Bobby Hull, a charismatic Hall of Famer who was one of the National Hockey League’s superstars of the 1960s and whose blond hair, lightning-fast slap shot and furious, rink-length offensive rushes earned him the nickname “the Golden Jet,” died on Monday. He was 84.
The Chicago Blackhawks, for whom Hull played for 15 seasons, announced his death but did not say where he died or cite a cause.
Hull’s great upper body strength lent power to a fearsome slap shot that was measured over the years at between 97 and 120 miles per hour. Glenn Hall, a Blackhawks goalie who faced Hull in practice, once said, “The idea was not to stop that thing, but to avoid getting killed.”
Ed Giacomin, a goalie for the New York Rangers, told The New York Times in 1988 that Hull’s slap shot “would rise or dip. You’d pull up when you should really be ducking. It played games with your mind.”
Hull was the third player in N.H.L. history to score at least 50 goals in a season, following Maurice Richard and Bernard Geoffrion, both of them Montreal Canadiens. He scored 50 goals or more five times with the Blackhawks, peaking at 58 during the 1968-69 season.
With Stan Mikita, Hull helped turn around the fortunes of the Blackhawks, which had been a mostly moribund franchise for about a dozen seasons until they joined it in the late 1950s. In 1961, Chicago won its first Stanley Cup championship in 23 years — Hull scored 14 points in the playoffs against the Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings — and the team stayed competitive through their time there.
Hull had scored 604 goals for the Blackhawks by the time he became the first N.H.L. superstar to defect to the upstart World Hockey Association in 1972, signing a 10-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets that was worth at least $2.5 million, including a $1 million signing bonus, to be the team’s player-coach.
A temporary restraining order imposed by a judge in Chicago kept him from joining the Jets until after the 1972-73 season started. But once he was back on the ice, he continued to flummox and terrify goalies. He scored 51 and 53 goals in his first two years, then 77 in the 1974-75 season.
In all, he added 303 goals to his career total with the W.H.A.
While playing with the Jets, he sat out a game in 1975 to protest brutality of violence in the sport and promoted a merger between the N.H.L. and W.H.A.
And he said he did not regret leaving the Blackhawks for the upstart Jets.
“I knew when I came here it would be a lot of hard work,” he told The Times in 1977. “We’ve come a long way. In some instances, it hasn’t been as fruitful as we thought it would be. But it still created a lot of good things for hockey.
“We’ve developed some good players and some good cities,” he continued. “And we’ve opened up an avenue for the European players.”
The merger came in 1979, but only four W.H.A. teams, including the Jets, joined the older league, as what amounted to expansion franchises. Hull effectively returned to the N.H.L. because of the merger, scoring four goals for the Jets before being traded to another former W.H.A. team, the Hartford Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes), for whom he scored two more. It was his final season and he got to spend some of it playing alongside another former N.H.L. superstar, Gordie Howe.
Robert Marvin Hull was born on Jan. 3, 1939, in Point Anne, Ontario, to Robert Hull, a cement company foreman, and Lena (Cook) Hull. One of 11 children, Bobby took to ice skating at an early age. (One of his brothers, Dennis, played 13 seasons with the Blackhawks.)
“We gave Robert a pair of skates for Christmas when he wasn’t quite 3,” his father told Sports Illustrated in 1960. “I took him over to a frozen pond near home, and I’ll be darned if he wasn’t taking a few strides within a half-hour.”
Bobby played hockey at home and at school until he was spotted by a Blackhawk scout when he was 11.
“I was very fortunate,” Hull told NHL.com in 2017. “I found that sheet of ice on the Bay of Quinte when I was no taller than a hockey stick and fell in love with the game. I spent as much time skating around there as I did in bed.”
He was soon playing on amateur teams, including a top junior club in Ontario, the St. Catharines Teepees, where one of his teammates was Stan Mikita. Hull played there for two years, scoring 33 goals in his second season, before joining the Blackhawks for the 1957-58 season.
In 1964, two years after his first 50-goal season, Hull’s physical prowess was tested by the Sports College of Canada and Fitness Institute. The college determined that at 28.3 miles per hour, Hull was the fastest skater in the N.H.L. and, at 118 miles per hour, its hardest shooter, which probably surprised no one. At 5-foot-10½ and 194 pounds, he was declared the “perfect muscular mesomorph.”
Told of the scientific findings, his colleague Howe told Time magazine, “Somebody ought to put hobbles on him.”
Hull, who was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, was a 12-time N.H.L. All-Star. He also won the Art Ross Trophy three times as the league’s top scorer, the Hart Memorial Trophy twice as most valuable player, and the Lady Byng Trophy once for gentlemanly play.
A half-dozen seasons after Hull retired, his son Brett began to play in the N.H.L. In three consecutive seasons starting in 1979 with the St. Louis Blues, Brett Hull scored 72, 86 (the third most in league history) and 70 goals. He finished his career with 741.
Information on Bobby Hull’s survivors was not immediately available.
Hull’s time in retirement was marked by some difficult incidents. In 1987, he pleaded guilty to a charge of assaulting a police officer who had intervened during a dispute between Hull and his third wife, Deborah. She accused him of hitting her in the face and filed a battery complaint; she later dropped it. According to a 2002 ESPN documentary, his second wife, Joanne McKay, had undergone physical and mental abuse during their marriage.
In 1998, The Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper in Russia, where he was attending a hockey tournament, quoted him as saying that “Hitler had some good ideas” but “just went a little bit too far,” and that the Black population in the United States was growing too quickly. The paper reported that Hull, when asked if he was a racist, said, “I don’t give a damn. I’m not running for any political office.”
Hull denied the statements; his lawyer said that the translator for the interview had told him that Hull had never mentioned Nazis or Black people in the United States.
In 2008, after a long estrangement caused by his leap from the Blackhawks to the Jets, Hull was welcomed back to the team as an ambassador by the owner, Rocky Wirtz.
“We had a love affair when I played,” Hull told The Chicago Tribune, referring to Blackhawks fans. “We didn’t have to have the mighty Montreal Canadiens come to fill our joint. We didn’t have to have Howe come in to fill our joint. They came to see their Chicago Blackhawks.”
But he was dropped after 14 years when the team said it was redefining the ambassador’s role.