Known as "The Golden Jet" for his blonde hair and speedy skating, Bobby Hull (born 1939) was the highest scoring left wing in the history of the National Hockey League (NHL). A member of the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL, and later the Winnipeg Jets of the upstart World Hockey Association (WHA), Hull demonstrated power, drive, and speed in his 23 years as a professional hockey player.
Robert Marvin Hull was born on January 3, 1939, in Pointe Anne, Ontario, a very small Canadian town of about 500 people. He was the eldest son in a family of 11 children, born to Robert Edward and Lena (maiden name, Cook) Hull. Among his siblings was younger brother Dennis William who later played professional hockey with his brother for the Chicago Blackhawks. Robert Hull had played minor league hockey for a few years, where he was known as "The Blond Flash." He supported his family by working as a laborer at the Canada Cement Company Plant No. 5.
Hull played hockey from a very young age, and grew passionate about the sport. He told Joe Sexton of The New York Times, "As a kid, I never walked from here to there, I didn't trot from here to there. I ran. And I couldn't wait for winter. My father would sometimes find me in the heat of summer standing in the house, sweating crazily. I just wanted the feel of it. Hockey became an obsession." By the age of ten, many thought Hull would play in the NHL. He went on to play junior hockey in Hespeler, Woodstock and St. Catharines, where his coach was Rudy Pilous, who would later coach him in the NHL.
Signed by the Blackhawks
In 1957, at the age of 18, Hull finally began his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks. He started slowly, however. In his first two seasons, though he appeared in 70 games each season, he only scored a total of 31 goals. However, Hull did manage to score 34 assists in the 1957-58 season, and 32 in 1958-59. His goal total increased dramatically to 39 in the 1959-60 season, when Hull mastered the slapshot by increasing the curve on his stick. He was responsible for making the slapshot popular in the NHL. His slapshot was timed at 118.3 miles per hour. Goalie Les Binkley was quoted by Charles Wilkins in Hockey: The Illustrated History as saying, "When the puck left his stick, it looked like a pea. Then as it picked up speed it looked smaller and smaller. Then you didn't see it anymore." Hull's 39 goals won him the Art Ross Trophy for most goals in the 1959-60 season. Hull married former figure skater, Joanne McKay, in 1960. Together they had five children, Bobby Jr., Blake, Brett (who later had a stellar NHL career of his own), Bart, and Michelle.
In the 1960-61 season, Hull scored 31 goals and 25 assists for 56 total points in 67 games. More importantly, he was the key to Chicago's winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 23 years. Hull had an outstanding playoff run. He scored four goals and 10 assists in 12 playoff games. Chicago's coach was Rudy Pilous, who had coached Hull in juniors. The keys to Hull's success lay in his natural abilities, his great skating and hard shot. He was one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, clocked at 29.7 miles per hour without puck and 28.3 with it. Though his slapshot was his fastest shot, Hull's wrist shot was timed at 105 mph while his backhand was at 96 mph. Hull was also entertaining on the ice, much to the delight of Chicago fans. Joe Sexton of The New York Times wrote, "Bobby Hull was a swift-skating left wing who manufactured goals with his sheer mania for work, as well as his volcanic blast of a slap shot. And if he lost the majority of his teeth plowing through defenses, he never lost face."
Hull's abilities continued to shine in 1960-61 when he scored 50 goals, equaling the NHL record for most goals in a season. Hull won his second Art Ross Trophy for his effort. Though his goal total only broke 40 once in the next three seasons-in 1963-64 when he scored 43-Hull was one of the most dominant players in the NHL. In the 1964-65 season, though he only scored 39 goals and 32 assists in 67 games, Hull led the Blackhawks to a spectacular post-season. Though the team did not win the Stanley Cup, Hull scored 10 goals and seven assists in 14 games. At the end of the season, Hull was named the most valuable player in the NHL, winning the Hart Memorial Trophy. He also won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsman-like conduct. Of this time, D'Arcy Jenish of Maclean's wrote, "At the height of his career, in the mid-1960s, Bobby Hull was one of hockey's most captivating performers. He dazzled his fans with rinklong rushes and intimidated goalies with a fearsome slapshot."
Set League Scoring Record Twice
In the 1965-66 season, Hull became the first player in the NHL to break the 50 goals barrier, when he scored 54 goals. He also had 43 assists. For his effort, Hull won two major awards: his third Art Ross Trophy, for scoring and his second Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player. Hull topped 50 goals again the next season, 1966-67, with 52. Though he had a slightly off year in 1967-68, scoring only 44 goals and 31 assists in 71 games, Hull held out for more money at the beginning of the 1968-69 season. He wanted to be paid $100,000 for the season, which was unheard of at the time. After sitting out 11 games, Hull settled for $60,000 and was forced by team management to apologize publicly. Hull proved his worth however. He broke his own record for most goals in a season by scoring 58. With his 49 assists, Hull scored over 107 points on the season, the only time he would accomplish this in the NHL. At the end of the season, Hull was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey.
One hallmark of Hull's career was his tendency towards outspokenness. Though Hull had one mediocre year, 1969-70 (only 38 goals and 20 assists in 61 games), followed by a decent year, 1970-71 (44 goals and 52 assists in 78 games), Hull threatened to organize a strike during the 1971 playoffs. The league was considering the banning of curved sticks like the ones Hull favored and popularized. Hull threatened to sit out of the playoffs, and get other players to join him if this ban passed. However a compromise was reached, and curves of up to one-half inch were allowed. Hull went on to have the best playoffs of his career, in terms of points. In 18 games, he had 11 goals and 14 assists, but the Blackhawks failed to win the Stanley Cup.
Defected to World Hockey Association
Money again became an issue for Hull before the 1972 season began. He wanted more money from the Black-hawks, but they would not give it to him. Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of another NHL team, the Los Angeles Kings, was interested in acquiring Hull, if the Blackhawks wanted to trade him. Hull later told Jim Proudfoot of The Toronto Star, "I've always felt things would have turned out differently if they'd have kept me or even sent me to L.A. There mightn't have been a WHA. And you know what? Ego and greed prompted that decision." But Hull had been intensely pursued by a new professional hockey league, the World Hockey Association (WHA). Founded by lawyers, the WHA believed it needed a star of Hull's caliber if it was to succeed.
When Hull talked to the WHA's Winnipeg Jets, he made an off-the-cuff remark about wanting $1 million up front in case the WHA folded. He did not believe he would actually get that amount. But when the Jets offered him a salary of $1 million signing bonus, $1 million salary over four years, and a $100,000 a year for six years to work for six years with the team's management, Hull left the NHL. His defection gave the league the instant credibility it needed. His contract had a secondary effect, causing a massive increase in players' salaries in both the WHA and NHL. In addition, the NHL spent millions fighting the very existence of the WHA in court.
Hull had some of the best scoring years of his career in Winnipeg. In each of his first four seasons, he scored more than 50 goals. In the 15 years Hull played in Chicago, he only had five seasons in which he scored more than 50 goals. In his first season, 1972-73, Hull missed 20 games, yet scored 51 goals and 52 assists for 103 points in the 63 games he did appear in. In the 1974-75 season, Hull scored 77 goals in 78 games, and was named league most valuable player, as he had been the previous season. This was the best season of Hull's WHA career. The following year he only played in 34 games, though he managed to accumulate 53 points. In 1977-78, Hull played in 77 games, but only scored 46 goals and 71 assists.
Retired from National Hockey League
The WHA could not sustain itself, and several teams, including the Winnipeg Jets, folded into the NHL at the beginning of the 1979-80 season. Hull remained with the team, but played in only 18 games before being traded to another old WHA team, the Hartford Whalers. Hull appeared in nine regular season games, and three post-season tilts, before being released. At the time, Hull had been going through a very bitter and public divorce from his wife, Joanne. Among other claims, Joanne Hull accused him of being physically abusive. After the divorce was finalized in June 1980, she took the children and moved to Vancouver. Hull did not see his children for a decade. His personal life in shambles, Hull tried to restart his hockey career with the New York Rangers. He attended their 1980 training camp, but was cut from the team. Hull had played professional hockey for 23 years.
When he retired, Hull was second only to hockey legend Gordie Howe in goals and total points scored. In his 15 NHL seasons, Hull had scored a total of 610 goals and 1170 total points, making him the highest scoring left wing in history at the time. His WHA numbers were no less impressive. In 330 games, he scored 255 goals and 515 total points. After his retirement, Hull spent much of time running cattle ranches in Saskatchewan and Bellville, Ontario, and served as president of Bobby Hull Enterprises. He also worked as a commentator for the Canadian television broadcast Hockey Night in Canada for many years beginning in 1982. Hull was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.
Hull continued to set NHL records even after his retirement. When son Brett became a major talent in the NHL in the late 1980s and 1990s, they became the only father and son duo to score 500 goals and 1000 points in the history of the league. Goalie Lorne (Gump) Worsely told Joe Sexton of The New York Times, "[W]hat goalies are afraid of is being scored on. Against guys like Bobby Hull or his son, you find yourself standing there waiting for them to leave the ice, then waiting for them to come back on. And when they are on, even if they don't have the puck, they are going to get it, and you know it. Thank God, they only come on once in a while."
Further Reading on Bobby Hull
The Canadian Encyclopedia, second edition, Hurtig Publishers, 1988.
Canadian Who's Who: 1996, edited by Elizabeth Lumley, University of Toronto Press, 1996.
Diamond, Dan and Joseph Romain, Hockey Hall of Fame: The Official History of the Game and Its Greatest Stars, Doubleday, 1988.
Fischeler, Stan, and Shirley Walton Fischler, The Hockey Encyclopedia: The Complete Record of Professional Ice Hockey, MacMillan, 1983.
Hickok, Ralph, The Encyclopedia of North American Sports History, Facts on File, 1992.
Hickok, Ralph, Who's Who of Sports Champions: Their Stories and Records, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.
Kariher, Harry C., Who's Who in Hockey, Arlington House, 1973.
Wilkins, Charles, Hockey: The Illustrated History, Doubleday &Company, Inc., 1985.
Arizona Republic, February 21, 1999.
Maclean's, March 18, 1991, p. 52.
The New York Times, January 8, 1990; March 10, 1991; December 8, 1991.
Ottawa Citizen, December 30, 1997.
Sports Illustrated, December 25, 1989, p. 144.
The Toronto Star, March 21, 1996; July 12, 1999.