Hull of an offseason, but will it matter? - East Valley Tribune: News

Hull of an offseason, but will it matter?

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Posted: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 6:45 am | Updated: 4:59 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Brett Hull slipped on the No. 9 jersey worn by his father, Bobby.

What a shame.

Hull and the Coyotes are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The pending labor stoppage has put the 2004-2005 NHL season on hold, if not in jeopardy. The sport that’s already a distant relative to most fans seems intent on becoming a stranger.

How senseless and stupid, and how unfortunate for the Coyotes, who have remade themselves after a summer of shrewd spending and decision-making.

Stanley Cup contenders they’re not, but with the additions of Hull, Mike Ricci, Sean O’Donnell and Boyd Devereaux, the Coyotes no longer are a bunch of boys playing with men.

"We had to put a better team on the ice and we think we’ve done that," said managing partner Wayne Gretzky. "We’re a faster team and we have more depth than we’ve ever had before."

You can argue that Phoenix may be playing a few too many golden oldies. Hull is 40 years old, Ricci a well-worn 32. But some experience was needed, both on the ice and in the locker room.

Now, the Coyotes won’t have to force-feed youngsters like Fredrik Sjostrom and Jeff Taffe. If they’re ready to play, they’ll play. If not, they’ll be in Utah (Phoenix’s minor-league affiliate).

Besides, it’s not as if the Coyotes overpaid for their makeover. Or, as we say in these parts, pulled a Lemieux.

Hull, Ricci, O’Donnell and Devereaux cost a combined $6.1 million. The risk was worth the reward, and even if Hull finally starts acting his age, he’s only on the books for two seasons.

Ironically, the NHL’s uncertain labor situation may have been Phoenix’s greatest ally this summer.

A number of teams sat on their hands because they were unsure if a new collective bargaining agreement would impose restrictions on salaries.

The Coyotes had no such worries. Their payroll at the end of the 2003-2004 season was just under $29 million — among the lowest in the league — so they could spend without hesitation.

"We were fortunate to get a little ahead of the curve and make some of the changes we’ve made," general manager Mike Barnett said.

The lack of competitive bidding also enabled Phoenix to sign players for less than market value. The $6.1 million due its four free agents is almost half of what they made combined last season.

Because teams weren’t throwing as much green around, security became more important than the size of the paycheck. Hull was enticed by Phoenix’s two-year offer as opposed to the one-year deal proposed by Dallas, and the Coyotes enticed O’Donnell with a three-year contract.

"The players and their representatives recognized the market wasn’t what it had been in prior summers so they started looking at (more long-term deals) as opposed to wanting to hit another home run," Barnett said. "We were in position to give them what they wanted."

The Coyotes didn’t hit a homer this summer. They still need a No. 1 goalie — Sean Burke, where are you? — but for the first time in years, their moves improved the product, not the bottom line.

It’s too bad the only place the new guys will get to show off their sticks is the golf course.

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