This photo taken May 28, 2011 shows Vancouver Canucks' defenceman...

This photo taken May 28, 2011 shows Vancouver Canucks' defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, of Germany, looking on, during a game. The Canucks announced Tuesday June 28, 2011 that the rights to the Ehrhoff have been traded to the New York Islanders in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2012. Credit: AP

With free agency rapidly approaching, the Islanders got a head start last night, acquiring the rights to Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2012.

Vancouver traded his rights after general manager Mike Gillis intimated to reporters that negotiations on getting a deal done for Ehrhoff had hit an impasse. Several reports had Ehrhoff spurning a deal similar to fellow Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who recently signed a five-year extension worth $23 million.

The Islanders have until Friday at noon to reach a deal with Ehrhoff before he hits the market as an unrestricted free agent.

Whether the Islanders can lock up the 28-year-old defenseman will hinge on whether he’s open to playing on Long Island; many free agents have not been. Money will not be the issue as it is believed the Islanders are prepared to go above the $4.6 million per year Bieksa received.

“I’m going to give it my best effort and try to get it done tomorrow,” general manager Garth Snow told Newsday by phone last night. “I’ll know apparently early in the day what the chances are, but I’m not going to leave any stone unturned in trying to make this happen and improve our team.”

Reached by phone, Ehrhoff's agent, Rick Curran, declined to divulge specifics on conversations with the Islanders or past negotiations with the Canucks.

“What I can tell you is that I had a good conversation with Garth Snow,” Curran said, “but I don’t comment on current negotiations.”

Curran said he planned to speak to his client this morning; Ehrhoff is currently back in his native Germany and Curran was not sure if he was aware that his rights had been traded.

Ehrhoff, 6-2 and 203, tied his career high with 14 goals and set a career high with 36 assists and 50 points in 79 games for the Canucks this season. During Vancouver’s playoff run, Ehrhoff had two goals and 10 assists in 23 games.

“He’s got good hockey sense, can move the puck well, and he has an uncanny knack to get out of tough situations in his own end,” Snow said.

An offensive defenseman with puck-moving and power-play ability, Ehrhoff will be looking for more than a slight raise from the $3.1 million he made last year. A thin free agent market could allow Ehrhoff to command upwards of $5 million per year.

Said Snow: “Obviously he’s a top-four defenseman and we’re going to do everything we can to get him signed.”


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