October 18, 2005
Hull deserts Coyotes
Two days after Brett Hull essentially walked out on his team under the 'guise' of retirement, the Phoenix Coyotes played their best game of the season in blanking the Flames 2-0 in Calgary.
So that's 1-3-1 with Hull in the lineup and 1-1 without him. Seems like Hull did the Coyotes a favour.
But what could change so much in just five games? How could Hull's mind set shift from such an optimistic view in the runup to the season opener, to such a negative one in just a handful of games?
If you believe Hull, then the NHL's third all-time goal scorer - 741 (1,391 points) - just woke up on Saturday and decided he simply couldn't be effective in today's NHL.
That's after inking a two-year contract last summer for $3.3 million US to play on a team in tropical Arizona, where his former agent, Mike Barnett, is the general manager and his good friend and hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky, is the head coach.
It just doesn't add up. After all Hull had a full 18 months prior to the resumption of hockey to walk away. If he wanted to retire, he should have done so after he and the Red Wings were bounced from the playoffs by the underdog Flames in 2004. In 12 playoff games that season, Hull scored just three times and had five points - most of those coming against the Nashville Predators in the first round. By the time the Flames series started then Wings head coach Dave Lewis had reduced Hull's minutes, prompting the sniper to sulk and stop talking to the media.
Hull was equally incensed when Team U.S.A. coach Ron Wilson benched him during the World Cup of Hockey tournament last September. It was the right move for the slumping U.S. team, but Hull again took it personally and walked out on the squad.
Was it any wonder then that in his praise of Gretzky taking over in Phoenix, Hull took a shot at his former coaches by stating that, apart from No. 99, Scotty Bowman was the only coach the Golden Brett ever admired.
Not even Ken Hitchcock, who delivered Hull his first Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars, was spared!
It's never a good idea to work for a friend, especially if you have a problem with authority as Hull seems to - he very publicly feuded with Bowman prodigy Mike Keenan in St. Louis.
It's not coincidental that Hull's retirement came 48 hours after Gretzky cut his playing time in half, giving his friend just 8:46 in a 5-4 overtime loss to Nashville on October 14.
According to reports, after that game Hull had a sit down with his coach, where he told Gretzky he couldn't handle being a role player at this point in his career.
Gretzky's response is not known, but obviously Hull didn't get the answer he was hoping for. More than likely Hull decided to retire rather than risk a confrontation with his friend and the most recognizable hockey personality on the planet.
Realizing he wasn't going to get his way, Hull at least got the final say by quitting.
"I realized I wasn't who I thought I was," Hull announced at his retirement press conference. "I wasn't Brett Hull at 30 - or 35, even. I was 41 years old, and after a year-and-a-half layoff, I didn't have what it took to play in the new game that was so exciting."
The irony is this new NHL was supposed to inspire players like Hull, who racked up mind-boggling numbers in the late '80s and early '90s. He was the MVP in 1990-91 when he scored an astonishing 86 goals, the third-highest regular-season total next to Gretzky's 87- and 92-goal seasons. That year he scored 50 in his first 49 games for St. Louis, becoming one of just five players to perform the feat.
He also bookended that year with 72- and 70-goal campaigns. But Hull hadn't even had a 40-goal season since the 1996-97 season.
Maybe that's why it was so hard for Hull to come to grips with his reduced role in Phoenix. After having tailored his game to the more defensive NHL that had evolved over the past decade, Hull now found himself unable to score and keep up with the play in this year's more wide-open NHL.
Yet like all goalscorers, Hull had experienced substantial droughts during his career and five games should not have been enough to kill his confidence. And if he truly knew he was finished, you'd think the realization would have sunk in as he watched the parade of NHL greats retire in August.
If after watching his all-star peers Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis retire and keep playing, why would he then suddenly shift streams five games in?
Veteran Kings forward Luc Robitaille - the highest-scoring left winger of all time with 654 goals - was shocked by Hull's sudden retirement.
"I guess he was tired of the day-in, day-out grind," Robitaille told the L.A. Times. "It gets to the point where you have to decide whether the every-day work is worth it."
Sadly Hull's final on-ice memory will be of a once-elite sniper, battling for ice time on a Coyotes team starved for goals. The irony is almost too cruel to contemplate for those of us who can remember the Golden Brett in his prime.
THE BRETT HULL FILE
Drafted: 1984, by Calgary in the sixth round (117th pick overall).
First NHL game: May 20, 1986, vs. Montreal.
First NHL goal: Nov. 13, 1986, vs. Hartford.
NHL teams: Calgary (1985-88), St. Louis (1988-98), Dallas (1998-2001), Detroit (2001-04), Phoenix (2005).
Stanley Cups won: Two (Dallas 1998-99, Detroit 2001-02).
Defining moment: Scored a controversial goal in the third overtime to give the Dallas Stars a win at Buffalo and the 1999 Stanley Cup.
NHL goals: 741, 3rd all-time.
50 in 49: For St. Louis in 1990-91.
NHL power-play goals: 265, 2nd all-time.
NHL playoff goals: 103, 4th all-time.
NHL hat tricks: 33, 4th all-time.
Honors: Lady Byng Trophy in 1990 (most gentlemanly), Hart Trophy (MVP) in 1991.
Retired: Oct. 15, 2005.
Blues' franchise records: goals (527), hat tricks (27), game-winning goals (70), power-play goals (195) and shots on goal (3,367). His 936 points rank second all time behind Bernie Federko (1,073).
-Hated skating so much as a kid, he begged to be put in nets
-Traded to the St. Louis Blues in 1988, along with Steve Bozek, for Rick Wamsley and Rob Ramage by former Calgary Flames GM Cliff Fletcher, who at the time justified the deal by stating: "All he can do is score goals." Later Fletcher would call it hands-down the worst trade of his career, despite the fact Ramage was a key component of the Flames 1989 Stanley Cup team.
-Hull's all-time starting lineup (as told to the Calgary Sun): Hull, Gretzky, (father Bobby) Hull, Orr, Pierre Pilote and Tony Esposito.
-Hull's favourite goals (as told to the Calgary Sun): 1. First NHL goal as a Calgary Flame in 1986-87 season against Steve Weeks; 2. Triple-overtime goal that gave the Dallas Stars the 1999 Stanley Cup.
-Hull frequently played through pain in big games, including scoring his infamous 1999 Stanley Cup winner with his foot in the crease. Hull did so after tearing ligaments in his knee and barely being able to skate. "I will always remember Brett for that goal. He showed his colors," Hitchcock told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "He went on the ice when I told him not to go, and I couldn't get him off. No one is ever going to talk to me about Brett Hull's character. I have seen his character."
-Hull also played through a painful abdominal tear in the 2000 finals against New Jersey, to score both Stars goals in a 2-1 victory in Game 2.
-Remaining Active NHL Career Goal-scoring Leaders (at least 500 goals): Mario Lemieux (685), Steve Yzerman (678), Luc Robitaille (654), Dave Andreychuk (634), Brendan Shanahan (562), Joe Sakic (544), Jaromir Jagr (543) and Joe Nieuwendyk (534).
"The farthest I'm away from the play, the more I'm in it."
-About the best advice he ever received from his father, Hall of Fame winger Bobby Hull.
"Funniest thing ever seen in a game? Oh my God. Oh yeah, Jon Casey's wig falling off. Right after the game when we were all patting him."
"I was privileged to play in a time when if you didn't get 50 (goals) you had a bad year. To be involved with Gretzky and Howe, to be mentioned with those guys is far bigger."
"Bob Goodenow (president of the NHLPA) will kill me but if we're going to be realistic about things probably 75 per cent of the league is over paid."
"I don't give a (deleted) about the fans anymore."
-On what he had to say to fans after discovering he was benched by Team USA coach Ron Wilson at the World Cup of Hockey last Fall.
"He's not going to settle for people going through the motions or not executing."
-Reaction to having Gretzky as a head coach in Phoenix.
"I know why everybody's here. This is my 2,000th pre-game skate."
-After seeing the media horde on the morning of the Coyotes' 2005 season-opener against Vancouver.
"To be able to put No. 9 on was very special because I know what my dad meant to the game and I also know what it took to kind of try to climb out of his shadow, and then to be right back there with him, it was special. I wish it could have happened when I was a little younger so I could have brought some more luster to that number, but I was very proud to wear that."
-When asked how it felt to wear his father's No. 9 for the Coyotes.
"I've only told Wayne Gretzky not to do one thing, and he didn't listen to me so I would never tell him not to do anything again. I told him not to come to St. Louis from Los Angeles and that Keenan was an idiot. He said (Keenan) wouldn't be an idiot once he got there. I said, ‘He'll never change.’ I was right."
"If you have an active mind, it always helps. You know, people who don't do crosswords, their minds fall asleep. That's why I do them-my mind is always working. One day my brain is going to explode through the top of my head."
"I've KO'd a lot of guys verbally. I've got one of the most vicious knockout punches with the tongue of anyone on earth."
- with files from the Calgary Sun, Arizona Republic and St. Louis Post-Dispatch
NHL'S REMAINING ACTIVE OLDTIMERS
Chelios, 43, DET
Andreychuk, 42, TB
Hasek, 40, OTT
Robitaille, 40, LA
Lemieux, 40, PIT
Yzerman, 40, DET
Belfour, 40, TOR
Roberts, 39 (40 in May '06), FLA
Nieuwendyk 39, (40 in Septemeber '06), FLA
ROENICK CRITICIZES NEW CBA
Just two weeks into the new season and new collective bargaining agreement and surprise, Kings' forward Jeremy Roenick is not happy. Roenick, who the Flyers were forced to trade to the Kings for salary-cap reasons, ripped the new CBA, saying it allows NHL owners to use the players' salary concessions to subsidize the intense efforts to try to win back fans.
"The owners can sit there and do giveaways and lower ticket prices to get the fans back to the game knowing that what they are really doing is taking it out of our pockets," Roenick told the Los Angeles Times. "It's important to get people back into the arenas to watch hockey, but it is a lot easier to do when (the owners) know they still get money back because they are taking it out of our paycheck. In essence, the players are paying for all the giveaways and free stuff that the owners are doing. Which is all well and good, but you don't hear about it."
Roenick stopped short of saying that owners were colluding to keep revenues below expectations, by giving away scores of free tickets or not doing enough to attract fans. As examples the veteran forward pointed to the Kings giving away a free ticket, good for ages 14 and under, with every ticket purchased. Also the Capitals dreary attendance figures so far.
"When we watch hockey games and see 8,000 fans in (Washington) D.C., you cringe as a player," Roenick told the L.A. Times. "Those cities that aren't pulling their weight in terms of drawing fans and revenue are hurting everybody as a whole, not just that city."
As Roenick points this becomes a further drag on player salaries, because of the escrow provision which kicks in if player salaries exceed 54 per cent of league revenues. So far Roenick's salary has been reduced an additional 12 per cent as a result.
"When they saw that 12 per cent out of the paycheck, the guys on our team were [griping] and moaning and complaining about it," Roenick said. "This is after we already had given back 24 per cent and taken a ($39-million) salary cap."
If revenues eventually hit $1.9 billion this season, the escrow payment drops to 6.9 per cent. If revenues reach $2 billion, the escrow payment would only be 1.7 per cent. If the total goes up to $2.05 billion, then players would receive back more money at the end of the season than they put into escrow.
Revenues were $2.1 billion during the 2003-04 season.
"I think the owners got a deal very favorable to them," Roenick said. "It gives them leeway to do more than they should be able to do with our salaries."
ICE SHAVINGS: While the CBC's Saturday night Hockey Night In Canada broadcast of the Leafs-Habs game drew close to two million viewers - third highest for a non-playoff game - the Outdoor Life Network was not so lucky. Nielsen ratings for the first three NHL telecasts on OLN averaged fewer than 200,000 viewers... Center Petr Nedved will take Hull's place as one of two alternate captains when the Coyotes play road games. Defenceman Sean O'Donnell is the other alternate captain on the road... Goalie Brian Boucher, nursing a groin injury, made the Coyotes' current road trip, but is not expected to play... In each of the Dallas Stars’ two losses they have been penalized 12 times. In games in which they have fewer than a dozen penalties and fewer than 35 minutes in the box, they’re undefeated... The San Jose Sharks kicked off their longest trip of the season with a 3-2 loss in Detroit last night. The six-game trip will see the Sharks log a total of 8,505 miles. Yet that pales in comparison to the 10-game odyssey the Sharks faced in 1999. The Sharks will also get a breather, when they fly back to San Jose for two nights after their fourth game in Nashville on Saturday, before heading out again for an Oct. 26 game in Dallas and an Oct. 28 contest in Los Angeles. "It's not as bad as it looks if you just glance at the schedule. We're looking at it as a four-game road trip, and we've done that a thousand times," Defenceman Brad Stuart told the San Jose Mercury News. "After that, it's just another two-game trip." Long road trips may be the main reason no team in the Pacific time zone has ever won the Stanley Cup. "There's a big difference. Over the course of 82 games, the fatigue factor in comparison is much greater over here," Alyn McCauley told the Mercury News. "The wear and tear, the bumps and bruises that we pick up along the way, you feel them a little more."... Kings forwards Michael Cammalleri and Alexander Frolov extricated themselves from coach Andy Murray's doghouse with goals in the Kings' 3-1 victory over Columbus on Sunday night. Cammalleri had been benched for two games and has four points in three games since. Frolov was punished by being the only starter required to do a skate the day after Thursday's 5-2 loss to Detroit. "You would prefer your players to recognize things without doing that," Murray told the Los Angeles Times. "But if it was as simple as sitting a player down, we'd use it all the time."... The Kings were without Luc Robitaille, who suffered a groin injury in the last minute against Detroit. Robitaille tried to practice Saturday but left the ice after about two minutes... Kings forward Ken Belanger is very glad to be back with the club, or with any NHL club for that matter. After sustaining a season-ending concussion early on in the 2002-03 season, Belanger was unable to catch on anywhere for the 2003-04 season. After not having played in nearly three years, Belanger has converted a training camp tryout into a spot on the roster and now to a place on the ice, filling in for the injured Robitaille. "It's almost three years to the day, isn't it," Belanger told The Times. "I never really thought about the odds. I knew coming to training camp it was a long shot. But I didn't look at the depth chart or how many left wings they had. My mind-set was that I was going to play here." Belanger was such a long-shot to make the club that he wasn't even in the Kings' media guide to start the season. "I kept in shape. I skated and rode the bike. I would watch games and TV and I knew I could still play. The desire was still there."... Sophomore forward Dustin Brown is making a big impression on his Kings teammates with his hard-checking physical play and timely goal scoring. Brown got the game-winner in the Kings' 3-1 victory over the Oilers last week and his hitting helped break the Oilers' will to stage an effective rally. Brown's heroics came at the expense of veteran Edmonton defenceman Chris Pronger, whose turnover led to Brown's score. Brown also dumped the big rearguard with a hard hit, prompting some verbal retaliation from Pronger. "He didn't like that too much, at least I think that is what he was trying to say to me," Brown told The Times. "He doesn't like to be hit. That's what I do." Murray liked what he saw. "Dustin has a style of play that is well received by his teammates and not so well received by the guys on the other side."... Mighty Ducks backup goalie Ilya Bryzgalov saw his first action of the season after starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere was pulled in a 4-1 loss to the Wild on Sunday. However Ducks coach Randy Carlyle told the L.A. Times he was not dissatisfied with Giguere's play. "It's 4-0 and Bryzgalov had an opportunity to get in a game situation," Carlyle said. "It wasn't no way, shape or form us pointing fingers at our goaltender."... Wild forward Marc Chouinard haunted his former Ducks' teammates with his first career three-assist game. Chouinard, not known as a prolific offensive player, has four goals and seven points this season. Chouinard played with the Ducks from 2000-03 and was a regular fourth-line center on the team that went to the Stanley Cup finals... The Ducks' power play is ranked third worst in the league, ahead of just Florida and Calgary. Anaheim has converted just 8.8 per cent of its advantages and is 3-for-34 overall. Their penalty killing is also ranked 28th out of 30 teams. Against the Wild, who lead the league in both categories, the Ducks yielded two quick power-play goals to fall behind 2-0. "Yeah, we're concerned about it," defenceman Scott Niedermayer told the Times. "They're going to win and lose you games, at least in the first part of the year."... Sergei Fedorov's injured left groin hasn't shown rapid improvement and after a setback in the morning skate before the Ducks' loss in Minnesota, neither Fedorov nor the team is sure when his groin will improve to the point at which he'll be able to suit up. "Obviously, there's still an issue there," Carlyle told the Times. "We'll have to take it day by day and hope there's some improvement that takes place in the next 24 hours and beyond that." Fedorov is one of several veteran NHL players who have developed groin injuries in the first two weeks of the regular season. He suggested that the unprecedented 310-day lockout may be a contributing factor. "I guess you could say it's a possibility," Carlyle said. "But I don't think so. Not after the training camp he had."... Defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh, suffering from flu symptoms and a strained chest muscle that kept him out of the lineup in Sunday's game against the Wild, is a game-time decision tonight against the Canucks... Defenceman Jason Marshall, who has a fractured nose, is expected to practice today after joining the team in St. Louis on Monday night. Marshall broke his nose when he was hit by a shot from Columbus forward Jarsolav Balastik.