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Maple Leafs Rick Vaive Remembers Owner Harold Ballard as a Cheap Jerk

Rick Vaive was the first Toronto player to hit 50 goals a season. His book recalls his days with the team. How does he recall Harold Ballard?

Toronto Maple Leafs fans know the name Rick Vaive well. He’s the first Maple Leafs player in history to score 50 goals, and he did it three straight seasons. In 1981-82, Vaive scored 54 goals; in 1982-83 he hit 51 goals; and, in 1983-84 he ended his streak with 52 goals.

This week, Vaive’s book “Catch 22: My Battles, In Hockey and Life” was published. In the book, he explains why – even given all his individual success as a player – he wasn’t happy. That’s because he played on such a horrible Maple Leafs team.

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs 2021 NHL Roster is Bursting with Possibilities

Vaive’s Interview with Sportsnet’s Luke Fox

As Vaive noted in an interview this week with Sportsnet’s Luke Fox, that I wish we could’ve been more productive as a team. Everything around the 50-goal seasons would have been a heck of a lot more enjoyable.”

By the way, the entire interview between Vaive and Fox is worth a read, and I’ll only share a small part of that article here. Together the 61-year-old Vaive and Fox cover a variety of topics all of which should be interesting to Maple Leafs fans.

The Truth About Playing in the NHL for the Maple Leafs

Vaive calls his book the “whole, unfiltered account” and in it he talks about his battle with alcohol and anxiety and, of course, the difficulties of playing in Toronto. Actually, the former captain (he was handed the “C” at the age of 22-years-of-age) of the Maple Leafs has the reputation of never holding back. And, he didn’t hold back in his book.

Rick Vaive, Maple Leafs first 50-goal scorer

Vaive believed it was important for fans – and other readers – to know that it was important that he write something that he wanted it to be “authentic and truthful.”

Vaive went on to say, “A lot of people think you play in the NHL and everything’s perfect, everything’s great … and everything’s been great since you were born.”

He clarified that point by saying “That’s not the way it is.”

Remembering Maple Leafs Owner Harold Ballard

He was clear that he and then owner Harold Ballard didn’t get along. On Vaive’s part, it wasn’t that they fought or argued. On the other hand, Vaive noted that although Ballard would criticize him (the team’s captain) in the media, Vaive and Ballard rarely spoke to each other.

As Vaive noted, Ballard’s “goal was to be on the front page of the sports section every day.” Vaive noted that the team “just took it with a grain of salt.”

When asked what he thought of Ballard, Vaive didn’t  hold back:”He was a jerk and he was cheap. You lived with it. It sucked because he was the main reason why we weren’t having success. That was frustrating.”

Harold Ballard, Maple Leafs Owner

Vaive was especially critical of the fact that the team could have done better, but “We were probably underpaid compared to the [talented] players on other NHL teams. He wouldn’t pay for a good general manager who could make that move when you needed it at the deadline. He wouldn’t pay for good coaching … We were just starting to get good in 1985-86. Dan Maloney was our coach. We had a good playoff and got to the second round. And then they wouldn’t give him any more than a one-year contract, so he left and went to Winnipeg. The whole thing was a mess because of one individual, and that was Harold Ballard.”

Vaive was also clear about how NHL players think. Individual success is great, and he admitted “That you are playing in the National Hockey League and playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and you’re [putting up points] and you’re the captain, yes, that’s all great.”

The Real Motivation for NHL Players

Then, Vaive noted the real motivation: “But winning is what you play for. You play for winning a Stanley Cup. That’s your dream when you’re a kid. Under different circumstances with the guys we had, things could have been different. I’m not saying we would’ve won a Stanley Cup, but we might have.”

Toronto Maple Leafs, 1967 Stanley Cup Champs

Vaive then shared reasons he believed young players’ developments were set back by his team’s actions. He noted, “We had some good players, and that’s the sad part about it. We drafted pretty well. They made mistakes by bringing a lot of guys up to the NHL way too early, and some didn’t last very long. We suffered through those times.”

Related: Maple Leafs Prospect Mikko Lehtonen Is Headed to Toronto

For me, although Vaive’s thoughts come from almost 40 years ago, they offer insight into why the Maple Leafs have made some of the decisions they’ve made over this past season.

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