Even before the NHL’s Free Agent Frenzy starts, the newly-wealthy Buffalo Sabres have completed what will no doubt be one of the most discussed signings of the summer.
In case you’re already on summer vacation and have been away from any hockey news, Christian Ehrhoff has signed a ten-year, $40 million contract with the Sabres. A $4 million per season cap hit might not seem like much (considering that healthy scratch Keith Ballard earns $4.2 million), but consider that Ehrhoff will have earned $18 million of that contract by the end of the 2012-13 season (should the NHL not perform another Ilya Kovalchuk circumvention investigation here). Nine million over the first two seasons will no doubt make Ehrhoff seem like the second coming of Brian Campbell if he somehow fails in Buffalo. At least the Canucks can say that they only pay lengthy long-term contracts to players the caliber of Roberto Luongo. In other words, find me one long-term contract currently in the NHL that makes sense.
Contract aside, Ehrhoff should be a good fit in Buffalo, which also bolstered its blueline by acquiring Robyn Regehr earlier in the week. Ehrhoff and Regehr will join young blueline anchor Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold on what should be one of the better top-4 defense corps in the league. One of nine defensemen to reach the 50-point mark last season, Ehrhoff will serve as that puck-moving power-play QB that the Sabres have desired for so long. With three consecutive 40+ point seasons and a +55 ranking over the past two seasons, Ehrhoff is arguably a top-10 defenseman in the fantasy game, even if his overall game is not at the caliber of the league’s elite defensemen (eg. Nicklas Lidstrom, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara). Going from the league’s top offense in Vancouver last season to what might be a vastly improved offense in Buffalo (if the prediction that the Sabres will be one of the most active teams in the free agent market comes true) should leave Ehrhoff’s overall fantasy value unchanged.
The Canucks were no doubt fixated on Ehrhoff’s (-13) ranking during the playoffs, an alarming stat for a team that was only one win away from the Stanley Cup. During the Canucks’ “disaster games,” Ehrhoff was (-6) in the three losses to Chicago in the first round and (-7) in the four losses to Boston in the final. The fact of the matter is that Kevin Bieksa was a better all-around defenseman during the playoffs than Ehrhoff, which is why Ehrhoff could have been only offered a similar contract to Bieksa’s by the Canucks (five years at $23 million). The argument could be made that the Canucks’ power play will suffer with the loss of Ehrhoff and his shot from the point, but the Canucks possess a similar defenseman in the fold in Alexander Edler. When fellow power-play d-man Edler was sidelined with a back injury during the second half, the Canucks’ power play didn’t skip a beat. I have a feeling that it won’t skip a beat again next season, even with the loss of Ehrhoff. In fact, I will go so far as to predict that Edler (33 points in just 51 games) will score at least as many points as Ehrhoff in 2011-12. Regardless, expect the Canucks to add at least one more defenseman with offensive ability during the offseason, although an upgrade on the blueline should include a d-man with more physical ability – something that was missing from the Canucks during the final. Even with another possible blueline addition, Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis should be the Canucks’ number one tandem in 2011-12 and should fill some power-play minutes that belonged to Ehrhoff.
From more of a general hockey perspective, it’s nice to see that the Sabres are well past the days in which they were forced to watch Danny Briere and Chris Drury jump ship for large contracts in bigger markets. However, NHL teams have yet to prove that long-term contracts can pay big dividends, and I’m not sold on the fact that the Ehrhoff contract will reverse that trend.
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