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Pucks and PR

Because hockey is more than just a game

In other news, Paul Holmgrem traded his equipment manager and janitor for an athletic trainer, concession staff member and prospective employee.

To be honest, I was almost expecting that yesterday.

In the span of an hour, Holmgren shook the foundation of the Flyers organization and almost broke Twitter. The Flyers, a team that many predicted to be perennial contenders after their 2010 cup run, have suddenly become the biggest question mark in the league.

Holmgren’s decision to clear cap space for Ilya Bryzgalov was expected. How he chose to do it was anything but.

Trading away two cornerstone players, one of which was your captain, sends a mixed bag of messages that is difficult to sift through.

From a long term perspective, as fans digest the information and get accustomed to it, there are a lot of positives that come from these blockbuster trades.

The Flyers finally have a legitimate starting goalie signed to a long term deal. Granted, Bryzgalov has a lot left to prove in the playoffs, but for now the yearly debate over their goaltending should come to an end.

Also, the Flyers have given themselves an extremely positive future. Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are NHL level players with a great deal of upside. Brayden Schenn was one of the most sought after prospects and is forecasted to be a difference maker in the NHL. In addition, they added a top ten pick for tonight’s draft and two second round picks. That is a lot of youth to go along with an already young core consisting of James Van Riemsdyk (22) and Claude Giroux (23).

The biggest problem with trying to sell these trades as building a strong future is that Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were already pegged as the future of the organization. Both players were signed to contracts in excess of 10 years and quickly became the faces of the organization.

Using the reason of cap space also creates issues. Despite the return, Bryzgalov will be the focal point of the deal. Carter had 36 goals last season and Richards 23. Bryzgalov is a former Vezina nominee, but was a cause for concern in Phoenix’s loss to Detroit in the first round this year. No matter what, these deals will always be talked about as Carter and Richards for Bryzgalov.

Then there was the nearly immediate talk in social media circles about issues in the Flyers’ dressing room. It becomes difficult to sell  these deals when the persistent theme of questioning is “what was wrong in the dressing room”. Having negative questions asked makes it very difficult for those listening to think positively.

The reality is that in trading situations, the messaging can only be controlled to a certain point. The Flyers will certainly be pushing the positive, and justifiably so. There is a lot of good in these deals for them – and I haven’t even mentioned their $7.5 million in cap space to use on resigning RFAs and attracting UFAs.

Results make or break the PR impact of trades. Even if the Flyers do well, improvements by either Columbus or LA, will generate the “what were the Flyers thinking!?” response. And in LA’s case, there is a legitimate reason to believe that acquiring Richards pushed them closer to a Stanley Cup.

If Bryzgalov flops, there will be the “we gave up Carter and Richards for this” discussions.

If the Flyers miss the playoffs this season, few fans will take a long term view. When a team is in the Stanley Cup Finals  and then the second round in consecutive seasons, there will be little appetite in the market for an early golf season.

How the Flyers proceed with additional deals and free agent decisions will also change the landscape of this deal. If they somehow land Brad Richards as their new first line centre? That would certainly help manage the public impact of these deals.

The unsettling aspect of these types of deals, from a PR perspective, is that everything is in the players’ hands. How they perform and the results they produce will drive the message. What a horribly helpless feeling.

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