What if the Colorado Avalanche did not match Joe Sakic's offer sheet from the New York Rangers after the 1996-97 season. Both teams were coming off of conference finals losses. Avalanche lost to Detroit and New York was downed by Philadelphia. In the off season, Rangers general manager Neil Smith decided to let Mark Messier go in free agency and go after restricted free agent Joe Sakic. Smith inked Sakic to a three year, $21 million offer sheet. Meaning, the Avalanche had seven days to match any offer he received. GM Pierre Lacroix had to match the offer, or he would have been burned at the stake. So he did. But what if he would have done the unthinkable and let Sakic go play on Broadway.
Colorado would have received FIVE 1st-round drafts from the Rangers if they wouldn't have matched the offer. So the Avs would have had New York's first rounders from 1998 to 2002. Also, they would have a modern draft record of five first round picks in 1998. That would have given them a once in a lifetime opportunity to reload with a boatload off young talent. Plus, with the money they save from not matching they could have spent it on other free agents or tried to poach Sergei Fedorov away from Detroit via offer sheet. The Avs would have had to name a new captain, with guys like Adam Foote and Sylvain Lefebvre at the top of that list.
On the downside, they lose the face of the franchise and the greatest player in their history. The negative backlash would have been enormous, even for a team one year removed from being Stanley Cup champions. Also, the fan base would not want to see management let their captain leave town, even it is for five first rounders. Looking back at history, Lacroix and company did not have the best record when drafting in the first round. From 1994 through 1997, he chose Wade Belak, Jeff Kealty, Marc Denis, Peter Ratchuk and Kevin Grimes. Not exactly hall of fame caliber players. So,who is to say Lacroix turns those picks into anything good.
Hidesight is 20/20. Everybody knows that. But even with the financial uncertainty the Avs were dealing with and the need for a new arena (which they obviously built), matching the offer sheet was the right move to make.
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