This was the first time sports broke my heart.
After the 1997-98 season concluded, Brett Hull and the St. Louis Blues were at a standstill in contract talks. Hull wanted a no trade clause and the Blues didn’t want to give it to him. Instead, they offered him a three-year $15 million contract, which Hull declined and went on to take his talents to Dallas. He won a Stanley Cup there, but may have been in the crease and stuff. It doesn’t matter.
The man wasn’t a rose or peach during his time here, at least off the ice and out of a fan’s sight. Hull had butted heads with coaches before and was known to have a big mouth. In a Sports Illustrated article, Hull admitted to being “a big yapper.” He got into it with Mike Keenan after a shouting match with Grant Fuhr. Once upon a time, Hull fired a puck at Coach Joel Quenneville, which led to the coach firing one back. The man wasn’t an easy person to be around, but he was a dynamic scorer.
Easily one of the best the NHL has ever seen and St. Louis’ finest goal scorer. He could turn a slap shot loose finish a play coming in from the wing, or just unleash one of the deadliest one-timers to see a sheet of ice. He formed a partnership with Adam Oates on the ice, the two becoming a 1-2 scoring tandem all the way up until Oates left. Maybe that was the rub with Hull and the contract. He saw how the Blues would trade players in an instant and wanted more protection.
I’ll say it. The Blues should have given him his no trade clause, keys to the city, unlimited Budweiser, unlimited toasted ravioli from Charlie Gitto’s, and whatever else he wanted. He scored 527 goals with St. Louis, including 195 power play goals. In 102 playoff games in St. Louis, Hull had 67 goals and 50 assists. He would go on to score 36 more with the Stars and Detroit Red Wings in 100 playoff games.
For $5 million a season and assurance he wouldn’t be traded, Hull could have kept on scoring in St. Louis. He would have passed 600 goals as a Blue, and possibly got #700 here as well. The legend was already being built with his resume after the spring of 1998, but Hull could have retired a Blue. Maybe.
Here’s the thing. The Blues win a Stanley Cup 20 or so years ago if Hull stays. He could have helped in either the 1998-99 playoffs, 1999-2000 session, or helped the Blues overcome the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. “You never know” gets a good workout with Hull and the Blues.
It wasn’t like he stopped scoring after leaving St. Louis. Hull put up four more 30 goal seasons and added at least 58 points for the next six seasons after taking off the Blue Note. By the time it was all said and done, Hull played until he was 39 years old. I will easily forget about the five games Hull logged in Phoenix in the 2005-06 season. It just never happened to me.
Look, you can forget the possible Stanley Cup win. It may be too much to ask Hull to win three game against Colorado when the whole team just dropped the ball that fateful spring with Roman Turek in net. There were other factors in play there and perhaps Hull wasn’t enough to get the job done.
In the end, Hull signed with the Stars for three years and $17 million after the Blues refused to give him a no trade clause. An extra $2 million and assurance he wasn’t going to be the result of a head coach having an emotional moment. This ranks as one of the worst moves by Blues management EVER. Maybe it was also due in part to Hull not wanting to adapt his game for Quenneville, but I doubt it. Hull adapted for Ken Hitchcock shortly into his Dallas tenure. It shaped part of the legend of his big Stanley Cup Final story, where he played with numerous injuries and netted the game winner.
In St. Louis Blues history, what could have been starts and begins for me with Brett Hull.
The Blues screwed up by letting Hull walk. Thankfully, he came back as a team executive and drank like Frank The Tank during the Stanley Cup parade.
Could he have helped the Blues win one decades ago? We will never know.