It’s a bit early for Halloween, but today’s Edmonton Journal has a nightmarish story in it. Can you imagine if Gretzky became a Maple Leaf instead of a King? Well it almost did happen, and it gets even worse.
Peter Pocklington’s new biography, “I’d Trade Him Again”, tells that the Leafs and Oilers nearly swapped teams in the 1980s.
Ballard approached Peter to see if a deal involving Gretzky could be struck–but it wasn’t the usual sort of deal that’s made in hockey.
Ballard’s pitch to Peter would have brought not only Gretzky to Toronto, but Mark Messier, too, and Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe and the rest of the young Oilers.
In what would have been a blockbuster transaction that makes Gretzky’s subsequent move to Los Angeles pale by comparison, Ballard proposed to Peter that their hockey teams swap markets.
Ballard would move his fading Leafs to boom town Edmonton, while Peter would bring his up-and-coming Oilers to Toronto–provided, of course, that he also wrote Ballard a cheque for$50 million.
Peter was ready to do the deal in a heartbeat.
“I was actually pretty excited about it,” Peter recalls. “I did the numbers. I would have made a fortune in Toronto.” It was a done deal as far as Peter was concerned.
But if trading the old Leafs for the new Oilers was a good deal for Toronto hockey fans, especially if it also meant bidding adieu to the much-loathed Ballard, it was a really sweet deal for Peter. He was about to be handed the keys to Maple Leaf Gardens, the so-called Carlton Street cash box, for a “mere” $50 million.
But aside from the money, why would Ballard do it? What was in it for him?
Peter says he never knew for sure. But public records from the time suggest Ballard, whose stewardship of the Leafs had been, at best, checkered, desperately needed the cash.
- Excerpt from “I’d Trade Him Again”
Thank god Harold Ballard changed his mind. I don’t think we could handle the Maple Leafs actually having won a Cup anytime within the last 40 years.
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