The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t wait long to sign one of the biggest names in NHL free agency this year – defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff agreed to a one-year, $4 million contract with the Penguins on Tuesday afternoon.
After trading James Neal to the Nashville Predators, the Penguins’ biggest gap to fill may be on the wing, but signing Ehrhoff will help deepen a defensive core that is most likely going to be without the services of either Brooks Orpik or Matt Niskanen next season.
When it comes to short-term replacements for Orpik and Niskanen, the Penguins could have done much worse than Ehrhoff, who was bought out by the Buffalo Sabres on June 29.
It’s no secret that the Penguins have a lot of depth when it comes to young defensemen, but adding Ehrhoff gives the Penguins a solidified top-four on the blue line. Kris Letang will likely play alongside Paul Martin, while Ehrhoff will likely take over Niskanen’s old role and partner up with Olli Maatta.
This allows two slots for young defensemen – who will likely be Simon Despres and either Derrick Pouliot or Brian Dumoulin – to work their way into the lineup and learn from four veterans.
Penguins head coach Mike Johnston is making it apparent that he wants defensemen who play a puck possession type of game, which certainly defines Ehrhoff’s style; moreover, don’t be surprised to see Ehrhoff, who is currently 31 years old, have an extra step in his game this season now that he is back on a team that can contend for a Stanley Cup.
During his time in Buffalo, the Sabres were rarely even in the conversation when it came to playoff contenders, and Ehrhoff’s best seasons came during his time with the Vancouver Canucks from 2009-2011. During those two seasons, Ehrhoff had 94 points in 159 games during the regular season. He also added 19 points in 35 playoff games.
The Penguins will still need to sign a winger, with the likely candidates being Nikolai Kulemin and/or Matt Moulson, but signing Ehrhoff is a great start for new GM Jim Rutherford.