A kinder, gentler approach from Brett Hull? Not exactly, but ...
On the Dallas Stars' organizational chart, Les Jackson and Brett Hull are listed as co-general managers.
Their division of labor?
"Les does all the work, and I get all the credit," Hull said recently with a wry smile.
Same ol' Brett.
"It's true!" Hull added. "Les does all the work. He's done it for so long, he's already ingrained on that side of it. I'm a glorified intern, really, trying to learn things as I go. We work it where Les makes all the calls because you can't have two people calling all over the league. We have to have one voice, and we have the same ideas about how we want to build a team, what it takes to win and the people we want in our organization, and that really makes it easy."
Hull was an, ahem, "special adviser" (as opposed to a "normal" or "unspecial" adviser) in the Stars' front office when GM Doug Armstrong was fired Nov. 13 of last year in the wake of a 7-7-3 start.
The move, and especially its timing, didn't make much sense, and it was ludicrous to attribute the Stars' inevitable bounce back -- and their playoff advancement to the Western Conference finals -- to the change in the front office. But the season, as life, goes on, and Jackson and Hull settled into their new roles.
Both signed new three-year contracts in May, two months before coach Dave Tippett agreed to a two-year extension that will take him through the 2010-11 season. That linked the co-general managers and the coach as a regime under contract for the same time period, a logical approach that NHL teams -- and all major league teams -- should take more often.
"It's a lot of fun and completely different," Hull said of his new position. "While I was playing, not in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be here, in this role. Thinking you can just walk away from the game when you're done, well, you can't. It's ingrained in my blood. It's all I've done my whole life. To be able to be part of it, to have [owner] Tom Hicks think that much of me to ask me to be a part of it, is also an honor."
The Stars haven't made tons of changes in the past year. Their major moves were the trade-deadline acquisition of Brad Richards and since-departed goalie Johan Holmqvist for goalie Mike Smith, left winger Jussi Jokinen, center Jeff Halpern and a 2009 fourth-round pick; and the signing of Sean Avery in July as an unrestricted free agent. The commitment to Tippett, who previously had signed a one-year extension in December, is unusual.
"Some people, if they were in our position, would have tried to get rid of some other people," Hull said. "But I think we're smart enough to realize where our bread is buttered and who butters it. We have a good core of people down there who were already here. With that said, with the salary cap and the budget we can put in front of us, you try and work around that core. People will leave and people will come, and I think after a while, it will have our fingerprint on it. But as long as [Marty] Turco's in the net and [Brenden] Morrow's out there, there's going to be pieces that were there before us."
Thankfully for those with tape recorders in their hands as well as for the league, the promotion hasn't turned Hull -- the No. 3 goal scorer in NHL history with 741 -- into a stuffed shirt. But he has tempered his tendency to make snap judgments.
"One of the first things Les taught me is that you can't scout game-by-game," Hull said. "You have to look at the big picture and understand where they've come from before you can judge them where they are now. It's a tough thing because I do have that tendency, and after playing so many years, I think I can see a player. But they all develop at such different speeds, you just have to let them go at their own pace.
"Obviously, the CBA does some things for you and you have to make decisions, and that's when you sit down and go, 'Hey, I don't think that guy's going to pan out,' or, 'I think we should sign him because he hasn't found his stride yet, but I think he's going to.' So, yes, I like to shoot from the hip, but I don't do it as much in this job."
But what about beyond the realm of player evaluation? How about when he assesses the state of the game? Hull was among the biggest critics of the obstruction and trap era in the pre-lockout seasons.
"It's getting better now, that's for sure," he said. "The league is doing a lot of great things to make it better. It's only three years ago that they made changes to make it better, so it's obviously a work in progress. It all starts with the coaching. The product is at times" -- and at that point, he paused before apparently deciding to forge ahead -- "boring. We've told our coach, 'Coach to win. There's not enough good coaches out there. You don't have to fear for your job.' We want him to coach without fear. I don't think there's a lot of coaches who have that, and that's when you see the real boring, conservative, safe hockey."
Devil's advocate, though: Isn't that part of the problem? Aren't many coaches of lesser-talented teams trying to win by mitigating the talent gap with a lowering of the entertainment quotient?
"Obviously, there are situations where you have to," Hull said. "There are teams with smaller budgets than other teams. You've got to coach with what you have."
That's roughly the NHL party line, of course, but Hull seemed to dismiss it out of hand as he continued.
"Our goal is to get that mix of great players and your grinders, but to me, you still play the game with the puck," he said. "If you're in the NHL, you should be able to pass and get open for a pass instead of having to throw it off the glass. You have a hard time trying to convince me that there's teams out there that don't have the skill to play good hockey."
I wouldn't even try.
It's the league's job to reward skill, and to prevent coaches from attempting to suffocate it.
It should be as hard to do as muzzling Brett Hull.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."
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