DETROIT - Sometimes, it's hard to tell what Brett Hull does better - shoot the puck or shoot off his mouth.
However, one thing is certain -- since signing a two-year, $9 million free-agent contract with the Detroit Red Wings last summer, Hull has shed his reputation as a one-dimensional player.
He no longer is regarded as only a goal-scorer.
The 37-year-old forward has tightened up his defensive play while becoming a more effective penalty-killer and back-checker. And coach Scotty Bowman has trusted Hull enough to put him on the ice late in games when the Red Wings are trying to protect a lead.
Hull will resume that role once again tonight at 7 when Detroit battles his former team, the St. Louis Blues, in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal playoff series at Joe Louis Arena.
The 16-year veteran, who normally dishes out one-liners like drop passes, brushed off reporters who approached him at his locker following yesterday afternoon's workout.
“I did all of my talking [Monday]. I've got nothing to say,” he said.
Hull paused briefly, then added, “Actually, I've got a lot to say - just not to you guys. See me after Game 1.”
Forward Darren McCarty has seen Hull at his best and worst, but he likes having the future Hall-of-Famer on a team full of them.
“Brett always has comment for everything,” McCarty said. “He shoots from the hip. He tells it like it is. You have to respect him for that. It's refreshing. You always know where you stand with him, and I like that.”
Even though Hull wasn't talking to reporters yesterday, he could be heard chirping in the background while his teammates were being interviewed nearby.
“We wanted Brett to be loud and obnoxious,” forward Brendan Shanahan said. “We'd have been disappointed if we didn't get that. But he has fit in very well, and I think that's why it's worked. We haven't brought him in here and tried to put a muzzle on him. We've enjoyed him. He's a real funny guy to have in the dressing room. On the ice, and at practice, he's non-stop. And he's been a real spark for us.”
Hull, whose father Bobby is in the Hall of Fame, broke into the NHL with the Calgary Flames in 1985. He eventually was traded to St. Louis and played 11 seasons with the Blues, and still is the franchise's all-time leading goal-scorer. He also leads St. Louis in postseason scoring with 67 goals and 117 points in 102 games.
Before signing with Detroit, Hull spent three seasons with the Dallas Stars. He scored the series-clinching goal against current teammate Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres in the third overtime of Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals.
Hull, though, often complained about Ken Hitchcock's conservative defensive system while he was in Dallas.
“I think the last few years, Brett would be first to admit that the game has changed,” McCarty said. “It shows you what a great player he is that he is able to adapt.”
The St. Louis team Hull left after the 1998 season bears little resemblance to the team he will see on the ice tonight. Only Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Pavol Demitra, Marc Bergevin and Mike Eastwood remain.
“They're a great team,” Hull said the other day. “They're very similar to us - they've got a lot of skill. They've got a lot of great role players. They're well-coached. They've good [defense].”
In the Red Wings' first-round victory over the Vancouver Canucks, Hull didn't register a point in the first four games. He insisted it was no big deal because he was playing solid defense.
But after he broke out of his scoring slump with two assists in Game 5 and his first career playoff hat trick in Game 6, Hull expressed his true feelings.
“I don't care what anybody says about the all-around game,” said Hull, who has 679 career regular-season goals and 93 more in postseason play. “Scoring makes you feel a lot better.”
Hull netted 30 goals and 33 assists during the regular season and was a plus-18. In the playoffs, he has three goals and five points on 22 shots and is a minus-1.
“He's showed all of us that he can be a solid defensive player, and that he's not just a pure goal-scorer,” defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said.
“I don't enjoy it, but I'm smart enough to know that I have to do it, so I do it,” Hull said. “There are guys who are out of the game because they didn't do it or couldn't do it. They're gone like dinosaurs.”