St. Louis Blues set to retire Brett Hull’s No. 16 jersey Tuesday

“He wasn’t your prototypical hockey player in a sense that he was very colourful, he spoke his mind, he loved the game and he was very opinionated about it,” said close friend and former teammate Wayne Gretzky. “He was honest to a fault.”

The franchise will reward one of hockey’s premier snipers, and perhaps its most colourful player, on Tuesday when it retires his No. 16 jersey. It’s an overdue honour for a player whose exploits filled the seats for 11 seasons, delayed by a rift with the front office prompted largely by his ever-yapping mouth.

“If it didn’t happen, I didn’t think I’d lose any sleep over it. I’m not that egomaniacal,” Hull said. “Now, I am losing sleep. It’s such a cool deal.”

The seats will be filled again, for the first time this season, for ceremonies prior to a game against the Red Wings. The Blues are among the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL, unlike in Hull’s prime – when he scored 72, 86 and 70 goals in a three-season stretch from 1989-92.

“He could shoot, oh man,” said former Blues general manager Ron Caron, who acquired Hull from the Calgary Flames in March 1988 when Hull’s only claim to flame was as the somewhat pudgy son of Hall of Famer Bobby Hull. “He was a natural.”

New Blues ownership wanted to give Hull, who holds franchise records for goals (527), hat tricks (27), game-winning goals (70), power-play goals (195) and shots on goal (3,367), a proper ceremony. He’s second on the franchise list in assists (409), points (936) and short-handed goals (18).

Hull won two Stanley Cups with Dallas and Detroit after leaving St. Louis in 1998. But his best years statistically were with the Blues.

“I know the place is going to jump,” team president John Davidson said. “When you do the research and figure out the career he had as a Blue it’s pretty astounding. It’s almost mind-boggling when you look at the numbers.”

In 20 seasons overall, Hull is third on the NHL list with 741 goals, 131 more than his dad. He played in eight all-star games and two Olympics for the U.S.

Davidson, a goalie with the Blues in the 1970s, marvelled at Hull’s slap shot.

“It was leaning into the stick, bending it like a bow and just letting it snap,” Davidson said. “And he still hit top corners. It was an astonishing thing.”

Hull will be the sixth Blues player to have his jersey retired, and the second in two seasons. Al MacInnis, a former teammate and another player with rare offensive skills, in his case a slapshot that topped 100 m.p.h., had his No. 2 retired last April.

Hull’s honour won’t be entirely ceremonial. He’ll be back on the ice with MacInnis and former linemate Adam Oates, with whom he was at his most prolific, when he participates in an alumni game on Sunday night.

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Hull promises no more magic. Since retiring in 2005 he’s become an assistant to the president of the Stars and wears a suit and tie on game night.

“When I hang up the skates, I hang up the skates,” Hull said. “I’m hoping to make it through the game.”

Many of Caron’s trades as general manager of the Blues were dictated by finances that hamstrung the organization. The Hull deal, which cost him only aging defenceman Rob Ramage and goalie Rick Wamsley, was his steal. Although it’s a deal that help Calgary win the ’89 Stanley Cup.

Before Hull went to college at Minnesota-Duluth, Caron’s capsule evaluation of Hull was not complimentary: “He was fat and slow and lazy,” Caron said.

No argument there from Hull, who went a long, long way with that blocky physique. Many of Hull’s shifts were long, as he patiently prowled the ice waiting for an opening.

“That’s the basis of my success, that’s the way I got open,” Hull said. “I was never really near the play.

“I found the lighter I got and better shape I got in, the more I was too far into the play and I didn’t play as well.”

Whenever reporters gathered, he was a natural, too. He was an ever-flowing source of opinions on the state of the game. His critiques of the ice condition (usually lousy) never failed to entertain.

“We had some great runs and the fans got some great entertainment, and Brett obviously had a huge part of that,” former Blues left wing Geoff Courtnall said. “It’ll be great to see him again.”

Hull’s days in St. Louis were numbered after several clashes with Mike Keenan, the team’s coach and general manager from 1994 to ’96. Keenan tried to transform Hull into a two-way winger, and Hull dealt his share of bruising checks while bristling at efforts to rein him in.

“I was a complete player before Keenan was there,” Hull said.

Hull loved the freewheeling days, but said he’d also love playing under new rules that now strictly prohibit hooking and holding. It was a great challenge for him to shake loose of shadows he’d attract in the playoffs.

“It’s a great game the way it is now,” Hull said. “I know the game is 1,000 times better. They need to keep fine-tuning it, but the rules are great and the style is great.”

That doesn’t sound like Hull. He’s mellowed since his days in St. Louis.

“Oh yeah, Brett spoke his mind, and usually he was fairly accurate,” former Blues goalie Curtis Joseph said. “Sometimes the truth is something that you don’t say all the time.

“But he was very truthful, and very outspoken.”