Brett Hull, no longer welcome in Dallas, is the last of the big free agents still at large
The last man standing in this year's free-agent bonanza is Brett Hull, who was bypassed in the frenzy that snapped up every other marquee name within days of July 1, the opening of the signing period. Considering that Hull scored 39 goals last season, plays more responsibly in his own end than ever, is willing to take a pay cut and might sell a few tickets with his name, the fact that teams are still dancing around him is surprising. "To be honest," says Hull, who has 649 career goals, seventh highest in NHL history, "I'm a little surprised myself."
Hull wanted to stay in Dallas and, under terms of his just-expired contract, nearly guaranteed himself another season with the Stars. He satisfied all the individual and team incentives over the life of the three-year deal except one: Had Dallas advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs in the final year of the contract, Hull would have had the option of returning for one season at $7 million (his salary in 2000-01). However, in a four-game second-round rout by the Blues that exposed the Stars' aging lineup, the option passed to the club.
Dallas general manager Bob Gainey moved quickly to rejigger, signing free-agent forwards Pierre Turgeon, Donald Audette, Valeri Kamensky and Rob DiMaio and trading for defenseman Jyrki Lumme. Gainey created a deep-up-the-middle team, and there was no room on it for Hull, who might have been welcome only with a one-year contract (at well under $7 million). Even if the option had been his, Hull, who turns 37 on Aug. 9, would have sought at least a two-year deal because he didn't want to uproot himself for what figures to be a final assault on 700 goals in 2002-03.
As for why other teams didn't snap Hull up after July 3, when Gainey announced that Dallas probably would not keep him, one reason is what an Eastern Conference general manager calls the veteran's "reputation as a one-way player." After three years of toiling for Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, however, Hull, who scored 95 regular-season goals and 21 in the playoffs (including the controversial 1999 Stanley Cup winner) for Dallas, plays acceptably if not passionately without the puck. Of course, that isn't the first line on his r�sum�. He remains a sniper who can find the creases in the offensive zone.
Through Sunday six teams had inquired about Hull, including the Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers. His next, and most likely last, job won't really be about the money or even the Cup. For Hull, who would accept less than $7 million per year, it will be about fun, camaraderie, ambience and a milestone. His most important criterion is finding a philosophical fit. "I'm not saying run-and-gun," says Hull. "I learned with the Stars that you need defense to win a Cup, but you need to mix defense with some creativity and offensive striking power."
His first inclination was to stay in the Western Conference to "screw the Stars, to throw a wrench into their plans," he says. "That's not vindication. That's human nature." Hull is over that, though. He says he'll sign-finally—wherever it feels right.
Allison Spurns Arbitration
Wanting to Be Wanted
Jason Allison and the Bruins have at least a $2 million difference of opinion. Allison, who tied for fourth-leading scorer in the NHL last season, is looking for a multiyear deal with an average salary of about $8 million, which would put him in a ritzy neighborhood that this summer seems reserved for coveted free agents like Flyers forwards John LeClair and Jeremy Roenick and time-tested veterans like Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin. The Bruins are balking, and this makes the 26-year-old Allison—who isn't old enough for unrestricted free agency—the highest-profile player likely to be traded before training camps open. "When the demands are way out of whack with-what you're prepared to pay," says Boston general manager Mike O'Connell, "you have to look at a trade. We're trying to get this team ready for October."
The dispute could have been settled if Allison had filed for arbitration before the July 15 deadline, but he refused. (Forty-four players, including four of 11 arbitration-eligible Bruins, filed; hearings will be held in Toronto from Aug. 1 through 15.) To any team looking for a harmonious training camp, arbitration offers invaluable certainty: After the hearing the player will have a contract, though at a salary determined by the arbitrator. (In the NHL, unlike in baseball, the arbitrator can choose a figure between the team's offer and the player's request.)