THE GOOD NEWS: EHRHOFF TURNS DOWN NYIThis is when it really gets exciting in the Country

UPDATED at 7:45 pm: Buffalo acquires Ehrhoff’s rights from the Islanders for a fourth round pick.

4:30 pm: Christian Ehrhoff has declined the Islanders’ contract offer, choosing instead to become an unrestricted free agent when the market opens on Friday. He could always come back to the team over the weekend, but if the Islanders are smart, proud, confident and have learned anything, they should close the door and keep aiming higher. Much higher.

Oh well. ‘Twas a valiant try by Charles Wang, Garth Snow, Doug Weight and the Islanders. Ehrhoff, without question, would have made the Islanders a better team in 2011-12. Ehrhoff is also not the villain here. All he owed the Islanders were his ears. He listened. He has decided to consider his options with every team in the league and may possibly accept less money to sign elsewhere. Paul Martin…Dan Hamhuis…Christian Ehrhoff…Ryan Smyth…this is their prerogative.

But really now, big friggin’ whoop.

Is anyone paying attention? Because the Islanders have certainly caught the attention of the rest of the National Hockey League.

“(Expletive deleted)! If they’re giving C.E. that much $, how much is Snowy going to offer an impact guy or a star?”

That was a text to Point Blank late last night from an NHL general manager, clearly envious of all of Garth Snow’s cap floor space.


Look, Islanders Country…

For $6 million a year on a long-term deal, Christian Ehrhoff would not have transformed the Islanders into a contender – overnight or otherwise. A “consistent contender”? No, not there yet. Still need to get out of 26th and 27th.

For $6 million a year, Christian Ehrhoff – neither a great player, nor a brand name – would not have earned the Islanders the back page of Newsday or more than 300 words anywhere else in New York.

Ehrhoff would not have enticed a single non-diehard to find their way to the polls on Aug. 1 to vote YES in the referendum for a new $350 million Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. (Here’s the smell test: go up to your friends who are casual sports fans and say, “Did you hear the Islanders got Christian Ehrhoff”?!?! Watch as they pretend to know who you’re talking about).

The acquisition of Ehrhoff would not prompt the seduction of a star NHL player towards the Islanders. Not one great player was going to say, “Hey, if the Islanders are good enough for Christian Ehrhoff, they’re good enough for me.”

The man some call “Error-hoff” is a top-four defenseman – arguably a No. 2. He would have helped the power play, even as he wondered where the heck the Sedin boys went. He would have made the Islanders better in 2011-12, possibly even good enough to grab the seventh or eighth seeds in the strengthened Eastern Conference. Possibly, but no sure thing.

The Islanders took their best shot. It was a sincere, legitimate maneuver to improve the team. But it could just as easily have transitioned into, “Oh-spit-can’t-believe-we’re-payin’-this-guy-this-much” by the end of October. The agent for John Tavares – heck, for anyone capable of posting 50 points – would have used Ehrhoff’s millions as the floor in any negotiation. For all of the wicked thrills of Wednesday night, this signing could have turned into a disaster.

Which is why, with the moment having passed, I say the Islanders would be showing their insecurity if they allow a non-special player like Ehrhoff to shop their offer on Friday.

It stands to reason that if the Islanders are willing to pay upwards of $6 million a year to Ehrhoff, there’s no telling what they might do next. Those crazy Islanders!

And I mean that in a very good way. Islanders fans who felt a jolt of excitement Wednesday should not let the buzz wear off just because Ehrhoff wasn’t ready to sign here. If anything, there’s even more reason for euphoria now.

If Garth Snow has the green light to spend this much cash on a No. 2 defenseman, it would stand to reason he could spend a few more bucks on a marquee star – a true franchise-changer.

The buzz around the Islanders is only buzzier now. Fans should enjoy it. The franchise must capitalize on it.