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Sabres should be willing to spend big on Ehrhoff

June 30, 2011

The Buffalo Sabres stunned NHL followers Wednesday when they traded a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft to the New York Islanders for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff’s exclusive negotiating rights. That came just hours after the Islanders dealt their own 2012 fourth-rounder to Vancouver for Ehrhoff’s rights, but the German-born rearguard informed New York he wouldn’t sign there. With free agency opening at noon Friday, the Sabres don’t have much time to successfully woo Ehrhoff and keep him away from a number of interested suitors on the market. But how far should the Sabres go to ensure their union with Ehrhoff lasts years, not just a day?

It’s easy to see why Ehrhoff is a key figure on Buffalo’s radar. He’ll turn 29 on July 6, so he’s relatively young. He’s also an excellent offensive player, having produced 40-plus points in three straight campaigns. The smooth-skating 200-pounder turned in a career-best output last season for the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks, using his terrific shot to help him finish sixth among NHL defensemen in goals (14) and in a tie for seventh in points (50). Ehrhoff also has three consecutive seasons of 20-plus points on the power play. The last Sabre to amass that many with the man advantage was Brian Campbell, who chipped in 21 in 2007-08. Clearly, then, Ehrhoff would add an offensive dimension to Buffalo’s blue line that has been missing since the team traded Campbell at the ’08 deadline.

Ich bin ein Sabre?

While much of Ehrhoff’s value lies in his offensive ability, he’s not a one-trick pony. Ehrhoff is plenty durable, evidenced by five straight years of at least 77 games played, and acquits himself fairly well in his own zone; moreover, he finished second on the Canucks in TOI last season (23:59) and first the year prior (22:59). Thus, he’d easily be able to slide into Buffalo’s top four and eat up plenty of minutes alongside, in all likelihood, Jordan Leopold, while the probable first pairing of new addition Robyn Regehr and Tyler Myers would handle the tougher defensive assignments. Not many teams in the Eastern Conference would be able to boast a superior top four to Myers, Regehr, Ehrhoff and Leopold.

The downside to Ehrhoff is that it’s going to take a lot for the Sabres to reel him in. He reportedly rejected a long-term deal worth over $4.5 million per year from the Canucks, and Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos tweeted Wednesday that Ehrhoff turned a cold shoulder to the Islanders’ six-year, $33 million bounty. Ehrhoff is obviously aiming to cash in, although – according to his agent, Richard Curran – he also wants a chance to win a Stanley Cup. The Canucks came within 60 minutes of a championship last season, but their lack of cap room stopped their money from being sufficient enough for Ehrhoff. Conversely, the Islanders were able to offer big cash – not a guaranteed chance to win. The Sabres, on the other hand, are capable of giving Ehrhoff the best of both worlds. They’re just a couple pieces away from major contention in the East, their cap space is abundant, and billionaire owner Terry Pegula is perfectly happy spending substantial money in order to give his team an opportunity at glory.

Something similar to the Islander offer that Kypreos reported would make sense from Buffalo’s perspective. The Sabres would finally set the top four of their defense in stone for the near future while adding one of the premier offensive D-men in the sport.

Assuming Ehrhoff’s demands are within reason, Sabres brass would be wise to get him in blue and gold, and – with the influential Pegula at the helm – one has to like their chances of doing just that.

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