TOP-10 UFA COUNTDOWN: #7 – Christian Ehrhoff

This is a series counting down the top-10 pending UFAs. It will be posted across the Nation Network over the next month! Enjoy!

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When Christian Ehrhoff signed a ten year contract with the Buffalo Sabres in June of 2011, a lot of people were puzzled, and a little annoyed. Why was the NHL allowing these long-term, front-loaded contracts? Why was a 28 year old signing one that he would theoretically be able to play through? Why, even with the scheme, did such a talented player take so little without testing the market, from a team he became part of just hours before?

Fast forward to today. This would theoretically be the end of year four, but the Sabres are about a year removed from buying out the middle-aged German. Not only that, but the Pittsburgh Penguins, his new team, feel inclined to go with other internal options, meaning Ehrhoff will suit up for his third team in as many years.

Track Record

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Thanks to a string of three consecutive 40+ point seasons between 2008/09 and 2010/11, Ehrhoff is seen by many to be a reliable offensive presence from the point. So when Ehrhoff managed just 33 points in 79 games and his lowest even strength production rate in half a decade, it was of little surprise to see interest in him dry up.

This year, things trended back in the right direction, as he picked up three goals and eight assists in a little over 825 minutes at 5-on-5. This isn’t a gigantic leap forward; in fact, an extra goal last year probably evens things out. But it was still something, and it made him one of Pittsburgh’s most productive even strength defencemen with substansial minutes played.

That’s about as far as the positives go, however. Despite being known as a relatively steady play-driver throughout his career, Ehrhoff had his first season with team-relative possesion numbers in the relatives, and spent very little time on Pittsburgh’s powerplay and penalty kill. His 2:03 minutes per game on the powerplay were the lowest he’s ever played since 2007/08, and a far cry from the three and a half he managed with the Sabres. This, combined with a string of head and upper body injuries that lead to him playing only seven games after January 28th, culminated in him picking up just fourteen points, his lowest total in eleven years. 

Needless to say, while he hasn’t fallen off the cliff, this is a player coming into free agency at a career crossroads. It’s hard to say whether he’s hit a bump in the road, or is en route to his decline.

Future Performance

Ehrhoff’s injuries make this one a gigantic wildcard. It’s hard to bet against a guy whose worst years still put him in the upper half of the league, is capable of logging minutes on both sides of your special teams, can pass a puck like few others, and is generally capable of controlling the flow of the game.

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On the other hand, we’re talking about a player who suffered two confirmed concussions this year. You can blame 2013/14 on the Sabres being comically bad, and last year’s production through the first half of the year on a lack of powerplay time and chemistry with new teammates, but traumatic head injuries have the potential to drastically change your ability to play the game. 

If he comes back healthy, it’s safe to assume that a team will get a player who will pick up about 0.8 points per sixty even strength minutes, be able to play five combined minutes a night on the powerplay and penalty kill, and boost the possession of an average team by a percentage point or two while he’s on the ice, at least for another year or two. But that’s an extremely big if.

Contract Outlook

A healthy Christian Ehrhoff likely picks up his most lucrative per-year contract of his career. Johnny Boychuk (2015), Jay Bouwmeester (2014), and Tobias Enstrom (2012) are examples of middle-aged players who were retained by their existing teams in the $5.4-6 million range while putting up similar all around numbers, and sharing similar on-ice character traits. With that said, all three had a few years in hand when they signed, but that’s off-set by the idea of hitting unrestricted free agency.

However, the risk factor and the surplus of high quality defencemen on the market this offseason screams a “put up or shut up” scenario for the soon to be 33-year old. His likely suitor will be a lower-tier team looking for an affordable potential asset to flip at the deadline if they exceed expectations; you know, like the Buffalo Sabres. Wouldn’t that be something?

  • t_bison

    How might our defence look to start new season ? I suspect Klefbom and Fayne to remain , but rest might be all different . Could we see up to two UFA’s on defence for starters ? Examples only : Oduya and B.Jackman ? Perhaps even a trade for a top two defenseman as well , to compliment that with the arrival of Nurse as a distinct possibility . Calling for a major overhaul on defence .

  • Spoils

    Erhoffs bouncing all over the place does not scream mentor or leader and besides this team needs a veteran defenseman that can be both physical and make a pass. Paul Martin would be a better choice.

  • JackB

    Does anyone else remember that in the 2011 draft (when we picked Klefbom 19th) some of the “analysts” said he might be as good as Dougie Hamilton? (might be the “Swedish Dougie Hamilton”?)

    Certainly his shoulder injury and surgery delayed his development by at least a year, BUT . . . maybe we have our own “Dougie Hanilton” . . . currently on our roster . . . and we don’t have to risk the “WRATH OF BOSTON” by offer sheeting someone they desperately want to keep.

    I remember a post awhile back that suggested if we made an offer sheet on Hamilton, Boston might later reciprocate and tender offer sheets on our future RFA’s, in retaliation.

    And we may have our number 1 and 2 D right now (but only a couple of years away) Klefbom and Nurse !!

    So I don’t like the idea of offer sheets and would rather we identify a good veteran defenseman available as a free agent (for a maximum 2 or 3 years) or one we can trade for (without giving up too much of our future)

    I hope (and believe) our new general manager can somehow accomplish that. If Chia can get us one good veteran D, and a number one goalie, he will have accomplished more in one year than our previous management did in several years!

  • Zarny

    I would give Erhoff 2 years max…..up to $6M a year, granted it doesn’t prevent an eight million dollar Hamilton, or a Seabrook contract…

    I’d rather Erhoff for 2 at $6Mish than Chara…

  • AJ88

    You can probably get Ehrhoff for 2yr/$4M per – wouldn’t it be beneficial to have him mentoring as a veteran defenseman? Also, it would be good to have a fellow German around the room with Draisaitl. Buyout Nikitin, play Purcell and hope he plays half decent to get a 3rd/4th rounder from an eastern conference team.

  • Now this is a guy I can see coming back to Vancouver on a low cap hit 1 to 2 year deal. Maybe $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 per year tops. He was awesome as a Canuck, especially on the PP with the Sedins, and Edler who are still here. Trade Bieksa and Hamhuis for draft picks and sign a guy like Ehrhoff especially for the pp and I’d be happy with that. It’d be awesome.