to match that success in close games this
season with the same cast."
Hull was hired to provide breathing room. Hitchcock had believed
Hull could play the Stars' demanding forechecking system since
watching him lead the U.S. to its stunning upset win of the '96
World Cup. Gainey says the Stars are wagering that Hull is at
the point in his career "where he wants [more than anything] to
win the Stanley Cup." Through Sunday, Hull had just one goal in
seven games, but he had six assists, one less than the team
leader. The Stars, 5-1-1, are such a complete team that they
will be thrilled if Hull simply continues to spark the power
play and approaches his 37-goal average of the past three seasons.
What happens if he gets out of line? Dallas has six former team
captains and seven players with Stanley Cup rings, none more
imposing than Ludwig, a 6'3", 220-pound veteran of 17 NHL
seasons who has a fondness for tattoos and motorcycles. Says
Ludwig, "This team is extremely close. We've won a lot of games
together. If anyone new came here and acted as if they were
going to try to take the team over, the rest of us would look at
him and say, 'Who the f--- do you think you are?' Brett hasn't
done that. But he will try to take over at some point, and when
he does, I think we have enough guys who won't let him get away
So far Hull has been a team player. He didn't ask 16-year
veteran wing Pat Verbeek to surrender number 16, which Hull had
worn for 11 seasons; he took number 22 instead. In the preseason
Hull refused to sit out any games. Then in Dallas's
regular-season opener, a stick cut an inch-long gash under his
lower lip. Hull skated his final two shifts of the period before
he went to the trainers' room to get 12 stitches. Says
Hitchcock, "Other guys notice things like that."
Hull has made a few impolitic remarks--he says Dallas plays the
same "robot hockey" St. Louis did and insists he could "play
until I'm 50" and "win the Selke [the best defensive forward
award], no problem" if he didn't have to worry about creating
magic with the puck. But even when Hull grouses, it's usually
concerning things he cares about deeply: playing winning hockey
and scoring artistic goals. He often alludes to the support he
gets from Allison, whom he married last winter after a 14-year
relationship and the arrival of their first two children. (Jude
is four, Jayde is two, and another daughter, Crosby, was born in
Asked if Hull's proposal was romantic, Allison laughs and says,
"Nope. We were at the kitchen table. Christmas Eve. Brett had
Jude bring the ring to me, which was sweet. Then we had about
three weeks to plan the wedding. So I bought my dress off the
rack--it really was beautiful. We flew to Las Vegas on a
Thursday, got married on Friday and flew back on Saturday. As I
was walking through the lobby of the hotel in my wedding gown,
these strangers were screaming, "Don't do it!" We were married
in this place in Vegas called Cupid's Chapel, a real
professional job, let me tell you. It's owned by this bookie we
knew from Minnesota. When they played the wedding march, there
was this loud etccccchhh because someone scratched the record.
And the minister, oh, the minister, was he a piece of work!
"He began the ceremony by saying, 'I trust you two know each
other.' When it was over, a friend made the sign of the cross.
The minister hurried to her and said, 'Thank you for that. I
thought I was alone with God here today.' I was laughing
throughout the ceremony, and Brett, if you can believe it, got
mad at me. He said, 'Allison, you're making a mockery of our
Hull isn't fooling around when it comes to Dallas's Cup chances,
either. He certainly didn't tiptoe into town thinking, Just
don't screw everything up. To the contrary, he says, "I want
people to look at us and say, 'This team had a great year, and
Brett was right in the middle of that.'"
Asked if one of his other goals this season is to avoid a
scolding from Bettman, Hull can't help himself. A smile begins
to play at the corners of his mouth, and he laughs. Brett Hull?
Make a promise to shut up? "I can't," he says. "I mean, I
couldn't, you know. I would never say that."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY LANE STEWART [Brett Hull]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Lofty goal Hull, who has Hall of Fame numbers but never took the Blues past round 2 of the playoffs, wants to be a team player. [Brett Hull and others in game]
"The minister began the wedding ceremony by saying to me and
Brett, 'I trust you two know each other.'"