Kings Ransom vs. Saving Sakic

The 1988 blockbuster trade and the 1997 offer sheet that made headlines for NHL legends

Photo of the sign of Joe Sakic Way in Burnaby.
PHOTO: Amirul Anirban / The Peak

By: Kaja Antic, Staff Writer

As a documentary enjoyer and hockey enthusiast, I was intrigued by the ads I kept getting on my television about a new hockey-related documentary: Saving Sakic. Joe Sakic, former National Hockey League (NHL) legend and current president of hockey operations for the Colorado Avalanche was the subject — or his 1997 contract situation was.

Saving Sakic is not the only hockey documentary to focus on contractual obligations or executive office decisions, though it is a rarity in the already-scarce genre. Kings Ransom was an ESPN documentary made in 2009 that covered the impactful, game-changing trade, also known as a blockbuster trade, that sent Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky — from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. 

As both documentaries covered the business side of hockey, I thought it would only be fitting to review them together, comparing and contrasting both the situations and the execution of these stories.

Kings Ransom (2009)

The 2009 ESPN documentary covers the August 9, 1988 trade that sent Ontario-born, hockey’s “the Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. In the NHL, teams can trade players for other players or draft picks. There are some nuances and restrictions to them, but it’s a common occurrence. The deal included two players being sent south of the border with Gretzky, while Los Angeles sent back two players and $15 million USD — a larger amount than any current NHL player’s annual salary

The film covers the success the Oilers had in the years leading up to the trade, where Gretzky had served as captain during their Stanley Cup wins in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988. Gretzky features heavily in it, along with former Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, former Kings owner Bruce McNall, and Gretzky’s wife, actress Janet Jones.

The trade was largely a business decision from Pocklington, who claims he was unable to afford a potential salary increase for Gretzky and continue to keep the team afloat in the small market of Edmonton. This film, however, focuses largely on the human effects of this transaction.

The Avalanche had an unlikely hero though — legendary actor Harrison Ford and the film Air Force One. 

Pocklington faced death threats for his decision — even though the Oilers would win the Stanley Cup again without Gretzky in 1990. His wife, Jones, was branded the “Yoko Ono of the Oilers” for her perceived involvement in influencing Gretzky’s departure, and many took the trade as Gretzky abandoning Edmonton, and Canada as a whole. 

Bringing Gretzky to Los Angeles turned a lot of attention to the often-forgotten American market, and paved the way for many southern teams in the future, including two more in California. Overall, I think the film provided a decent, in-depth look at the trade itself and the decision making surrounding it, though it left much to the imagination regarding the impact Gretzky’s arrival had on hockey in California, as aside from a short mention of the NHLers hailing from California today, there was no real analysis of the post-trade effects. The story ended in the 1988–89 season, but there is so more history to be explored. When it comes to blockbuster trades such as Gretzky’s, the trade itself and the context in which it happened is only part of the story, and this documentary lacks the legacy and rippling impact of the trade.

Saving Sakic (2024)

This recent documentary focuses on the 1997 offer sheet that almost sent Colorado’s Avalanche captain and Burnaby local, Joe Sakic, to the New York Rangers. The offer came only a year after the Avalanche had won the Stanley Cup — with Sakic earning the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP. 

The Rangers had just lost their captain Mark Messier — he was under no contract and decided to sign a controversial deal with the Vancouver Canucks — so the team decided to offer Sakic a $21 million contract, with an additional signing bonus of $15 million. Rangers executives knew that the cash-strapped Avalanche owners, COMSAT, would be unable to match the gargantuan offer in the seven day timeframe they had to match the eastern team’s offer. 

The Avalanche had an unlikely hero though — legendary actor Harrison Ford in the film Air Force One. Beacon Pictures, owned by COMSAT, partially produced the film, meaning some of the proceedings would go to the Avalanche ownership group. Air Force One was a box office success. With the film’s release predating the August 7 offer sheet, the Avalanche team obtained the funds to keep their captain and build a new arena for both the hockey team and the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. Sakic would go on to win the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche team in 2001 as a player, and in 2022 as an executive. 

Overall, I enjoyed the documentary, though I feel like it focused more on the production of Air Force One and the conflicts in building a new arena for the then-struggling Nuggets rather than on the supposed subject of the documentary. Sakic was hardly featured — I honestly think Ford had more screen time in the 48-minute film. The involvement of the more business-savvy side of hockey was interesting, though I feel like it brushed aside any meaningful discussion of hockey, outside of a summary of the Quebec Nordiques’ move to Colorado to become the Avalanche. It was a light-hearted documentary, and included Sakic’s career after 1997 — both on the ice and in the front office. I wish it had predominantly focused on the sport instead of the action film that may have aided it. 

Both documentaries offer a good picture of the context in which the Gretzky trade and the Sakic offer sheet occured, however, without focus on the bigger picture — it feels lacking. Gretzky’s trade is considered to have changed the landscape of hockey in the US, however, the documentary doesn’t really touch on the rippling effects. On the other hand, Saving Sakic overly-focuses on the financial and operational side of hockey and the involvment of Harrison Ford in keeping Sakic on the Avalanche team rather than talking on the importance of Joe Sakic to Colorado’s hockey scene.

Leave a Reply