Inside The NHL

July 29, 2001

Sniper, Anyone?
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 resume. 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.)

While arbitration most likely would have guaranteed Allison a $6
million award--Boston might even have chosen to arbitrate a
two-year contract--he and many other players have rejected the
process because they don't want to give up their bargaining
leverage. That has added to the number of holdouts, a blight on
the NHL landscape every fall. Arbitration "isn't pleasant,"
Allison says, alluding to the adversarial nature of the process.
"But I also believe you should be with a team only because it
wants you and not because of an arbitrator's decision."

Why Jagr Isn't a Ranger
Quick Fix? Not This Time

Jaromir Jagr was at a Capitals introductory press conference last
week, cracking wise, because 1) he is a jokester, and 2) Rangers
president Glen Sather had been unwilling to trade two prospects
to the Penguins for the star rightwinger, who seemed destined for
Broadway.

For normally quick-fix New York, this reluctance to part with
1999 first-round draft picks Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark was
a principled stand--albeit the kind that blew up in the team's
face in 1999. That's when Neil Smith, Sather's predecessor, hung
on to slow-developing center Manny Malhotra, breaking a deal to
bring Pavel Bure from the Canucks. (Malhotra has yet to get much
playing time in the NHL.) So, are Brendl and Lundmark, juniors
who were in the Western Hockey League last year, good enough to
justify passing on Jagr?

"They're still genuine prospects," says Canadiens assistant G.M.
Martin Madden, who worked for the Rangers at the time of the '99
draft. "Brendl's going to be a scorer on the first line. Lundmark
looks like a second-line center who'll give you something every
night. When you're rebuilding, you can't keep starting the
process over every year. Five years from now, I think Glen's
decision will have served the Rangers well."

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL Although Hull's defensive play improved in Dallas, most teams still think of him solely as a scorer. COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA The Bruins are likely to send the talented Allison--and his contract demands--to another team.

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