THE IRONY of Brett Hull's retirement last Saturday is that at the precise moment the NHL is moving away from the kind of constipated hockey that often drew his raspy criticism--the word he once used about the game, if memory serves, was "sucks"--he removed himself from its on-ice renaissance. Hull's swan song in Phoenix was a mere five-game coda, a last gasp for someone who, in essence, was gasping a year ago.
If this seems a particularly blunt assessment of the third-ranked goal scorer in history behind Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe--a player on a par with Rocket Richard and Mike Bossy as the best pure goal scorer--well, Hull, with 741 regular-season and 103 playoff goals, never minded blunt. At 41, the two-time Stanley Cup winner (his first, with Dallas in 1999, ended with his controversial "toe in the crease" goal in triple overtime of Game 6) was a victim of the lockout and his own unwillingness to work himself back into NHL shape. His mouth, however, remains as adroit as ever; NBC planned to audition him as a studio analyst this week.