Bobby Hull 1939-2023
Hall of Famer Bobby Hull passed away on Jan. 30, 2023. He was 84.
Hull spent 15 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks from 1957-58 to 1971-72, becoming one of the greatest scorers in NHL history.
Ruggedly handsome with a megawatt smile and a muscular physique from years of farm labor while growing up near Belleville, Ontario, Hull was nicknamed “The Golden Jet” for his blonde hair, blazing speed and booming shot. He was the NHL’s biggest star through most of the 1960s until Bobby Orr’s ascension to superstardom toward the end of that decade.
His breakout season was in 1959-60 when he won his first Art Ross Trophy with 39 goals and 81 points in 70 games and was named to the First All-Star Team. The following season, he helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. He would also lead them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1962, 1965 and 1971.
From 1961-62 to 1971-72, Hull took home the Art Ross twice more (1961-62, 1965-66), was a two-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy (1964-65, 1965-66), and was the winner of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 1964-65.
During that period, he led the league in goals six times, including four years in a row from 1965-66 to 1968-69. He was also named to the First All-Star Team nine times and the Second Team twice.
Hull had his first 50-goal season in 1961-62. He became the first player to score over 50 goals in 1965-66 with 54. He reached 52 the following season and broke his own record with 58 in 1968-69, which stood until Phil Esposito’s 76-goal performance in 1970-71.
In 1972, Hull made history by leaving the Blackhawks following a contract dispute to sign a $1 million deal with the Winnipeg Jets of the upstart World Hockey Association. A number of NHL stars quickly followed Hull to the rival league, which led to a significant, long-overdue increase in player salaries.
Hull’s presence gave the WHA respectability and helped ensure its survival until it was taken over by the NHL at the end of the 1978-79 season. He paid a price for jumping to the rival league as he was barred by the NHL from playing for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series with the Soviet Union. He would play for a team of WHA stars in an eight-game series with the Soviets in 1974 and was the only WHA player on Team Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup.
During his tenure with the WHA, Hull was named to the First All-Star Team three times and the Second Team twice. He was the league’s MVP in 1972-73 and 1974-75, scoring a league-leading 77 goals in ’74-’75.
After retiring in 1979, Hull returned to the NHL with the Jets in 1979-80, playing 18 games until traded to the Hartford Whalers where he skated for nine more before retiring again. He attempted a comeback with the New York Rangers in 1981 for five exhibition games before hanging up his skates for good.
Hull finished his NHL career with 604 goals and 1,153 points in 1,036 games. He also tallied 303 goals and 638 points in 411 WHA games. He and his son, Hall-of-Famer Brett Hull, are the only father and son in NHL history to each score 600 or more career NHL goals.
Hull had a reputation during his playing days for being kind and generous to his fans, often keeping the team bus waiting while he patiently signed autographs. However, there was a dark side to his private life that has cast a dark shadow over his career.
In the book “The Devil and Bobby Hull”, sportswriter Gare Joyce chronicled not only Hull’s hockey accomplishments but also his alcohol abuse and the physical and mental abuse of two of his three wives. His daughter, Michelle, works with battered women as a result of witnessing her father abusing her mother. He also made racist remarks during an interview with a Russian news outlet in 1998 that he subsequently denied.
Hull leaves behind a mixed legacy. On the ice, he was a great player who still holds the Blackhawks’ single-season goal record (58) and the all-time goals record (604). However, his behavior off the ice and unrepentant attitude over his transgressions tarnished his once golden reputation.
My condolences to his family, friends and former teammates.