Monday, September 06, 2004

I don't give a blank about Brett Hull anymore

After being scratched for USA's 3-1 win over Slovakia on Friday, Brett Hull showed up to Sunday's practice only to find that he had been assigned the green sweater for scratches. He stormed out of the practice 10 minutes before it ended, and declined interview requests. But before he left the Xcel Energy Center, he said some pretty disturbing stuff in a confrontation with veteran Canadian Press reporter Neil Stevens: Stevens: "Got a minute to talk to reporters, Brett?" Brett: "What would I have to talk about?" Stevens: "Fans want to know how you're doing." Brett: "I don't give a (deleted) about the fans anymore."

In response to being scratched against Slovakia, Brett said:

"I couldn't care less. It's no fun playing."

Shortly after Hull said f--- the fans, he notified Team USA media relations, saying that he had not intended to be quoted. But that does not explain the comment, only that he wishes it wasn't out there.

Thanks Brett. We all know you hate hockey (most of all practice) and only play it because you are paid millions, but do you really have the nerve to attack the hand that feeds you? That's right, hockey fans are the most loyal fans out there, and buy the jerseys, tickets, and memorabilia that give the NHL its modest revenue.

Now I understand that these are words said in frustration, but he still needs to apologize. I'm not one of those people who demands a rebuttal after every politically incorrect comment, but it would be appropriate in this case. With a lockout starting in nine days, barring a miracle, the NHL needs its fans more than ever for what could be a year and a half battle over a new CBA.

And by the way, Brett, If I had the chance for you to ask me to have your autograph, I think I'd have to pass.

A Career in Decline

For a guy who has professed a deeper love for the game of golf, it is sadly typical for Brett Hull to be lashing out at the hockey community during its acclaimed World Cup of Hockey tournament. A veteran member of Team USA (1996 World Cup winner), Hull is frustrated with the position of being benched against Slovakia. He's no doubt embarrassed that, as a guaranteed future Hall of Famer (741 goals, third all time), he's being treated like a fourth line, role player. He was turned down a roster spot by the Wings, and now he's being benched by Team USA.

If you dig up the tapes from the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs, and want to see Brett, you'll be looking for a lackadaisical skater gliding to and from the bench. After a six-week (December 8-January 22), 20-game goal drought, the longest of his career, Brett had only 3 goals and 2 assists in 12 playoff games. It wouldn't have been so damaging to the Wings' run if other players had been scoring, but the Wings were ousted by the Flames after 1-0 losses in Games 5 and 6.

Brett finished the regular season with 25 goals and 43 assists (thanks to playing with Pavel Datsyuk), which tied Datsyuk for team lead in points. But his play/attitude in the second half of the season was so dramatically worse than the first half that the Wings just couldn't bring him back. Rather than fighting through his slumps, his attitude was to just go through the motions. While one could attribute Hull's poor playoffs to a broken toe, revealed after the Wings were eliminated, I don't buy it. The playoffs are all about playing hurt, and Robert Lang, arguably the best Wing in the playoffs, finished the Calgary series with a broken left hand. I don't question Hull's ability to play hockey at a high level, rather, I question his drive and attitude, which are the primary reasons for his decline.

Hull blamed Coach Dave Lewis for his lack of production, with a sorry excuse that he wasn't getting enough playing time: "They just took the ice time away. Pavel (Datsyuk) and I were playing 12 and 13 minutes. That's fine if you want to do that to me, but you've got one of the top five players in the league, play him until he dies." As Matt noted, Brett's argument wasn't very factual as he averaged 16:53 ice time during the regular season and 15:15 over two rounds of the playoffs. He played in the 11-, 12-, or 13-minute range seven times in 81 games played.

Hull's signing with the Phoenix Coyotes was a gimmick from the beginning. The Jets/Coyotes organization unretired his father, Bobby Hull's number and gave it to Brett. This is something that stirs up the press and brings excitement to an organization on the outs. Coyotes General Manager Mike Barnett on Hull's entertainment value:

"Brett Hull is one of the most talented goal scorers in NHL history. He is a dynamic player who creates excitement every time he enters the offensive zone. He has contributed significantly to winning Stanley Cups in both Detroit and Dallas. We not only look forward to the experience and passion he will bring to his teammates here in Phoenix, but also to the pure entertainment he will provide to our fans."

First of all, what passion? He's been lifeless lately. Entertainment, yes. A new home in Phoenix allows Mr Brett I Like Golf Better to play golf year-round in the retirement villas of Phoenix/Scottsdale. But will he make significant contributions to the Coyotes? No, unless he gets his mind straightened out.

Everyone should respect Brett's First Amendment right to be a jerk, but words come with responsibility. While you could say this is Brett being Brett, I'm simply tired of his big mouth. I've never liked Brett for anything but his play, and this display was just too much to let go.

The proper and mature response to being benched is how Draper took it when scratched on Team Canada:

"I got traded for a dollar, you know, and here I am sitting in Team Canada's locker room at the World Cup. I've been healthy scratches before under Scotty Bowman. You never want to not be in the lineup. But I'm not going to get caught up in the whole situation."

Sure, there is a difference in where Draper and Hull are in their careers: Draper's career is on the upswing, with a career season and Selke win, while Brett's is sputtering. I'm not saying Brett is done, but he needs to decide whether he wants to play hockey anymore. If so, he should fight through this slump and I have full confidence that he'll make it. But if not, I see his signing in Phoenix as merely a stop to find some great golf courses and maybe build a vacation home. He's in the process of building a retirement home in the Dallas area. Part of me thinks that Hull could quit hockey before he ever plays for the Coyotes:

"I'd rather play golf than hockey. I just love the game. I love the challenge. It's my favorite sport."

Part of the reason Hull goes on is that he wants to pass Gordie Howe at 801 goals and become second all time only to Wayne Gretzky (894). Hull (741) will need two full seasons to score 61 goals, and a lockout this season could hurt his chances of even getting close. Hull turned 40 on August 9. Bobby Hull on passing Gordie:

"Before I went to the WHA, folks asked me what I'm going to do when I approach Gordie. I said that I'm going to score one less goal than Howe, then retire. I don't think I could have gone by the great old man."

Quotes on Hull

Team USA Doug Weight on Hull's insanity:

"He shouldn't be happy about it and he's not. But you don't want a teammate who doesn't give two cares about being in the lineup or not, and he cares and he's upset about it. If he doesn't want to talk to (reporters) about it, that's part of it. It's part of our job, I agree. But it's (Hull's) right (not to do interviews), I guess. He's always given (reporters) plenty to write. He's done a great job performing that part of his job. If something is bothering him or if he doesn't feel like talking for a couple of days, I don't think that should, in a 20-year career, be something that's held against him...He has done nothing to affect our chemistry in a bad way. He has been fine. When he gets out there again, he'll still be the most dangerous player on the ice."

Team USA Captain Chris Chelios also had words to say about his ex-Wing teammate:

"We're a close group. Brett and I are honoured, at our ages, to be part of this team. If I have to sit out or Brett has to sit out and if it's for the better of the team, so be it. We know Brett's going to be there for us if he's called on. Hopefully, we've got three more games and he'll be a part of it and get the opportunity to win a game for us."

Wings/Team USA assistant coach, Barry Smith:

"He's hot. He should be. He's a Hall of Fame player who's not getting a chance to play...He has not been a detriment to the team in any way. He has not been a problem for the coaching staff. I give him a lot of respect for the way he's handled the situation. He's being a team guy."

Insert Foot in Mouth It runs in the Hull family. Nearly 6 years ago today, Bobby Hull was quoted in the Moscow Times as saying "Hitler, for example had some good ideas. He just went a little bit too far." He also went on to say that the black population of the United States was growing too quickly, the Canadian government was too left wing, and that genetic breeding was a good idea. Bobby Hull denied he made the statement in the Canadian Jewish News. UPDATE Obviously the Phoenix Coyotes and their fans have an interest in what Hull said, so the Arizona Republic looked for a clarification of his profane statement. Hull offered an explanation that the quote was taken out of context/misunderstood (which is entirely possible), but fell short of apologizing (which would be taking responsibility for his words):

"I really believe I did nothing wrong. They had no idea what I was saying and what I meant by it and ran with it. It wasn't a slam against fans, and I think everybody who knows me knows what was written is not really who I am...It wasn't even an interview. They asked me if I was talking, and I said no. It's completely unfair...Of course I care about the fans. They pay my salary, and it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when they go crazy, and it's great to silence a vocal crowd when you're on the road."

The problem with Hull's thinking is that he throws a terse, off-color comment out there and expects people to know what he meant by it (other than in the literal sense). I don't know if I buy that saying "I don't give a f---about the fans anymore" means something other than a slam on the fans (if that's what he really said). And I don't know how something like that could be taken out of context. Hull was walking out of the arena and said a few one-liners. What, did he say: "I'm just joking...I don't give a f--- about the fans anymore...again, I'm joking"? Not likely. But maybe it was in sick humor, and it means he's frustrated and doesn't want to talk about hockey. I didn't get the joke. The problem I have with this situation is that I don't exactly trust the media, who could have easily fabricated/taken the quote out of context to make headlines. I also don't read minds, and Brett must believe that I take his comments as a compliment. I also don't buy into the fact that the comments shouldn't be printed just because it wasn't a formal interview. If Brett didn't want to talk, he should've just walked out of the arena with his mouth duct-taped shut. Nobody forced him to say anything (although the comments were provoked). It'll be interesting where this story goes. But I still stand by my feelings on Hull, that his career is in a decline and he should retire. Hull is an immature whiner who can't take a taste of reality that he's done. He loves attention and has a big mouth to back it up. I'll post any other updates as the story progresses. UPDATE 2 Brett Hull will be scratched again tonight for Team USA's quarterfinal game against Russia (7 pm, in St Paul). Coach Ron Wilson:
"We've put a lineup together we think is balanced and can best do what we want in terms of forechecking and defensive responsibilities, and who's on top of their game."


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