Off-season Target: Christian Ehrhoff

Keeping with the theme of offensive defensemen, the next volume of my off-season targets is Christian Ehrhoff of the Buffalo Sabres.

A big consideration with Ehrhoff is his contract, so let’s get that out of the way. Three seasons ago, Buffalo signed Ehrhoff to a mammoth $40 million / 10 year deal. As far as cap-cheating, back-diving contracts go, it’s a pretty egregious one. Fortunately for any team considering trading for Ehrhoff, because of the dramatic back-diving in the contract, the entire liability of any potential cap-benefit recapture falls with the Sabres only.

As you can see, the entire cap benefit originates in the first two years of the contract, which have already passed by with Ehrhoff as a member of the Sabres. That means the only way the Sabres can get out of the potential recapture liability is (failing a compliance buy-out) is if Ehrhoff fulfills the last three seasons of the contract, in which he’d be paid $1 million per season. Trading him doesn’t affect this, as the cap benefit occurred when Ehrhoff was a member of the Sabres, not the acquiring team.

Back at the trade deadline, a member of the Buffalo media reported that if they were to trade Ehrhoff, the Sabres would require a premium to make up for the potential recapture charge. This made no sense to me; the recapture is a sunk cost. If they keep Ehrhoff, they are subject to a potential recapture charge. If they trade Ehrhoff, they are subject to a potential recapture charge.

But for the acquiring team, they do get a defenseman at a reasonable $4 million cap hit for four years from ages 32 to 35, who is likely to retire and relieve them of the same cap-hit from 36-38. Contract-wise, Ehrhoff is attractive.

Ehrhoff’s points per game has been trending downwards since he arrived in Buffalo, but so have team factors that would have an effect on his point totals in on-ice shooting percentage and team powerplay percentage.

It’s not hard to conclude that Ehrhoff’s declining point production has more to do with him entering the offensive blackhole than it does his talent declining due to age. If he left Buffalo, I would expect his point total to take a step towards the production he had with Alain Vigneault in Vancouver.

Ehrhoff is a left-handed shooting defenseman who plays mostly on the right-side. He’s not the right-handed shot the Rangers’ powerplay desperately needs, but he is that offensive weapon they need from the back-end. A spot will be open for him on the right side if Anton Stralman walks as a free agent. If they were to re-sign Stralman and trade Staal, a move to the left side should be less complicated than for most right-defenseman.

As almost everyone has, Ehrhoff has been in the defensive zone more than the offensive one in his three seasons with Buffalo. His defense partners’ on-ice measures with and without Ehrhoff show the impact Ehrhoff has on the possession game.

On average, weighted on ice-time, Ehrhoff’s defense partners saw an increase of 2.7% in corsi-for percentage (all shot attempts) with Ehrhoff on the ice as opposed to off it.

Ehrhoff, should Buffalo be looking to trade him, would present an attractive option for the Rangers.

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