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The Winnipeg Jets have a history like no other. They were dominant in the WHA, struggled to make the jump to the NHL and as soon as they began to pick up steam – POOF! they were gone. As fans, we are only privy to certain aspects of team chemistry. We may occasionally hear rumours about players’ behaviours in locker rooms, hotels, team busses and on the bench, but, for the most part, fans are silent observers. 2020 has forced us all into a state of reflection, remembering how things were and how they got to where they are now. That’s why it felt important to look at which players impacted the Jets franchise, for the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good – Bobby Hull

Photo Courtesy: HHOF.com

Winnipeg is associated with frosty winters, long nights and curling but often omitted from this list are its innovators. Let me explain – the 911 emergency number was first created in Winnipeg, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is Canada’s oldest dance company and the Winnipeg Jets were the first team to pay a player a million dollars to play hockey. The ‘Golden Jet’ holds that prestigious title and deservedly so. The impact of Bobby Hull was palpable at the time and can still be felt today. The World Hockey Association (WHA) needed legitimacy if it wanted to compete with the NHL, Hull legitimized the league and solidified the Jets’ place in the history books.

Canadian businessman and Winnipeg-native Ben Hatskin lost his bid for an NHL franchise in 1967. The former 2x Grey-Cup winner’s competitive gene fuelled him to help create a rival league and bring professional hockey to the ‘Peg. Hatskin knew he needed a superstar to do this and when Bobby Hull casually said, “Tell ‘em if they give me $1 million up front, they’ve got themselves a hockey player,” opportunity knocked and Hatskin kicked the door down. The moment the ‘Golden Jet’ took off in Winnipeg he impacted the Jets for the good by helping deliver AVCO cups in 1976 and 1978. While Hull’s impact was primarily in the WHA, it is likely that without that impact the Jets may not have even made it to the NHL. The merger between the WHA and NHL was contentious to say the least. The NHL was adamant that only four teams be absorbed into the league and, while the WHA insisted that all three Canadian teams (Edmonton, Quebec and Winnipeg) be absorbed, if a team had to be dropped it likely wouldn’t have been the defending Avco champion. That championship wasn’t single-handedly delivered by Hull but the moment he arrived he placed the Jets on a championship course.

Photo Courtesy: Winnipegfreepress.com

When he played in Winnipeg, Bobby Hull’s statistics were absolutely insane. 307 goals, 341 assists, 183 penalty minutes in 429 games played and, while there is no record of it, fans estimate that about 80% of those goals came from his 103-mph slap shot. The ‘Golden Jet’ slap shot was legendary from his time in Chicago when he knocked out Canadiens’ goalie, Gump Worsley for nearly five minutes with a slap shot from the right hashmark. It should be noted that Worsley was the last goalie to not wear a helmet as he famously said, “My face is my mask.” Well, that slap shot kept its pace throughout Hull’s time in Winnipeg and improved when he was getting fed passes on ‘The Hot Line’ from his Swedish line-mates, Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg. The ‘Golden Jet’ played one NHL season for the Jets and only 18 games in that campaign. This small sample size may lead fans to question his real impact for the Jets but without a solid foundation a team businesses and relationships crumble. We know Hull’s presence with the Jets contributed to Winnipeg being able to enjoy professional hockey for nearly a quarter of a century, proving that he impacted the Jets’ foundation for the good. Although there are off-ice issues surrounding Hull, which has led the Jets to distance themselves from their ‘Golden Jet’ – and understandably so – but this should not discount that his on-the-ice impact for the franchise will have always been for the good.

Twitter: @Jonesinthezone