Hull helped WHA into hockey family
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

Bobby Hull was instrumental in two hockey leagues in two decades. The Golden Jet of the Chicago Blackhawks won seven goal-scoring titles, three overall scoring championships and two Most Valuable Player awards in the NHL in the 1960s.

 Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull, left, couldn't be touched as an offensive leader of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Then the flamboyant left wing's signing with the Winnipeg Jets gave instant credibility to a new league, the World Hockey Association, in the 1970s.

One of the fastest skaters in the game, the 5-foot-10, 193-pound Hull had a remarkable physique with his muscular torso and powerful legs. His slap shot was a blur, often traveling more than 100 mph as he terrorized goaltenders with its speed and accuracy.

Before this one Hull of a scorer came along, only twice had players topped 50 goals in a season (Rocket Richard in 1944-45 and Boom Boom Geoffrion in 1960-61). The next four names in the NHL's chronological list of 50-goal scorers in its Official Guide & Record Book are Bobby Hull, Bobby Hull, Bobby Hull and Bobby Hull. (There also was a fifth 50-goal season for Hull, in 1971-72.) Not until the '70s, after expansion and longer schedules, did scoring 50 goals become something other than a rarity.

Other notable achievements for Hull were his being the second player to score 100 points in a season and being voted the league's first-team all-star left wing 10 times and second-team twice in his last 13 seasons with Chicago.

He was born Jan. 3, 1939 in Pointe Anne, Ontario, one of 11 children. After progressing through Canada's junior hockey system, he was called up by Chicago at the age of 18 from the St. Catherines Tee Pees in 1957. It wasn't long before Chicago fans, who had been turned off by four straight last-place finishes in a six-team league, came flocking back to see the spectacular left wing.

Hull, who scored his first goal against Boston's Don Simmons on Oct. 22, 1957, had 13 goals as a rookie. He scored 18 in his second year, when Chicago reached the playoffs after a five-year drought. Then came Hull's breakout season.

A greatly improved Hull was united with Murray Balfour and rookie Bill Hay to form one of the best lines in the NHL for the next four seasons. The trio was called the Million Dollar Line. Hull led the league in scoring with 81 points, and his 39 goals tied Boston's Bronco Horvath for that title. Hull scored No. 39 on the season's last day before a hostile Boston crowd, enabling him to beat Horvath by a point for the scoring title.

Previous poll results

Hull's knee bothered him during the 1960-61 season as his production dropped to 31 goals and 56 points (13th in the league in scoring). In the opening game of the Stanley Cup finals, Hull scored twice as Chicago defeated Detroit 3-2. The Blackhawks went on to win the series in six games for their first Cup in 23 years. This would be Hull's only Cup in his 16 NHL seasons. (Chicago is 0-for-the last 38 years.)

After a slow start the next season, Hull came on strong. He scored 35 goals in his last 31 games to join the 50-goal club. The final goal came on the last game of the season. Hull and the Rangers' Andy Bathgate tied for the point leadership with 84, but Hull was awarded his second Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion because he scored more goals (50 to Bathgate's 28).

Hull scored a total of 113 goals the next three seasons. With 87 points in 1963-64, Hull lost the scoring title by two points to teammate Stan Mikita. The next season, though his point production fell to 71 and Chicago finished third, Hull was voted the Hart Trophy winner as league MVP.

He retained the Hart Trophy the next season as he became the first player to score more than 50 goals in a season. When he deposited No. 51 on March 12, 1966, beating Rangers goalie Cesare Maniago, the crowd of 22,000 in Chicago gave him a seven-minute standing ovation. He finished with 54 goals (in 65 games) and 97 points and won his third scoring title by a whopping 19 points.

Hull scored a league-leading 52 goals and had 80 points (No. 2 in scoring behind Mikita) in 1966-67. The league expanded the next season, doubling in size to 12 teams, and Hull again led with 44 goals.

In 1968-69, the Golden Jet exploded for career-bests of 58 goals and 107 points, notching his 100th point 18 days after Phil Esposito became the first NHL player to crack the century mark. Hull scored 38 and 50 goals the next two years before making the big jump.

When Winnipeg initially made him an offer -- a multi-year contract for $250,000 a year to play, $100,000 a year to coach and be general manager, plus a $1 million signing bonus -- Hull didn't take it seriously.

"I thought it was a joke," he said. "I pretended to go along with it, just to scare Chicago. Then my agent said, 'Bobby, these guys are serious.' "

Chicago management, whom Hull had feuded with for years, thought their star was bluffing. He wasn't. He signed with Winnipeg in the summer of '72. "If I told you that the big contract had nothing to do with my signing," he said, "I'd be lying. It made the future secure for my family. Then there were some things that disenchanted me in the NHL, and the way the Hawks handled their attempts to sign me. They just didn't think I'd consider jumping."

Hull's signing opened the way for bigger contracts for all hockey players, as NHL owners were forced to pay larger salaries to prevent more players from jumping.

After sitting out a month because of litigation, Hull scored 51 goals in 63 games his first year in the WHA. The best of his six seasons in the upstart league was 1974-75 when he scored a remarkable 77 goals.

He staged a one-man, one-game strike in protest of violence in hockey during the 1977-78 season. He retired after playing only four games that season, but came back for one more year after the NHL accepted four WHA teams in 1979. Beset by injuries, he scored just six goals in 27 games for Winnipeg and Hartford before retiring for good. He finished his NHL career with 610 goals and 1,170 points in 1,063 games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.

Hockey is in the Hull blood. Bobby played with younger brother Dennis in Chicago, and he is part of the only father-son combination to win the Hart Trophy as Brett Hull won the MVP award in 1991, a season in which the son scored 86 goals.