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 them."
"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 guy."
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."