What the Hull?

14Nov07

(Apologies for the lame Hull pun)

Brett Hull? Leading an NHL franchise as General Manager? Get out of here. That’ll never happen. No one would ever want Hull’s opinions and attitude, and besides, Hull would never want such a role. This is the guy whose only work in the Dallas Stars’ front office was to be the “Ambassador of Fun” on TV commercials. That couldn’t ever happen, right?

Well, if you missed the news, don’t worry, you didn’t wake up in a parallel universe — yes, it actually happened: Dallas owner Tom Hicks has spoken, and the result is Brett Hull at the controls of the Stars, along with Doug Armstrong’s former assistant Les Jackson. Co-GMs, tied together like hockey’s newest Odd Couple to bring the Stars out of the doldrums.

This should be interesting. You know with Hull’s opinions — and willingness to speak them — GM discussions about rules and league processes will be interesting. In fact, I’d love to be a fly on the wall just to see how the old guard handles Hull’s style. And if Gary Bettman does something he doesn’t like, you can be sure Hull will speak his mind.

But that still doesn’t answer the following question: how the Hull did the former-86-goal scorer snag a GM job?

Hull gives you a known quantity in some respects. You’re getting a brash and opinionated talking head that was a great fit for network broadcasts just for his rants. As a general manager? Well, I’m just wondering what’s the point of all this. He’s got no experience, and he’s never given any indication that he wants to be in management. In fact, I always pictured Hull as one of those guys sitting on the golf course with a big cigar in his mouth, puffing and putting away for the rest of his days.

So how did this come about? Is it to give the team a new face? Is it to inject fresh opinions into a business atmosphere? Is it just because Tom Hicks just loves Hull so much?

Wayne Gretzky has been quoted over the past few years about how Hull’s an underrated thinker when it comes to hockey, and part of that makes sense — you have to be able to really understand what’s going on, who’s going where, and how the play’s going to unfold if you really want to get in the right place for a shot. But evaluating players, coaches, and strategy? That’s something a little different.

Maybe this is what Hull really wanted when he left a cushy network gig to work in the Stars’ front office as a special advisor. Usually, those types of roles are just a hodgepodge of outreach and opinion: do some community work, promote the game, and sit in on a few meetings when discussing critical decisions. This is far different; we’re talking about hands-on-the-wheel direction of an NHL franchise.

Now, it’s important to note that Hull’s position is Co-GM — he’s sharing the reins with now-promoted Assistant GM Les Jackson. Jackson’s been with the organization for years, and maybe that’s really the key to this selection. Jackson represents established thinking that’s seen the Stars through good and bad times while Hull’s an unknown commodity. Hull’s got his share of opinions, but he’s never had the power to execute any of them before, so what does this mean?

I’m thinking that this move isn’t just for PR purposes. It’s a chemistry experiment in mixing two extremes to see what happens. Like peanut butter and Reese’s Pieces or Run DMC and Aerosmith, you’ve got polar opposites working towards a common goal. I see two possibilities here:

1) Hicks loves Hull’s brash and opinionated way and wants that to power the Dallas Stars into the future. But, as a businessman, he knows that he’s got to have some substance under the hood, so he puts Jackson on equal footing to make sure that Hull’s got some balance in his decision-making.

2) Hicks trusts in his old guard but sees where it’s led them — a dull team waning at the box office and struggling to score goals. He wants to shake up his system without destroying it; thus, Jackson is given control, but Hull’s new vision and opinions are introduced to provide outside-the-box thinking.

Hicks himself may be brash and opinionated, but he’s also a hell of a businessman, and the second theory seems to make more sense. Use a familiar base for the core strategy, but add in a new, unpredictable element that can perhaps produce an unexpected benefit — and push everyone in the regime to start thinking in new ways to keep up with the injection of fresh ideas and opinions. It’s a calculated shake-up, designed to keep hold of the past while taking a new direction for the future. What will it produce? There’s no way to tell, but one thing’s for sure: the annual GM meetings are going to be a lot more interesting.

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2 Responses to “What the Hull?”

  1. 1 Boopsie

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  2. 2 Joe Pelletier

    Hull puns are mandatory, Mike!


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