(Note: This will be a series leading up to the start of the scheduled NHL season. I will look at each player who will definitely be, or could possibly be, on the opening day roster for the 2012-13 Sabres and speculate on their potential strengths and weaknesses during the year.)
Let’s start with a few graduating questions:
1. Would you sign Christian Ehrhoff if he were a free agent this offseason?
2. Would you trade a fourth-round pick for Ehrhoff?
3. Would you pay $4 million toward the cap for Ehrhoff?
A lot gets lost in the world of hockey, especially when it comes to the economic aspects of the game (CBA talks notwithstanding). Last season, the Buffalo Sabres ruffled a lot of feathers when deep-pocketed owner Terry Pegula opened the wallet and brought Ehrhoff here along with Robyn Regehr and Ville Leino. Plenty of articles and conversations concerning the Sabres have turned to the Leino signing, but many of the same articles and conversations have also turned to Ehrhoff.
That’s when the conversation needs to turn to the questions listed above, and it usually doesn’t.
Would you sign Ehrhoff this offseason? Unequivocally yes.
He may have had some injury issues, and yes he’s prone to turnovers, but for anyone to say that he is not objectively one of the better offensive defenseman in the NHL is pretty crazy. He scored 32 points in 66 games last season. Granted, nothing earth shattering. But that’s not the whole story.
In the 11 games Ehrhoff missed in January, the team won only two games. They went 1-3-1 the final five games of the season he missed after hurting his knee in the huge win against Washington at the end of March.
So, would you trade a fourth-round pick for Ehrhoff? Again, no question it’s yes.
Beyond the struggles the team had when he was injured, Ehrhoff is a rare defenseman who makes everyone on the ice better by simply opening up the ice for them. Ehrhoff makes one of the fastest first passes in the league. Beyond that, he is able to carry the puck into the neutral zone with speed as well as most top-six forwards in the league. You simply cannot defend that if the forwards are skating to open ice.
A quick, accurate first pass is a defenseman’s deadliest weapon when it comes to opening up ice. Being able to skate the puck into the neutral zone is not too far behind. Some of the plays that were created when Tyler Ennis’ speed was combined with Ehrhoff’s vision and ice-creating abilities toward the end of the season were spectacular. With a full season of Ennis at center, look for plenty more of those.
Finally, would you pay $4 million against the cap for Ehrhoff? Try and find a single general manager in the NHL that would not.
His defensive abilities are not top-notch, but no one seemed to be concerned about those when they handed Erik Karlsson the Norris Trophy. Yes, he made a ridiculous amount of money this season in real people dollars and not cap dollars, but it didn’t hamper the growth of the team so who really cares? You didn’t pay it did you?
Basically, if Ehrhoff stays healthy this season, look for a marked improvement in points and plus-minus. He will likely be paired with fellow German Alexander Sulzer to start the season to capitalize on the success the two saw at the end of last season. In reality, along with Regehr and Myers, the Sabres have one of the strongest top-four defensive cores in the league.
Prediction: 76 games, 14 goals and 37 assists for 51 points, many of which will come on the powerplay.