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Would 'The Great One' Have Brought The Stanley Cup To Toronto?
The first entry on this list is the most outlandish. In the early 1980s, The Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs not only came close to relocating, but there were talks between the teams’ owners to trade cities. The Oilers would call Toronto home and the Maple Leafs would go to Edmonton.
This multi-franchise relocation trade was revealed to the public in former Edmonton Oilers' owner Peter Pocklington’s 2009 book, I’d Trade Him Again.
According to Pocklington, in 1981, the infamous Toronto Maple Leafs owner—Harold Ballard—was sitting in financial trouble and needed a quick $50 million. In desperation, he called Pocklington for help. Pocklington recounted the near-deal in an interview with The Canadian Press (through TSN), saying,
"Harold phoned me and said, 'Would you consider moving to Toronto with your team and I'll move to Edmonton with mine, and I'll need $50 million.'
"So I thought about it and said, 'Yes Harold, I'll go for that.'"
The article continues to say that,
"The scheme called for the entire team to move to Toronto to play in Maple Leaf Gardens while the Leafs, in turn, would have found a home in Edmonton's new arena, which at that time was called the Coliseum."
Pocklington asserts that this was one of many of Ballard’s schemes to earn the money and, "Within a week or two he called back and said I solved my $50-million problem and we'll continue the way we were."
CBC writes that the money likely came from Molson Brewery who became a partner in the Maple Leafs at the same time.
At this time in NHL history, the Oilers were fresh faces in the league, having emerged from the WHA-NHL merger to play their first season in 1979-1980. Ballard was offering to part with a huge hockey market. The Hockey News uses Pocklington’s book to show how the trade would have helped Ballard:
"The book points out that the Oilers were league leaders in attendance and were playing in a new building with more seats than Maple Leaf Gardens. As well, those were the heady days of Alberta's first big oil boom and there were plenty of people with cash in their pockets to expand ticket sales.
The Leafs, on the other hand, didn't look so good. The book says the roster was being gutted by general manager Punch Imlach, and the team was losing ground in the standings after he traded away fan favourites Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams. The Leafs only won 28 games in the 1980-81 season and finished last in their division.
And Maple Leaf Gardens, which was 50 years old at the time, was crumbling."
Even so, Pocklington asserts that he would have done the deal if Ballard had not pulled out. As written in The Edmonton Journal, one telling quote in I’d Trade Him Again reads, “I was actually pretty excited about it. ...I did the numbers. I would have made a fortune in Toronto.”
Of course, the deal did not happen and both teams have stayed in their respective cities. The Oilers would go on to win their first of five Stanley Cups in seven years in 1984.
With a roster that included Wayne Gretzkey, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, and other stars, it would not be hard to imagine that the Oilers would have duplicated their success had they moved to Toronto. Toronto remains a lucrative hockey market, however, the city has not won a Stanley Cup since 1967.