The Avalanche’s first two years in Colorado were a huge success. At least if we’re talking about on the ice. But economically, it wasn’t as good, and in the summer of 1997, things were starting to get critical. They had lost $8 million during the previous season and were projected to continue to lose money until they moved into their new arena, but that was still three years left.
At the same time, the New York Rangers were on the hunt for a superstar center to replace Mark Messier, who’d moved to the Canucks that off-season. Wayne Gretzky still played, but they wanted another great player in the middle, and they had their minds set on Joe Sakic. The Rangers had advanced in the playoffs four years in a row, and Joe Sakic, who was 27 years old at the time and certainly in his prime, would be a huge upgrade over Messier, who was at the end of his career.
Rangers signed Joe Sakic to a three-year, $21 million restricted free agent offer sheet. Joe Sakic wanted the move as well. His annual salary in Colorado was $2 million per season, and the contract Rangers offered included a $15 million signing bonus. The Avalanche already had a tough time financially, and now, they had to find $17 million to spend on Sakic to keep him for the 1997-98 season, which looked impossible.
Sakic was the Avalanche’s biggest star, the face of the franchise, but it seemed like all hope was lost. But then came Harrison Ford to save the day.
Avalanche was owned by Ascent Entertainment, and Beacon Entertainment was one of their subsidiaries. They were one of the financiers of the movie Air Force One, which premiered in 1997, starring Harrison Ford. Beacon, and therefore, Ascent, had a deal that would give them ten percent of the profits—and the movie was a blockbuster hit. In the first week, the film made $37 million, and in total, it made $315 million at the box office.
Ascent’s cut was enough to match the Rangers’ offer sheet and keep superstar Joe Sakic in Denver. Just imagine how different it would be if Air Force One flopped.
The Colorado Avalanche went on to reach the conference final in the following four of the five seasons, and in 2000-01, they won the Stanley Cup. As for the Rangers, they traded for Pat LaFontaine instead. He only scored 23 goals and 62 points in 67 games, as the Rangers missed the playoffs.