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 with it."
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 June.)
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 wedding!' "
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."