Avalanche fans are well aware of the interesting contract history of Ryan O’Reilly, and the infamous offer sheet he signed with the Calgary Flames as a restricted free agent in February of 2013.
The Flames gave Ryan a 2-year offer with a $5M dollar cap hit. The Flames also Feastered up the deal by back-loading the contract with a $6.5M dollar salary during the second year. What this did was upped the qualifying offer the Avalanche would be forced to pay after the contract expired. In a nutshell, it was an attempt to crack the Avalanche, and deter them from matching.
The Avalanche did decide to match the offer, and as a quick glance at the roster would confirm, Ryan O’Reilly is still on the team. The problem for the Avalanche is that the offer sheet has inflated O’Reilly and his agents perception of worth for El Factor. Hence, the plethora of trade rumors.
This wasn’t the first time that the Colorado Avalanche have had a player sign a lucrative offer sheet. In fact, one of the most famous offer sheets in NHL history was signed by Joe Sakic, the guy who negotiated Ryan O’Reilly’s last contract with the Avalanche.
In 1997, the Colorado Avalanche were still getting their feet wet in the city of Denver. Sure, the team took the city by storm with a Stanley Cup win in their first season playing in the thin-air. However, the team’s financial position was on thin-ice playing at McNichols Sports Arena.
At the time, the Avalanche were owned by Ascent Entertainment. Ascent also owned the Denver Nuggets, who were polar opposites of the Avs at that time. Saying the Nuggets stunk would be putting it nicely. The Nuggets won 21 and 11 games in the two seasons surrounding the 1997 year, and they were losing revenue.
Couple this with the fact that McNichols didn’t support the luxury suits and corporate seating potential to lure in investors, and the Avalanche looked like a tree ripe for the picking.
The New York Rangers weren’t shy about plucking a particularly juicy peach off the tree, by the name of Joe Sakic. Sakic, as most Avalanche fans are aware, didn’t stink at hockey.
The Rangers were keen on adding him to their roster after the departure of Mark Messier to Vancouver. What the Rangers did was devious, considering the financial position of the Avalanche. New York gave Sakic a 3-year offer worth $21M. The sneaky part of the offer was the fact that Sakic’s annual salary was only $2M. The Rangers included a $15M dollar signing bonus up front.
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Coming up with the cash to pay Sakic $17M that year to stay in Denver seemed like an impossible task. Ascent just didn’t seem to be in a position to liquidate that much green, and five first-round draft picks weren’t a bad consolation prize if they decided to let Sakic walk. Fortunately, a series of fortuitous events kept Super Joe in Colorado.
First off, the Avs and Nuggets had a new arena under construction, the Pepsi Center. The organization sold off several of the luxury suits to gather some cash. Ascent also held a stake in the movie “Air Force One” starring Harrison Ford. The success of the film around this time meant that there was enough dough to pay Joe!
The offer sheet was matched, and when it was, a framed picture of Nelson Rockefeller flipping the bird at the 1968 Democratic Convention was sent to the GM and president of the Rangers. This according to Adrian Dater in an archived article from the Denver Post.
It’s a fun little story, and I’m sure there are a lot more details and plots that few are even aware of. I’m glad the Avalanche kept Joe around. After all, he was one of my idols growing up as an avid Avalanche fan. I think it worked out pretty well for both the Avs and Mr. Sakic.