And we're off! ... Islanders blogfather and former PR czar Chris Botta has grabbed a punch bowl full of John Tavares kool-aid, and he's hitting that bowl hard, exciting the die-hards. He's advocating that, should the Islanders' 48.2% chance at the #1 pick hit gold Tuesday, they break with convention and immediately announce that Tavares is their man, to spare the hockey world and the young lad 72 days of wondering -- like every maybe-#1 before him -- which NHL club he will call home.
I find this to be an interesting case but ultimately -- call me a fatalistic Islanders fan if you must -- one whose marginal yet likely benefit does not outweigh the significant yet unlikely risk.
But it sounds like the kind of idea that could dominate Isles fans' thoughts for a while. We've touched on the PR aspects of this Tavares-Hedman thing before, so I'm going to delve into Botta's unconventional proposal a little.
Now, there is a hint of circular elements to Botta's argument, but I find those are due to accidental construction rather than intent. If I may Cliff Notes it, his thesis is essentially this: 1) Tavares is the majority pick of the wide world of scouts (not necessarily Islanders scouts), therefore 2) the Islanders should decide now that he's their man, therefore 3) the Islanders should start the hype machine now -- both to let the world know Tavares will be an Islander and to "illustrate your commitment" to Tavares, who "deserves" it if they want him to be the face of the franchise.
Honestly, I think the world has largely assumed Tavares would be wearing Islanders blue since the puck was first dropped on the 2008-09 season. I don't see a huge gain in that department by jumping the gun now -- and people will talk more about the Islanders if they don't know who the club is selecting.
But the circular aspect: A commenter said you should not select a player based on PR, and Botta shot back that he never said any such thing -- which is technically true, but: To pretend PR isn't part of his argument is a little disingenuous, and frankly I don't know why he's even reluctant to overtly acknowledge PR's place in this. If you think, right now, Tavares is far and away the better player, then there is nothing to discuss. But if you think that Tavares and Hedman might be essentially equal in on-ice hockey value, then -- as I argued when I first addressed this aspect -- the franchise PR impact very much enters the equation.
And there's nothing wrong with that. This isn't choosing Alexander Daigle over Chris Pronger because he's bilingual here. It's choosing among two equal needs (scoring, defense) because one would put more butts in the seats and garner more media coverage.
(It took Nik Lidstrom a decade to win a Norris trophy not because he suddenly got better, but because the importance and nuance of cornerstone defensemen is not as easily digested by the casual fan and, apparently, Norris voter. Chris Pronger makes the highlights not when he delivers regular well-placed shots from the point or brilliant outlet passes, but when Captain Elbows gets a little carried away and does something suspension-worthy. Simply, the best parts of a defenseman's game do not make for easy mass consumption.)
Truly, the rest of Botta's argument for launching the "Savior: Tavares" machine 72 days early really is founded on PR: Letting "the world know Tavares will wear an Islanders uniform" is a PR move, as is asking:
"After everything the Islanders and their supporters have been through for large parts of the last two decades, do they really want to be the team that passed on Tavares?"
In fact, that last one sounds an awful lot like selecting Tavares for PR reasons, no? As does this:
John Tavares is a franchise hockey player, and the New York Islanders are a franchise with so much on the line. To say this is a special case is an understatement.
What is that "special case" that precludes picking fellow franchise player Hedman? Well, it's the combination of the make-or-break Lighthouse Project uncertainty -- which could conceivably get a boost by a Tavares Declaration -- and the fact the Islanders need a boost both in management reputation and in on-ice pizazz. A scoring superstar does that. A franchise defenseman -- even if arguably more important or harder to acquire for true team-building -- does not. It took Pronger four years to become a stud. The Islanders, one argument goes, don't have that kind of time.
Again, there is nothing wrong with looking at it that way. The intersection of player evaluation, media coverage, and franchise standing is very much a PR issue, which is why Botta rightly points out this year is "a special case." It's tough to sell "wait and see."
Actually, if you want to get really technical about the definition of PR -- "managing relations among your (external and internal) publics" -- then there is also this PR issue:
If you're going to ask Tavares to spend at least the next 15 years on your team and in your community, illustrate your commitment on Tuesday. Let him know you didn’t even spend a second thinking about anyone else. He deserves that.
Managing a player's relationship so that he sticks around as a community fixture is very much a PR issue. But so is taking it slow and not anointing a teenager as God's Gift until he's in the fold. Either way, tthat's a little pedantic and slightly ahead of ourselves, so I'll stop the PR tangent here. Which brings us back to the original point...
Let's Just Chill Out and Enjoy the Playoffs, Shall We?
If the Islanders get the #1 pick, should they do away with convention and decide now -- and announce it now?
Should they ignore the possibility of meeting and further observing both young men, watching them at the scouting combine, collecting more information about the character of each from sources around the hockey world? Should they, for pure PR sake, ignore that things can and do happen in two-and-a-half months -- players can get arrested, players get in car accidents, injuries happen, life happens -- just to announce a commitment now?
And if they do so, then what if tragedy or folly does occur? Do they "illustrate commitment" to a teenager and then renege on it because it turns out they pledged that commitment before all possible data was in? What if before the draft Tavares blows out his knee playing golf
cart tag and needs a whole year to reconstruct it - then what?
These are not likely risks, but they are real risks nonetheless. They happen, which is why savvy franchise-building dictates prudence and patience, which Garth Snow has shown in this rebuild since last summer. First, do no harm. Where there is no need to rush, don't put yourself at risk by rushing. If you are concerned about the reputation of your franchise, then do not set yourself up for a potentially embarrassing mistake that could have easily been avoided by following sound, established policy.
If you go Tavares-agaga on April 14, you'll sell a few more tickets and jerseys sooner, and you might get a few more citizens to rally around the Lighthouse Project. But if there is anything more to gain by waiting -- from scouts, from discussions, from the mere passage of two more months' time in the life of a kid who's only been on the radar as a hockey player for under 50 of them ... then I don't know, can't you just hang tight at least until draft week?