And the wins started piling up, too.
Young stars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane re-energized the franchise, and key additions like Marian Hossa last summer helped push them into the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1992.
"I'm just happy that the team has come back so far," Esposito said. "They went through many years there where ... you'd just shake your head. You just shook your head the way the franchise was being handled."
Hull, Chicago's career leader with 604 goals in 15 seasons, left the Blackhawks for the World Hockey Association's Winnipeg Jets in 1972 after an acrimonious contract negotiation with Bill Wirtz, and the ill will continued to build over the years.
Chicago claimed him when the NHL absorbed four WHA teams, including Winnipeg, in 1979, but Pulford left him unprotected and the Jets reclaimed him.
Although the Blackhawks retired his No. 9 in 1983, the bad feelings continued. Bobby Hull resented that the Hawks failed to acquire son Brett Hull on several occasions, including when he was a free agent, and there was another issue that had to be cleared up -- his reputation.
He took a big hit when he allegedly told a reporter that Hitler "had some good ideas, but went too far," and it took years to live down that comment.
Now, he's back in the fold, something he never would have envisioned five years ago.
"I'm sure that I burned all the bridges that there were to be burned when I left in '72," he said. "All I could do from then on was be on the outside looking in."
He said he reached out to Bill Wirtz and son Peter over the years and had several meetings with them, but nothing ever came of that.
"I tried to show them how to fill the building, but they wouldn't listen to me," he said. "They thought that I was going to get something out of it that I didn't deserve. And it was just exactly what Rocky did. I said, 'Guys, all you need to do is hold a press conference, tell the people that I'm back in the fold and that we're catering to them. We're going to try to put together a better team for them to watch and they'd come out of the woodwork."'
He said Rocky Wirtz "has more on the ball in one minute" than his father had "in his lifetime," and Hull rates the last three years among the best of his life.
He looks at the current group and sees the potential for a dynasty, something he thought he would be part of all those years ago.
He never did drink out of the cup when the Blackhawks beat Detroit for the championship in 1961. He did, however, drink beer out of team vice president Michael Wirtz's "dirty old felt hat" and "got sicker than a pig."
The only time Hull drank out of the cup was years later when he and Brett, who won two championships with Dallas and Detroit, were at Chris Chelios' golf outing. They poured in a few beers and hoisted it for Bobby to take a few swigs.
"I'm looking forward to drinking some real champagne if I get a chance this time," Bobby Hull said. "I will imbibe in that."