Yes, it was a goal.
In just three seasons with the Dallas Stars, Brett Hull made his mark as one of the most important players in franchise history.
With the Stars seemingly on the cusp of greatness, this was a team that needed that one player who could put them over the top, the one that could get them past Colorado and Detroit and into the deep levels of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Bob Gainey had built one hell of a defensive team with Ken Hitchcock as coach, bolstered by several big midseason trades that further strengthened the core of the team. What they were missing was the home-run hitter, a flashy goal-scorer that would provide the offensive firepower to compliment the goaltending and defense.
When he was signed in the summer of 1998, many questioned just how well Hull would fit in with the Stars. He was a loud, brash and outspoken player who was pretty much the hockey equivalent of a wide receiver. He was coming from a team in St. Louis where he was allowed to let loose offensively and rarely asked to play a defensive role. Yet in the Stars' system at the time, he would be held back a bit as the team focused on shutting down the opposition first. This was the same system that transformed Mike Modano from a golden-boy scoring machine into one of the NHL's best two way players, but no one knew how Hull would respond when asked to do the same.
Give Brett Hull credit; not only did he not complain about this new system but he embraced it. While he certainly didn't become Selke candidate with the Stars, Hull played physical and gritty hockey, interspersed with incredible goals. He immediately formed a magical connection with Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen, as they provided the offensive jump the Stars had been missing during the building years that came before. Eleven game-winning goals, a plus-19, 32 goals and 58 points; not anywhere near the big numbers from earlier in his career and far from earth shattering (granted, Hull played in just 60 games that season), but nevertheless the effective scoring the Stars so desperately needed.
And none more important than the Stanley Cup winning goal against Buffalo. We've discussed it plenty, and we've given all of the reasons it was a goal. No matter what your thought might be, it was a great play late in the game by Hull. How fitting is that a player known for his big slapshot and flashy play would score the biggest goal of his game off a tip and rebound from a foot in front of the crease?
Hull would go on to have two more good seasons in Dallas, including leading the team in points in the 2000 playoffs and scoring 40 goals in 2000-2001, before heading off to dreaded Detroit as a free agent. Just like what happened with Pat Verbeek it was hard for me to continue to be a fan of his while he was a Red Wing, especially when he won a Stanley Cup with Detroit. Yet when he retired after a brief stint in Phoenix, he returned right back to being one of my favorite all time players.
There's been talk elsewhere that Brett Hull's #16 should be retired by the Dallas Stars (even though he wore #22 for that first season), and even though Hull did great things in Dallas and Detroit, he will always belong to the St. Louis Blues. His greatest years came in St. Louis and it's unfortunate he could not bring those fans the same glory he enjoyed in Dallas and Detroit. St. Louis Game Time has some mixed thoughts as well:
Everything about the Golden Brett is melancholy. He was an electric player who brought the Blues to the civic and league forefront. His popularity helped build a modern building for the team. He won a Hart Trophy as league MVP. He joined an elite club of players by scoring 50 goals in 50 games...TWICE.
He also never made it out of the second round of the playoffs. He had his captaincy stripped away. He couldn't click with Wayne Gretzky during his short tenure with the Blues. He alienated management. He liked to have too much of a good time off the ice. When his contract expired, the team let him walk as a free agent instead of trading or attempting to re-sign him.
With Hull, all the good memories are a little tarnished with how it ended. That's kind of the story of this franchise. Make the Stanley Cup Finals for the first few years, get swept each time and then never make it back. The number of players to pass through St. Louis to only play big roles on Cup-winning teams is too depressingly long to recite.
Fans had a good reason to be nervous when he joined the Stars, but fortunately he matured and helped lead the Stars to the promised land. He returned to Dallas after he retired to take a job in the front office and spent nearly two seasons as the assistant General Manager. While his push to sign Sean Avery was a certified disaster, he was part of the team that helped build the Stars into what they are now.
Hull will always have a soft spot in the hearts of Dallas fans and it was great to see him grow up as hockey player while playing for the Stars. It was only three seasons, but they were three of the best seasons the Stars have ever had and he was a big part of why that team was great.
Forwards Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and defenseman Brian Leetch will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame tonight. You can catch the ceremony on NHL Network or TSN at 6 p.m. Central.