Harold Ballard’s story shines a spotlight on the former Maple Leafs owner


A new documentary tells the story of former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, considered by some to be one of the worst owners in NHL history.  (Getty Images)
A new documentary tells the story of the former Toronto Maple Leafs Owner Harold Ballard, considered by some to be one of the worst owners in NHL history. (Getty Images)

Jason Priestley and Michael Geddes wait anxiously at the upscale Le Germain Hotel in the heart of downtown Toronto, ready to give one of many interviews during their press tour for a documentary highlighting one of Canada’s most controversial sports figures.

Priestley – better known as famous heartthrob Brandon Walsh of Beverly Hills 90210 – He’s the manager Offside: The Story of Harold Ballard, a new project about the tyrannical bombastic ex-owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The movie is due out Sunday on CBC/CBC Gem, so naturally Priestley and his executive producer, Geddes, were quick to explain why they’d undertake a project about such a controversial figure in hockey history.

Ballard is often considered the worst owner in Maple Leafs history. Most hockey fans and historians immediately think of his explosive temper, and he was . So why embark on Project Ballard in 2023?

“I think looking at a guy who was very un-Canadian who lived in Toronto at a time when it was very different, he made a great story,” Geddis told Yahoo Sports Canada. “He was one of the biggest figures in Canada. People have forgotten about Harold Ballard. People of our antiquity remember him very well, but they have forgotten him. And I think a whole new generation of people out there now, younger than us, have only heard of him through rumors. He was a bigger figure.” of life, and he had a story from hell.”

Priestley added: “A lot of the people who really knew Harold and the people who really had personal connections with him and the stories you tell about him are starting to get to an age where they’re starting to leave us now.” “So we felt it was important to film their stories and put this piece together, before these people are no longer with us.”

Geddes added that Priestley underwent an extensive deep dive during the interview process to reveal new information about Ballard that was not previously known to the public.

Ballard made a deliberate point of casting himself as a hardened capitalist interested only in the finances of the Maple Leafs, with a limited interest in caring for the hardships that others were regularly exposed to. He also concealed from view all the charitable initiatives he had initiated; He did not want his work with children’s charities to detract from his self-imposed strongman position.

He died in April 1990 and contemporary society has shifted to recognizing that racism and sexism are intolerable diseases that we must reckon with. But even in his day, Ballard was known for these despicable traits. As someone who was a young child when Ballard died, are I and others of my generation guilty of assessing Ballard’s legacy through a revisionist lens?

“It’s kind of hard to look at Harold Ballard in terms of today, we’ve talked about this,” Geddes said. “We set this documentary (as best) as we could in the era Ballard was living in, which is the ’70s. The shooting locations were in the ’70s. I think it’s important to look at it historically in that context and go, ‘Now we know why!'”

“Things have changed. The league changed its constitution because of the owners who ran unchecked. Of course, the temper has changed in the league, and the complexity of the league has changed with the players. They’re not just Canadian kids from northern Ontario for example. Ballard didn’t live that and didn’t understand that and wouldn’t I think this documentary is great for the younger generation to go, “Wow, look at the way things were running!”

Ballard purchased Stafford Smith’s shares in the Maple Leafs to become the controlling owner of the franchise when he was 68 years old in 1972. His tenure has been defined by some of the worst teams in Maple Leafs history, while their contemporaries the Original Six Montreal Canadiens And Boston Bruins Owned the 70’s. By the end of the decade, Maple Leafs icon Darryl Sittler was around and fellow legend Borje Salming, who is disgusted with Ballard’s, similarly followed suit .

By the 1980s, the Maple Leafs were one of the laughing stocks of the NHL for their incompetent performance on the ice, while their stars hated playing for one of the most prestigious clubs in the league. Priestley shed some light on some of the tactics used by Ballard, which undercut the way modern franchises operate.

“There is no comparison that today’s papers are run in a much more professional, organized and much better way than in the days of Harold Ballard. Harold ran the team like a little mom-and-pop organization. He tried to manage everything in detail, and tried to be in control of every aspect of the team. In a way that hurt the team. So much so that one of the coaches on the team was this guy named Guy Kinnear, who was his boat mechanic from his cabin in Georgian Bay. This guy had no medical knowledge and no kinesiology degree. When players would ask him for help with their nagging injuries, he would give them Packets of Neocitrin! It was unbelievable what was happening!”

Ballard was openly disliked by Maple Leafs fans for his frugality, but Priestley argued that this was never a concern for the owner, given the franchise’s massive popularity.

“I think the fans at the time probably hated Harold Ballard, and yet you can’t get a seat at Maple Leaf Gardens at any of their home games. Maple Leaf Gardens are sold out at every home game. They may have hated Ballard but they still love Toronto.” Maple Leafs The Leafs Nation has been alive and thriving for decades Torontonians around the world love their Cards The strength of the Maple Leafs fan base was the strength of that team, but it was also the one thing Ballard found he could exploit Even though he was working with a sub par team However, he still found out that he could generate revenue from the turnstiles at Maple Leaf Gardens.”

The current iteration of the Maple Leafs has frustrated some factions of the fanbase with six consecutive first-round exits, despite boasting a statistic and talent profile that suggests better results are in store. There is a stark contrast between a team trying to win, and a team not trying at all. The idea of ​​tanks wasn’t a start in Ballard’s era either, so the fruits of unabashed loss were never so obvious.

“I think the fans of last year when Ballard had the team, two things came to mind: they lost faith and they lost hope,” said Geddes.

“I think those two things have come back. The confidence is that the money will be spent to win and this product will be put on ice with clearly winning in mind. And hope, even though it’s been 55 years and there’s still hope, there’s hope again. I think for a long time, “Maybe for decades, this documentary talks about it, there was no hope. When you make that bet, when you buy that ticket, you want to identify those two boxes as a fan. For a long time, they couldn’t provide that – Ballard couldn’t.”

Sports historians have always worried about whether their work will stand the test of time, but Priestley and Geddes are proud of the widespread interest in the upcoming documentary. And while Ballard may represent a somber piece of Maple Leafs history, in some ways it serves as a prelude to brighter days ahead for this current group.

Have an idea of ​​“Is this project important?” “I think we caught with a great deal of interest that this movie is relevant right now and people are very interested in the Sunday premiere on CBC,” said Geddes. “It had the same interest at the Whistler Film Festival, it was great to have it premiere there. This has surpassed my wildest dreams in terms of support and interest.”

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