As we swiftly approach the return of NHL hockey, today's edition of the Countdown stretches back to the days before the NHL was the dominant hockey league in North America. In the 1970s, the fledgling World Hockey Association (WHA) sought to dethrone the NHL, and to do so they turned to Bobby Hull.
Hull, a native of Pointe Anne, Ontario, was one of the top wingers of his day while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1957-1972. He scored 604 goals in that stretch. But Hull chafed at his relatively meager pay despite being one of the league's best players. That's when the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA made a play for Hull that was unheard of at the time; The Jets gave Hull the first million dollar contract in hockey history, and he went on to win three WHA titles with the Jets.
He remained with Winnipeg until 1980, at which point the Jets were absorbed by the NHL. Ultimately Hull finished off his career with a short stint in Hartford, but there would still be more Hull to play in Phoenix.
As good as Bobby Hull was, his son Brett was even better. Brett is the third highest goal scorer in NHL history, behind Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. Brett Hull was looking to wind down his career when he signed a two year, $4.5 million contract with the Jets, now turned into the Phoenix Coyotes. Unfortunately, he signed that contract in the 2004 offseason, which meant the entire first year of the deal was wiped out due to the NHL lockout.
When hockey finally resumed in 2005, Hull returned to the ice in Phoenix wearing the number 9 jersey that the franchise had retired in honor of his dad. But Brett Hull no longer felt he could play at a high enough level for the NHL. He opted to retire just five games into the 2005-06 season, recording only one point (an assist) in Sedona Red.
In many ways the Hulls defined the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise. Bobby Hull was part of hockey's heyday in Winnipeg, and is an integral part of that city's sports tradition. Brett's time in Phoenix epitomized the listless way the Coyotes operated for the better part of a decade. Regardless, the number nine hanging in the rafters at Jobing.com Arena is a fitting tribute to two men who took the hockey world by storm.