Commentary

Is the 'Ambassador of Fun' ready to get serious?

Updated: November 14, 2007, 12:06 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Before the start of last season, Dallas Stars television commercials depicted Brett Hull as the team's "Ambassador of Fun."

Guess that qualifies him to be a co-general manager of an NHL team.

Of course, "fun" and "Stars" haven't been noted in the same sentence too often in recent years, unless it was something like this: "Funny how the Stars used to be a good team. Did you see them blow a four-goal lead against Los Angeles the other night?"

It was that game, a dreadful illustration of the decline of a once-mighty team (or, at least, mighty big-spending team), that led owner Tom Hicks to abruptly show GM Doug Armstrong the door Tuesday.

In hindsight, you can always look at how things could have been done differently. Letting Mike Modano go his own way after the lockout would have been a much better proposition than signing him to a bloated contract and then taking away his captaincy.

The acquisitions of defenseman Mattias Norstrom and forward Ladislav Nagy at last February's trade deadline extended the Stars' normal playoff season by a couple of games (they lost in seven to Vancouver instead of their usual five-game run), but it came at a cost to the Stars' future.

So, with the team off the rails in structure and in the standings (they're 7-7-3 and sit 10th in the West), Hicks decided to buck the natural trend, which is to fire the coach, and start a rung above on the ladder.

Which brings us to Brett Hull, Mr. "Ambassador of Fun," ... oops, sorry ... we mean Mr. Interim Co-General Manager.

Hull and longtime NHL front-office man Les Jackson will share the managerial duties. Jackson will do the heavy lifting, at least to start. He's in his seventh year in his second go-round with the Stars after taking a break for two years to be an assistant GM in Atlanta. He was a member of the Stars organization for 13 years before that.

He knows the minor leagues, he understands development. The problem for the Stars is, they failed to transition from pre-lockout life, when development meant reaching for Hicks' checkbook, and post-lockout development, which means hard work in terms of acquiring prospects and developing them at the minor-league level.

Hull is clearly ill-qualified for this role given his lack of experience as a talent evaluator and there remains a significant question about whether he's got the work ethic to learn on the job.

When Hull was doing "analysis" last season for NBC, the knock on him from those in the business was he didn't do the work. He showed up, sprayed off a few bon mots and railed about this and that for a few minutes and went home. That's not analysis. Analysis is studying trends, watching tape and talking to players, not just your hockey buddies on the golf course.

Before that, Hull embarrassed himself by showing up to Coyotes training camp wildly out of shape and played just five post-lockout games for his buddy Wayne Gretzky before pulling the pin on his Hall of Fame career.

We recently had a chance to talk to folks like Blues front-office men Larry Pleau and John Davidson and Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford about the transition of Hall of Famers Al MacInnis and Ron Francis to their new front-office jobs in St. Louis and Carolina, respectively. The common thread was that both players were working their buns off.

It's frankly hard to imagine Hull patrolling dark, damp arenas with bad coffee in the hinterland looking for the next Stars' scoring star or blue-chip defenseman. But he'd better, because that's what this team needs. The Stars' cupboard is bare and it's going to take time and a boatload of hard work.

Wonder if the "Ambassador of Fun" is up to it.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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