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Pucks and PR

Because hockey is more than just a game

The on ice impact of free agent frenzy isn’t going to be felt for months or maybe even years. But the public impact is already starting to be felt.

Ultimately, the on ice results should define a free agent signing or trade. In a time of short attention spans and instant news, the public impact is felt long before players pull on their new jerseys.

Because I like to pander to trends, here are my PR winners and losers of free agent frenzy.

New York Rangers – Winner

By landing Brad Richards, the most coveted free agent of 2011, the Rangers are instantly winners. The Rangers are perennial contenders for top free agents. The very nature of New York and its desire for star players has made it necessary. If the team lands a top free agent, the knowledgeable New York fans will react positively. The real question will be how long they are labelled winners. If Richards becomes another Chris Drury or Wade Redden, the signing will soon go from PR ammunition to PR disaster.

Washington Capitals – Winner

Signing Tomas Vokoun gives Capitals fans a legitimate starting goalie at a bargain price. Few people expected a return of first and second round picks for Semyon Varlamov. When the first round pick has the potential to be a lottery pick, it just adds to the positive impact of the deal. The changes in goal are things that Capitals fans can’t help but be happy with.

Minnesota Wild – Winner

The Wild used the draft weekend and free agent frenzy to improve their team through trades. The Wild addressed a major problem – offense. Getting Devin Setoguchi and Danny Heatley from the Sharks dramatically improves the Wild. Losing Brent Burns hurts, but the public impact of adding players of Setoguchi and Heatley’s status can’t be overlooked.

Buffalo Sabres – Biggest Winner

The Sabres made a major step forward both on and off the ice. Adding Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff to the blueline and Ville Leino to the top six is great for the organization. This offseason has reinforced the dedication of owner Terry Pegula to produce a winner. Pegula was very involved in the process and reportedly aggressive in his goal to land certain players. More than anything though, the Sabres can finally come out from the shadow of recent free agent disasters where core players bolted for other teams.

Florida Panthers – Should be Winner

I would like to label the Panthers as winners. Dale Tallon added a lot of skill to his team, but in Florida this won’t be a PR success unless the team actually performs well. The Florida hockey market responds to winners, so until the Panthers get back on the ice, this can only be a ‘should be’ winning situation. Next time the Panthers should find a way to sign LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade.

Philadelphia Flyers – Losers

The Flyers may have gained some strong young prospects, signed a few mid level free agents and a much needed starting goalie, but the public impact of trading two franchise players is going to linger. Hockey fans love to talk, and Flyers fans are definitely going to be talking. Even worse, they will be asking questions. Considering the rather average showing in free agency, not to mention a potential CBA infraction with Maxime Talbot’s contract, fans are going to have to ask if losing both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards was really necessary. In the immediate aftermath, the Flyers have to be considered PR losers.

Colorado Avalanche – Losers

First and second round picks for Semyon Varlamov. This for a goalie that, although only 23 years old, has yet to play more than 30 games in the NHL, has been flirting with the KHL and has a history of recent and recurring injuries. That is a lot to give up for so much uncertainty. If that first rounder turns into a lottery pick – ouch!

Jaromir Jagr – Biggest Loser

In all of free agency, Jagr lost the most from a PR perspective. There are a few bad moves by Jagr in this situation. It was well documented that the Red Wings and Penguins had made offers. It was also publicized that Jagr supposedly wanted one of those two teams and would give an answer by a certain time. He didn’t adhere to that timeline and went AWOL. Then, he signed with one of the Penguins’ biggest rivals and appears to have used the early offers to entice teams to submit larger offers. Despite his intentions, Jagr came out of free agency looking greedy and disrespectful to Penguins fans, players and management. His first game in Pittsburgh in a Flyers’ jersey should be interesting to watch.

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