The NHL legend gives an exclusive interview to Betway Insider in which he reviews the current season and names the players and teams that have most impressed him.
What teams stood out the most to you this season?
Seattle Kraken. The team didn’t reach the playoffs their first season, but they did a great job in creating the chemistry that they now have with some expansion players, and drafted picks.
The Devils. No one thought that they would be able to do what they are doing. After a couple of games, they were calling for their coach to be fired, but then, they racked up 13 consecutive wins.
Is it difficult for an expansion team to build a successful franchise within the first two years?
It is a fantastic job. You have to give their scouting team a lot of credit for being able to identify the type of player these players are. Seattle knew that some of the players were average players in their previous franchises, but they could become better players if given a shot, more playing time, and playing alongside other players. As Vegas did some years ago, they’ve made some excellent choices. It’s a great feat to do this, find a coach who can put the team together, and then be patient.
Which players have you noticed this season?
Robertson, of the Dallas Stars, has had a great year. It’s impossible to say enough good things about Draisaitl, McDavid, and the two Edmonton players. If they had more goaltenders and talent to surround these two guys, it would be scary. Edmonton might be back in the glory days of Gretzky, Messier, and Grant Fuhr. Pastrnak is having an amazing year with the Boston Bruins. Tage Thompson is in Buffalo. It’s probably his fifth season since he was acquired from the St. Louis Blues. But you can already see his talent and what he is doing. Buffalo Sabres will be a force to reckon with in the future.
Have you watched Alex Ovechkin for the past 18 years and how much did it bring you joy?
This is amazing. If you look at the other sports, it’s not uncommon for a player to score 20 or 25 times in six or seven years. This guy has been scoring 50 goals every year for the past 18 years. It’s incredible. It’s amazing to see him. He has never changed his style of play. He is a monster out there. Nobody can shoot faster. You can’t even stop him now after so many years. It’s been a real pleasure to watch him.
What is the significance of him even being able to threaten Gretzky’s record for goals?
The fact that I scored 741 myself is incredible. I’m not sure I would have been able to score another. It was the closest anyone would get to Gordie’s 801 goals and Wayne Wayup’s with 894. He’s still got plenty to live for. 80 goals are the equivalent of two seasons. He’s unstoppable unless something changes. Wayne’s record will be the only one that’ll ever be broken because the others are insane.
How did you feel when the Blues franchise and St. Louis won that championship ring in 2019?
Since 1967 I don’t think there has been a city with a more dedicated fan base than St. Louis. In the 1980s, they were unable to have a draft due to a lack of ownership. I don’t know what year that was. It was a great tribute to the fans who were with them through it all. This was a wonderful sight.
What do you think of Dallas so far?
It’s a good team. The team has had some injuries, but it’s got great goaltending and great players. They will be in the playoffs until the end.
What is your opinion of the current state of Detroit?
They’re coming. There are some young, talented players. Drafting is crucial when you are rebuilding. You can lose a few years if you don’t get the right picks. They seem to have made a good selection. Now it’s just a matter of time before those players mature, and fill the team around them. It’s possible to become good very quickly. They’re definitely on the way up.
It’s a two-edged blade to play for a Canadian hockey team. The national sport of Canada, the birthplace of hockey is the Canadian team. It has everything except the Blue Jays or Raptors. You become a household brand by playing there. Look at [Austin] Matthews, [Mitch] Marner, and [Connor] McDavid from Edmonton and [Leon] Draisaitl in Toronto. All of them are household names and become famous. But there is also pressure to perform for these Canadian teams.
From the team’s perspective, because of the location of the free agents, they are unlikely to be able to convince them to play for their team. There are many great teams and states in the United States that do not have state taxes. It is great to belong to a Canadian team, but it’s hard for them. That’s part of the problem and probably why there’s such a long drought.
What can Canadian franchisees do to close this gap?
It must be possible to attract more players by making it financially attractive. For me, this is it. It’s the cities and people that are amazing. You’ll be treated as if you were gold if you join a Canadian hockey team. It’s difficult to get free agents to sign multi-year deals, and to hold people to them because they want to finish their contracts and move on. The biggest issue is that people want to leave.
How did you feel when your father was an NHL legend and you were a rookie?
By that time, I had done it all my life. It was normal for me to be Bobby Hull’s son. I’m not sure if that was due to pressure but it wasn’t a big deal. At that time, I knew that I would never be Bobby Hull. It was up to me to play the game I knew and be my best. It would have been fantastic if we were able to combine the two shadows. It was a very fortunate thing that it happened, as I enjoyed a successful career with free NHL consensus picks.
Which player in the current lineup reminds you of yourself most?
Ovechkin is the player I would recommend you start with. Our styles were very similar. We played a very similar style. He was more physically imposing than me, but we went to the same spots on the ice. We like to score goals. Steven Stamkos is another player who I’d like to compare myself with.
Which current player do you wish to play with the most?
Connor McDavid would be my first choice, but I couldn’t keep up. He is too fast. But I like Mitch Marner. It would be great to play with someone who loves making plays. Nathan MacKinnon is in Colorado, too. Anyone creative and smart, and loves moving the puck would be great to play with.
Boston looks to be a very tough team to beat in the East. It’s anyone’s game in the West. Dallas will make the Finals and it’ll be a Boston-Dallas final.