Leafs, Stars Attempted
No Soviet player made a bigger impression during the opening game of the series than Valeri Kharlamov. At top speed he danced around NHL all star defensemen. All night long he made the likes of Don Awrey and Rod Seiling look like practice pylons. He scored twice and was the talk of Montreal.
The following day, as the team's headed to Toronto to play game 2, he became the talk of Toronto. Not because of his play, but because of a statement made by Toronto Maple Leaf's owner Harold Ballard which was quickly written off as a publicity stunt. Ballard had let it be known that he supposedly had offer Kharlamov $1 million to play for the Maple Leafs that season. However nobody, as with many of Ballard's antics, took the stunt seriously and it was quickly dismissed.
The Minnesota North Stars made a similar stunt a couple of weeks later. However at least they had the brains to make it look a little more truthful.
The North Stars were sending their president, Walter Bush, to Russia to observe the historic series and also to participate in a meeting of international amateur hockey people in Vienna, Austria. As the trip began Bush, a lawyer and shrewd hockey man, let it be known that he was going to approach the Soviet government about the possibility of Kharlamov being released to play in the NHL.
"The only possible way to do it would be through the Russian government," explained Bush. "Kharlamov, as a hockey player, technically belongs to the government. I'm going to talk to those people and see what can be done."
When asked if he'd pay $1 million for Kharlamov, Bush replied "I don't think the price would anywhere near that high."
"The main thing I want to stress is that we're after the best hockey players in the world, wherever they happen to be. Hockey has become an international game."
And in that subtly slipped-in statement lies the truth about Bush's comments about acquiring the Soviet star. He was telling his fan base back in Minnesota that the Stars were serious about getting the best players available and would go to all lengths to do it. He, like Ballard, was hoping such stunts would spur hockey interest - particularly among those who would pay for tickets to NHL games.