August 05 2011 06:57AM
As the summer of 1985 wore on the Leafs had yet to sign Wendel Clark to a contract and his plans for the fall remained in question.
According to an article in the Toronto Star “Wendel, said yesterday in Saskatoon that his "main goal" still is to play for Toronto Maple Leafs”. Clark qualified his statement by saying that the “Olympic team is one of the options available to me, but playing in the NHL is still the main objective."1 The Leafs and Clark’s agent Don Meehan were still negotiating the terms of his first NHL contract. At that stage of the negotiations the two sides were “thought to be more than $250,000 apart on a three- year contract.” Allegedly, Meehan was “asking for a deal similar to the $800,000- plus (Canadian) pact Mario Lemieux received last year from Pittsburgh Penguins.”2 Meanwhile, the Toronto Star caught up with Wendel who was spending the summer is Saskatchewan.
The town of Kelvington Saskatchewan had caught Wendelmaina. "Every time you go down the street, there's somebody congratulating you and saying they're really happy for you," said Alma Clark, Wendel's mother. "Kelvington is a real hockey town. It always has been." His status as the Leafs messiah had not changed Wendel. “The 18-year-old at the dinner table at the sprawling family ranch located just a short, dusty drive south of this tiny farming town isn't wearing a $700 suit. He's dressed in faded jeans and a well- worn hockey sweater.” When asked if he was excited at the prospect of a big pay-day Wendel replied: "It's more exciting to have a shot at playing in the NHL than to have the money." Luckily, he would get both.
On August 24, 1985 the Star reported that the Leafs had signed Clark to a multi-year contract that made him the highest paid rookie in Leafs history. According to the Star Leafs GM, Gerry McNamara “went in willing to offer more money than the Leafs gave Gary Nylund in 1982 (a $125,000 signing bonus and $300,000 in salary over three years), but not wanting to get anywhere near $800,000. He also didn't want to pay Clark a six-figure, first-year salary.” In the end the “deal they settled on will pay Clark a $150,000 signing bonus in three installments with annual salaries of $90,000, $110,000, $130,000 and $150,000.”3 The Leafs held a press conference on Monday August 26 to officially announce the signing.
Harold Ballard kicked off the proceedings with a shot at the Toronto Media. (some things never change) “No matter how the newsmen write it," huffed Ballard, "it'll be wrong. But he's the No. 1 draft choice and he comes highly recommended by our scouts and general manager.” The Leafs gave Clark a sweater without a number which prompted Ballard to quip: "I think we'll give him 100, and leave No. 99 to the other guy."
Reporters asked Clark for his opinion of Mr. Ballard. To the horror of Leafs fans today he replied: "I think he's a great guy," Clark said. "He has a keen sense of humor and a great personality. He's an easy guy to get along with." (Nobody tell DownGoesBrown)
With the contract signed speculation turned to the next pressing issue; whether Wendel would start the season with the Leafs, and which position he would play. For his part Clark was willing to do whatever it took to play in the NHL. He remarked, "Heck, I'd play goal to stay up there."
"Leafs remain his 'main goal' Clark claims :[FIN Edition]." Toronto Star, August 21, 1985
"Clark waits while agent meets Leafs :[FIN Edition]." Toronto Star
"Leafs will sign No. 1 draft pick to $630,000 deal :[SAT Edition]." Toronto Star, August 24, 1985
I have been using the Canadian Newstand Database at Proquest to research this series. It is interesting to note how little coverage this story received in the print media. There were only two articles covering the contract negotiations between the Leafs and Clark that summer, both published in late August. The Toronto Maple Leafs had just drafted a player 1st overall and had yet to sign him. He had also explicitly stated that he was interested in playing for the Canadian Olympic team should the Leafs not tender a contract to his liking. I think it is safe to assume that should this situation have occurred in 2011 the internet would have exploded. It would make #WeberWatch look quaint. 1985, why weren't you freaking out?