Bobby Hull, the signature signing of the WHA's Winnipeg Jets in 1972, is one of hockey's all-time greatest players. An inductee of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984, he had a 15-year career in the NHL, playing over 1000 games for the Chicago Black Hawks, winning the Stanley Cup in in 1961. He led the NHL in goals 7 times and was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team 10 times. Hull would play 411 WHA games, all with Winnipeg, scoring 638 points (303G, 335A) and led the team to Avco Cup wins in 1976, 1978 and 1979. He was named WHA MVP twice, in 1973 and 1975. Hull, who was born in Point Anne, Ont., won the Canada Cup in 1976.
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The Winnipeg Jets and the WHA needed Bobby Hull a lot more than he needed them.
Back in 1971, the Golden Jet was a disgruntled employee of the Chicago Black Hawks but he was still arguably the best player in the world and playing the sport he loved in the NHL.
Hull wanted to be paid accordingly but Arthur Wirtz owned his rights in perpetuity and wasn't going to be forced into anything he didn't want to do.
And he didn't want to pay Hull a nickel more, even though the highest-scoring left winger in history was almost singlehandedly filling the Chicago Stadium, and, simultaneously, Wirtz's pockets.
Enter Benny Hatskin. The former Winnipeg Blue Bomber and juke box hustler had decided Hull was not only going to be the meal ticket for his new hockey team, but for the entire World Hockey Association.
"When I first mentioned the Winnipeg Jets would try to sign Bobby Hull, everybody thought it was just a publicity stunt. But I was never more serious about anything in my life," Hatskin said.
Wirtz didn't know Hatskin from a gramophone but he would find out soon enough that when the heavy-set Winnipegger put his mind to something, he was rarely disappointed.
"Bobby Hull leaving the Black Hawks for a league that nobody had ever heard of was unthinkable, unbelievable. Except it happened," says Bob Verdi, a 27-year-old beat writer for the Chicago Tribune at the time.
Hull met the Jets owner at the Hotel Vancouver during what would turn out to be his last season in Chicago. "Right from the beginning I enjoyed meeting Ben Hatskin. He was a little rough around the edges, maybe he was a little bit like me. I knew he was sincere in what he said and his handshake was his bond," the Golden Jet says.
"He said, 'Bobby, we'd like you to come and play in Winnipeg for $250,000 per season and $100,000 per season if you want to coach or manage after that.' I said, 'that's a very generous offer, Mr. Hatskin, but I think I can get $250,000 from the Chicago Black Hawks.
Besides, I've got the rest of my year under contract to them and the playoffs and then we can talk about it.'"
It wasn't to be the last time I'd meet with him. It's too bad more executives and owners weren't like Ben Hatskin.BOBBY HULL
Once he signed with the Jets - thanks, in large part, to a $1-million bonus - he immediately became the face of not only his team but an ambassador for the entire league and the defacto senior vice-president of autographs. And when he signed your picture, hockey card or popcorn box - often while the rest of the team was waiting for him on the bus - you could read it.
"Of course I want you to be able to read it. I'm very proud of my name," he says.
In addition to being a playercoach for several seasons, he was an integral part of The Luxury Line, with Chris Bordeleau and Norm Beaudin and the legendary Hot Line, with Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg.
He sat out a game in the 1974-75 season to protest the growing violence in hockey and championed the Jets blazing a trail in scouting far away lands - Sweden and Finland - for new talent.
In six-plus seasons in the WHA, Hull torched goalies for 303 goals and 335 assists for a total of 638 points. He has the third-highest goal-scoring average in league history at 0.737 and the third-highest pointsper-game average at 1.552. He was the WHA's MVP in 1973 and 1975 and led the Jets to two AVCO Cup championships in 1976 and 1978.
Note: Chicago's team was "Black Hawks" until 1986 when it was changed to "Blackhawks."