Strange to walk in from dinner and find out via the ESPN scroll that Brett Hull's stellar career came to an end tonight in Phoenix; like many other NHLers of a certain age who had more hockey in them following 2003-04, the long lockout layoff was too much for the now 41-year-old Hull. He knew, as did anyone who has followed his career, it would be his last hurrah when he signed on with best friend Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes in August 2004. But who would have guessed it would come to an end after only five games and one assist, that he would retire wearing the sweater of the team he played with for the fewest games?
This year's record forms an odd set of bookends with his first year in the NHL back in 1986-87, when he played five games and earned one point (from a goal). He left for St. Louis during the following season, arriving with 27 goals and 24 assists to his name. Bobby Hull's son came into his own in St. Louis, developing from a chunky kid with promise and a famous name into a top-flight player, record-breaker and blunt speaker. I remember sitting a row back from him during a Bruce Springsteen concert at the Arena in his early days here; only a few of us even knew who he was. A year later, the right wing could barely move through the building without causing a ripple of excitement. Eventually, the Arena's replacement was dubbed the "House That Hull Built." In 1990-91 he scored 86 goals and 45 assists in a mere 78 games. He broke 100 points four years running and with center Adam Oates provided one of the most electric playmaker/goal scorer duos the game has seen. (I've often wondered what the records would look like if the tandem hadn't been cut short by Oates' career choices.)
Only Gretzky and the great Gordy Howe scored more goals in the NHL than Brett Hull, who leaves the game with 741 goals, 650 assists, 1,391 points and 458 penalty minutes in 1,269 games. For trivia buffs, father Bobby ended his career with 610 NHL goals. They are the only father-son with 50 goals in a season, 600-plus goals apiece and, as follows, the highest-scoring father-son tandem. Bobby's number "9" was retired by the Winnipeg Jets. This season, it was unretired by the team now known as the Phoenix Coyotes so it could be worn by his son.
Trying to quote Hullie often meant sorting out the words that could be quoted in a family paper from his typical stream of f* laden consciousness but he almost always could be counted on to say something worth printing. He'd look at you with a "do I have to" stare, raise an eyebrow and go, sometimes interviewing himself. His sense of humor was, is demonic, his flair on the ice unmistakable. His joy in being a father was as much a gift to watch as his game on the ice. He went on to win his Stanley Cups in other uniforms but the bulk of his goals and the bulk of his playing years were spent here -- and we were the luckier for it. Of course, it would have been even better if he'd managed to lead the Blues to the promised land.