Curse you, Harold!

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Misery loves company, but the Maple Leafs can no longer rely on the Boston Red Sox to be chummy about championship curses.

Boston's World Series win puts the Leafs' 38-year Stanley Cup drought in a more harsh light, although general manager John Ferguson urged Toronto fans to put the two long losing streaks in perspective.

"Nineteen eighteen is a long way from 1967," said Ferguson, a staunch Bosox fan from his college days in Providence, R.I.

"It only seems like 86 years to our fans. But good for Boston. Maybe it's the start of something good for all (long suffering pro sports teams)."

The Chicago Blackhawks have the NHL's longest Cup-less drought at 43 years.

The baseball Cubs are now at 96 years and counting. But while the Sox were haunted by the Babe, Bucky and Buckner, Toronto's 'B' list of curses would have to start with the late Harold Ballard.

By supporting the sale of Leafs farm teams and later ignoring the threat of the World Hockey Association, the irascible Leafs owner emptied the cupboard for much of the 1970s.

When the Leafs recovered through the draft, he broke the back of that team by driving coach Roger Neilson batty, firing him one day, re-hiring him the next and ordering him to wear a paper bag on his head behind the bench.

BITTER DIVORCE

Pal Hal brought back an aging Punch Imlach to run the show, but that only led to a bitter divorce with captain Darryl Sittler, winger Lanny McDonald and the colourful Tiger Williams.

The horrible '80s ensued, in which Toronto had one .500 season.

It made some noise in the playoffs, thanks to the generous NHL system, but lost a Game 7 to the Blues in 1986 by a 2-1 score and blew a 3-1 series lead to the Detroit Red Wings a year later.

When Ballard died in 1990, the Leafs were able to re-organize under new president Cliff Fletcher, coach Pat Burns and dynamic captain Doug Gilmour. In their first season together, the trio led the Leafs to the conference final, won two Game 7s, but lost a third when the Kings' Wayne Gretzky escaped censure for a high stick on Gilmour that would've influenced the outcome of Game 6.

Fletcher's vision was thwarted by a new profit-driven ownership and the Leafs slipped off the charts again, not to return until 1999.

New coach Pat Quinn's team made it to the conference final, but missed a chance to get a leg up on the Buffalo Sabres when an injured Dominik Hasek missed the first two games. Then came two chances to put away the New Jersey Devils and another trip to the conference final in 2002 with half the team on the sick list, including Quinn with a heart condition.


Videos

Photos