Joe Sakic
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Former New York Rangers general manager Neil Smith provides insight on NHL offer-sheet craziness and the Joe Sakic miss.

The city was emotionally perturbed. The man who broke the New York Rangers 54-year curse of heartache had left Broadway to sign on with the Vancouver Canucks. It was such a massive story that Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, of “Mike & the Mad Dog,” who never discuss hockey, went on about it all afternoon.

Mark Messier was gone.

Joe Sakic remained the only hope, whom the Rangers signed to an offer sheet. Despite much of the hockey world thinking Sakic to New York was in the bank, former general manager (at the time) Neil Smith opposed them.

Smith knew his team had no shot at Sakic, as revealed to Larry Brooks of the New York Post.

“I knew that Carolina had to match and that the Canadiens weren’t going to get him,” Neil Smith said in a phone conversation on Friday. “Just like I knew we were never going to get Sakic.”

The Canadiens reference deals with Sebastian Aho. The Carolina Hurricanes recently matched the offer sheet put forth by the Habs.

The fondly-remembered Dave Checketts was the man who immediately gunned for Sakic, Smith recalled.

“As soon as Mark left, Dave wanted to sign Sakic. I told him they’d never let him go, they’d match no matter what,” Smith recounted. “But Dave said, ‘Trust me, they have no money, they’re broke, bleeding money because of their NBA team.’

”He thought that if we front-loaded the deal, there’d be no way they could match. So we came up with the $15 million up front just to make sure in a preemptory strike.”

New York Rangers

Smith knew it wouldn’t work, and today, explained why it rarely works for NHL systems, especially under the rigors of today’s harl salary cap. The only possible way for the offer-sheet game to work is when a team is completely cap-strapped.

“That would be the only way,” Smith said. “No space under the cap and no time to create it. Obviously, that wasn’t an issue in 1997.”

The current Rangers find themselves one of these cap-strapped teams. With the signing of Artemi Panarin, something will need to happen in order to get under the current cap.

All Neil Smith can do right now is watch Jeff Gorton and enjoy the wheeling and dealing from a distance.

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