It was the summer of 1997 and over the Rangers fax machine an image of a middle finger came through. The message was a direct F.U. for trying to sign the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest star, Joe Sakic to a RFA offer sheet.
Moving On From Messier
The Rangers just completed a fairly successful season, losing in the Eastern Conference Final to the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a magical run, especially when you consider Neil Smith signed Wayne Gretzky the summer before and reunited him with Mark Messier.
Yet the Rangers inexplicably decided they would try to nickel and dime the man that brought them a Stanley Cup for the first time in 54 years. When it was all said and done, Garden president, Dave Checketts and GM, Neil Smith kept saying that they gave a reasonable offer, but in truth they didn’t.
Messier originally was seeking $6M per for 3 seasons but was willing to take less. According to a NYT story, Messier called them to see if the $10M over 2 years was still there. Neil Smith replied that it was 1 year at $4.6M, to which Mess said no and moved on to Vancouver.
All the while the Rangers repeated the mantra, “How long do we have to pay for the Cup?” as they were rightfully blasted by the fans and the media.
The Rangers may have had bigger plans the whole time. Neil Smith was going to take a big gamble to replace Messier. Group 2 Free Agent, Joe Sakic was signed to a 3 year, $21M offer with a $15M signing bonus.
The move was sure to put a financial strain on the Avalanche should they match it. If they didn’t, NY would have to send over 5 first round draft picks as compensation. When asked about the how the GM’s of the league may react to the move, Smith said the following:
The Big F.U.!
Colorado’s ownership refused to be bullied by the uppityness of the big city slickers. It has been said, it was Dave Checketts arrogance that pushed them to match. Owner, Charlie Lyons sold 4% of his stake in the Pepsi Center in order to sign Sakic. He just refused to let the Rangers have him.
Avs GM, Pierre Lacroix taunted and mocked the Rangers afterwards claiming they’d be the first team in the league to sign a space alien. What he didn’t tell the media is that when they matched the offer they also sent Smith and Checketts a photo of Nelson Rockefeller flipping the bird. It was the final F.U. and likely set the unwritten rule of not going after another team’s RFAs.