Even in retirement, Brett Hull finds himself defending the controversial goal that won the Dallas Stars the 1999 Stanley Cup.
The most memorable moment of his Hall of Fame career continues to be tainted in the eyes of some – the majority of whom Hull figures will never truly listen to his explanation.
Hull’s foot was in the crease as he fired a rebound past Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek in triple overtime of Game 6. Many thought that was a no-no, unaware the league had circulated a private memo earlier that season clarifying a skate could be in the crease if the player was in control of the puck.
As a result, the goal stood. Some fans of the Sabres still believe it shouldn’t have.
“We all knew that they had changed the rule,” Hull said Thursday on a conference call. “But obviously the NHL decided they weren’t going to tell anybody but the teams … They changed the rule to say if you have control in the crease, you can score the goal, and that’s exactly what it was.
“But nobody knows that. You can tell people that a million times and they just will not listen.”
Hull can soothe himself by looking at his championship ring or finding one of the two spots on the Stanley Cup where his name is engraved – having also won the trophy with Detroit in 2002.
Perhaps he’ll take the time to do just that on Monday, when he’ll be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman and builder Lou Lamoriello.
The most interesting sub-plot to the induction ceremony is whether Wayne Gretzky will be in attendance to fete a class of players he knows extremely well. The Great One played with Robitaille (L.A.), Hull (St. Louis) and Leetch (N.Y. Rangers), and shared a number of Team Canada assignments with Yzerman.
However, Gretzky has kept a low profile since having his name and salary dragged into the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy proceedings. Hull believes his friend wants to be at the Hall on Monday night.
“I know he really wants to (and) I know Janet wants to as well,” said Hull. “I don’t think a final decision has been made on that yet.”
As for Hull, he has no trouble identifying a favourite moment from his career.
The biggest reason he’s a Hall of Famer is the 844 combined goals he scored in the regular season and playoffs – the most important of which was the one he had on Hasek in Buffalo. Not only did it give him his first Stanley Cup, it also proved some doubters wrong.
“It ranks No. 1 to me,” said Hull. “There was a boatload of people saying when I was leaving St. Louis, ‘You’re never going to win with Brett Hull on your team.’ To go to Dallas and be the missing piece of the puzzle that’s going to help them win their Cup, and then to go out and score the goal in overtime – who hasn’t sat as a kid on the ice with his buddies and dreamt or pretended that’s the goal they’ve scored?
“To do it in real life was something special.”
Hull was a special player.
He scored 86 times for the Blues in 1990-91 – the second-highest single season total in NHL history – and trails only Gretzky and Gordie Howe on the all-time goals list.
The 45-year-old was also one of the game’s more outspoken players and was known to feud with coaches, most notably Mike Keenan. He has a simple explanation for why that happened.
“I never lost that attitude while I was playing that I was just playing with my friends or my buddies and go out and enjoy it and have a good time,” said Hull. “Sometimes the coaches got a little upset with me because of that. But I think the success I had was because of that.”
It was far from guaranteed.
The son of Hall of Famer Bobby Hull wasn’t drafted until the seventh round by Calgary in 1984 and figures his career might have been cut short if not for the trade that took him to St. Louis in 1988.
“I’ve said for years I could never figure out why Calgary ever drafted me,” said Hull. “When I got there, I think they had eight or nine right-wingers already, including Lanny McDonald, Joey Mullen, Hakan Loob. These guys were premiere players. It’s not like they were extremely late in their careers either.
“Yeah, if Ron Caron from St. Louis hadn’t called and possibly made that trade, I could have fallen through the cracks.”