PHT Time Machine: How a blockbuster movie kept Joe Sakic with the Avalanche

Joe Sakic Avalanche
Robert Laberge / Allsport

We do not get many offer sheets in the NHL, and on the rare occasion that we do they can sometimes lead to chaos.

Brian Burke wanted to fight Kevin Lowe in a barn because of Dustin Penner. The Canadiens and Hurricanes are now involved in a two-year beef that started with Sebastian Aho and continued this weekend with Carolina’s signing of Jesperi Kotkaniemi. It is a perfectly legal — and sometimes probably smart — way to try and add talent to your roster, but the hurt feelings that result from them, as well as the difficulty in actually successfully pulling it off make them an incredibly rare event.

In today’s edition of the PHT Time Machine, we go back to one of the more famous offer sheet attempts when the Rangers attempted to pry Joe Sakic away from the Avalanche in 1997.

It probably would have worked had it not been for a Harrison Ford blockbuster.

The background and the offer

In August 1997 the Rangers signed Joe Sakic to a three-year, $21 million restricted free agent offer sheet that would have brought the Avalanche superstar to the Big Apple. At the time, the Rangers were coming off of a trip to the Eastern Conference Final and had advanced in the playoffs four years in a row, winning eight playoff series during that time. But they also had a major hole at center due to the departure of Mark Messier to the Canucks earlier that offseason.

They still clearly saw themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, had a bottomless pit of money to spend from, and felt an in-his-prime superstar like Sakic was just what they needed. It would have given them a 1-2 punch of Wayne Gretzky and Sakic down the middle, which would have been a significant upgrade over what Messier was at that stage of his career.

It was a bold move, and one that seemed likely to work given the financials involved.

[Related: Hurricanes tender offer sheet to Canadiens’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi]

Despite the Avalanche’s on-ice success during their first two years in Colorado, they were losing money playing in an aging arena that lacked luxury suites and corporate dollars that could make them players in free agency. They were also a sitting duck for an offer sheet to their best player.

They had lost $8 million the previous season, had not yet moved into their new arena, and were projected to continue to lose money until the arena move at the start of the 2000 season.

It was not just the $21 million price tag over three years that was problematic for the Avalanche. It was the way the Rangers structured the offer. Sakic’s annual salary was only $2 million per season while the contract included a $15 million signing bonus up front. That meant Colorado had to find a way to spend $17 million on Sakic for the 1997-98 season. That was money they simply did not have at the time.

Sakic wanted to be in New York, the Rangers wanted him in New York, and the Avalanche seemed powerless to stop it.

Not matching the offer for the then-27-year-old Sakic would have netted the Avalanche the Rangers’ next five first-round draft picks.

Harrison Ford saves the day

At the time the Avalanche were owned by cash-strapped Ascent Entertainment. One of its subsidiaries, Beacon Entertainment, helped finance the 1997 blockbuster movie Air Force One in which Harrison Ford played the President of the United States and successfully fought off a group of terrorists that hijacked the President’s plane.

Beacon, and by extension, Ascent Entertainment, was in line to take 10 percent of the profits from the movie. The movie eventually made $315 million at the box office including more than $37 million during its first week in theaters.

That cut of the profits was enough for Ascent to find the money to pay Sakic’s contract, match the Rangers’ offer, and keep the superstar in Denver.

If the movie had flopped? Sakic probably ends up in New York.

The aftermath

By matching the offer sheet for Sakic the Avalanche kept one of their cornerstone players and remained one of the league’s best teams. They reached the conference final in four of the next five seasons (as part of a larger run that saw them do so in six out of seven years) and won a second Cup during the 2000-01 season with Sakic playing a central role in all of it.

Things did not go as well for the Rangers.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

Still needing another center, the Rangers eventually traded for Sabres star Pat LaFontaine. The problem was that LaFontaine’s career was starting to crumble due to concussion issues that started the previous season when he was on the receiving end of a high hit to the head from Penguins defenseman Francois Leroux. He had played just 13 games during the 1996-97 season but was determined to return the following year.

The Sabres traded him to the Rangers for a second-round pick just before the start of the 1997-98 season.

He would play 67 game for the Rangers that year, scoring 23 goals (tied for the team lead) and 62 total points (second on the team). But in March of that season he suffered another concussion in a collision with teammate Mike Keane, sidelining him for the remainder of the season and the entire 1998-99 season. He would ultimately retire as a result.

The Rangers missed the playoffs that season, starting a seven-year run outside of the postseason despite acquiring several big-name, big-money players during that stretch.

Scroll Down For:

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

    mark stone surgery
    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced Wednesday.

    The Knights termed the procedure Tuesday as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

    brunette dui
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
    0 Comments

    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested early Wednesday morning in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released later Wednesday on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.