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Pucks and PR

Because hockey is more than just a game

After the Islanders traded Christian Ehrhoff’s rights to Buffalo last night, I had someone ask me if that made the situation worse in New York from a PR perspective.

Like I said when the Islanders acquired Ehrhoff, sometimes it pays to try. However, I will preface this by saying that everything below is null and void if Ehrhoff actually signs with the Sabres.

Signing with the Sabres prior to July 1 sends the clear message that Ehrhoff simply didn’t want to play for the Islanders. His agent said, following the rejection of Garth Snow’s offer, that Ehrhoff wants to play for a winner. That is definitely a shot at the Islanders, but few fans on Long Island have deluded themselves into thinking the Islanders are currently a winning team.

Also, Ehrhoff turned down a contract from Vancouver – a team that was one win away from a Stanley Cup only a few weeks ago. So it isn’t just about winning either.

For the Islanders, they need to be seen as doing something. With a local referendum upcoming on the status of their new arena, and attendance struggling, the team can’t just sit on their hands.

Ehrhoff certainly isn’t a star player. Signing him wouldn’t have filled the arena with adoring fans. But it would have been a start. However, making the attempt will also have some benefits as well.

Trading for Ehrhoff put the Islanders in the deep end of the free agent pool. It showed that the team is going to compete to the best of their abilities to get top free agents. And they may land a couple thanks to their abundance of cap space.

The Islanders’ offer was reportedly 6 years and $33 million. At a $5.5 million cap hit, that would have put Ehrhoff in line with Duncan Keith, and above Chris Pronger. Ehrhoff could have been a solid #2 defenseman, but giving him $5.5 million was already overpaying for his skills.

Countering with a larger contract would have put the Islanders in Wade Redden territory. The New York Rangers could ride out the impact of the Redden signing, but the Rangers have PR surplus to burn. The Islanders do not.

So what am I saying? Making the attempt at Ehrhoff wasn’t a bad idea. From an image standpoint it showed that the team wants to be competitive now. They are finally making moves to get beyond the future focused image.

However, having Ehrhoff turn down such a large contract was a snub to the organization. It keeps the Islanders fighting the image of being a team that players don’t want to play for.

If Ehrhoff goes to the open market, they can fall back on the ‘he just wanted to test the waters’ explanation for being rejected by him.

If the Sabres ink him to a deal, and especially if it’s similar to the Islanders’ offer, it will be a huge slap in the face to the team and their fans.

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