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How 'Air Force One' Helped Stop Rangers From Signing Joe Sakic

How 'Air Force One' Helped Stop Rangers From Signing Joe Sakic


Harrison Ford remains one of Hollywood's most iconic action heroes, but in 1997 he indirectly played the role of the film's villain. Rangers.

In a saga full of twists and turns worthy of the screen, the Rangers almost signed a superstar center Joe Sakic away from the Colorado Avalanche, only for the latter's parent entertainment company to match the Blueshirts' mega-deal amid the blockbuster success of its Ford-led film, Air Force One.

This unusual moment in NHL history is now the subject of a new documentary, Saving Sakic, premiering Wednesday on ESPN+.

At the time, the Avalanche, Denver Nuggets and small film studio Beacon Pictures were each owned by cash-strapped Ascent Entertainment. Just a year removed from winning the Stanley Cup in 1996, the Avalanche had lost $8 million during the 1996-97 season, largely due to their home venue, the outdated McNichols Sports Arena.

During the 1997 offseason, the Rangers saw their captain, Marc Messier, signed with Vancouver, leaving them with a Hall of Fame hole next to the aging Wayne Gretzky. In an effort to keep the Rangers' championship window open, Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts signed Sakic to a three-year, $21 million deal on August 7, 1997.

Since Sakic was a Group II free agent, the Avalanche had one week to match the offer and retain their captain, or otherwise receive the Rangers' next five first-round picks. Well aware of Colorado's financial shortcomings, Checketts topped the offer with a $15 million signing bonus, believing the Avalanche had no chance of meeting it.

It was pretty clever, Charlie Lyons, then president of Avalanche and CEO of Ascent Entertainment, told the Daily News. It was brazen, but he had lost Messier and he was being criticized by the New York media. He had to do something, because he had a really solid core, and adding Joe Sakic to that core was smart.

Lyons admits he was blindsided by Rangers' offer and his confidence in signing Sakic was initially very slim.

The Avalanches' saving grace was the recent release of Air Force One, which stars Ford as a US president who tries to save his hijacked plane from terrorists. The action film was released on July 25 and immediately became a smash hit, grossing $37.1 million domestically in its opening weekend.

Air Force One then earning $315.1 million worldwide against a budget of $85 million, making it Ascents' very first blockbuster. While those dollars didn't directly fund Sakic's contract, they legitimately legitimized Ascent on the entertainment circuit and instilled confidence in the state of the company.

There was no direct relationship between the success of the film, because you would never penalize your film company and take its performance profits and then transfer them to the entire company to pay a professional athlete , said Lyons, who remains filmmaker and executive producer of the Kevin Coster film. The two-part “Horizon” films are expected to be released this summer.

That said, successful films are so visible, and they have had two effects: They have increased trust within the company. [Ascent] that we could understand it, because we were going to have a healthier balance sheet as a company because of a hit film. At the same time, it allowed people to answer the phones, people who could solve problems.

Among those who resolved the problems, Lyons said, was Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. Realizing his city was in danger of losing one of its biggest sports stars, Webb finally reached an agreement with Ascent on a $165 million deal for a new Avalanche and Nuggets arena on August 13, 1997, the day before the Colorado deadline to match Sakics' offer. leaf.

Lyons then turned to Liberty Media for a modest investment in the new arena opened in 1999 as the Pepsi Center and its two teams, and entered into a contract extension with the Avalanches television network, Fox Sports Rocky Mountain , to help him find the money for Sakic.

The new documentary “Saving Sakic” debuts in the United States Wednesday on ESPN+.

As these factors played out behind the scenes, the media in New York and Denver had busy days covering the Sakic saga.

It was like Super Bowl story week for me, and I had so much pressure to find out what was going on, Adrian Dater, the Denver Posts Avalanche beat reporter from 1995 to 2014, told The News.

We were in a big newspaper war in Denver at that time with the Rocky Mountain News, and everyone was waking up every morning panicked and afraid that they were going to be taken over by the other side.

Dater was among the journalists who highlighted the importance of Air Force One in his reporting at the time.

It was a bit ironic, said Dater, who appears in the documentary. I'm not a team player and I'm not a homer, but I was just being factual: If you want to increase the chances of the Avalanche staying [in Denver] and Joe Sakic stay, go out and buy tickets to Air Force One because it will eventually generate revenue for the team.

The Avalanche officially matched the offer on August 14, 1997. Sakic spent his entire 21-year playing career with the team, winning a second Stanley Cup in 2001. He won another championship in 2022 as manager general of the Avalanches, then later that year became president of hockey operations for the organization.

Sakick, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, finished his career with 625 goals and 1,016 assists. His 1,641 points rank him ninth in NHL history.

The way it all worked out allowing the Avs to match the offer definitely changed the trajectory of the Rangers franchise, said John Dellapina, the Daily News Rangers editor from 1994 to 2008, who also appears in the document .

You would have one of the 100 greatest players in NHL history with the greatest player in NHL history. [in Gretzky]and then always Brian [Leetch] And [Mike] Richter and all. Maybe they would have won another Cup between 1994 and now.




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