The Buffalo Sabres have served notice: they are spending to play with the big boys and they added a defenceman to anchor their power play the day before free agency kicks off.
Numbers Game looks at the signing of Christian Ehrhoff.
The Sabres Get: D Christian Ehrhoff
Ehrhoff, who will be 29 next week, has been one of the league's most productive defencemen over the last three seasons, scoring 136 points, good enough to rank ninth in the league over that time. He's been particularly effective with the man advantage, scoring 76 of those 136 points on the power play.
Ehrhoff's responsibility has grown steadily, to the point that he played a career-high 23:59 per game last season, the fourth straight season that he has played at least 21 minutes per game. He's also been relatively healthy, missing 15 games over the last five seasons.
The Sabres surrendered a fourth-round pick to the Islanders to get Ehrhoff's negotiating rights, after the Islanders had acquired those rights from Vancouver, where Ehrhoff has plied his trade the last two seasons.
While critics will point to Ehrhoff's ghastly minus-13 rating in 25 playoff games last season, it's only fair to note that he's a cumulative plus-55 over the last two seasons, which ranks second among all NHL defencemen in that span. Ehrhoff tended to play protected minutes at even strength, though, so he may need similar usage in Buffalo if he's going to maximize his effectiveness.
In Buffalo, the Sabres suddenly have a deep group along the blueline, with newly-acquired Robyn Regehr experienced handling the toughest defensive assignments and Tyler Myers a rising star in his own right.
Jordan Leopold and Andrej Sekera both played more than 20 minutes per game last season, so there are options (without even mentioning Mike Weber and Shaone Morrisonn) available to keep Ehrhoff playing in a role that gives him the best opportunity to succeed, primarily in an offensive role.
What Ehrhoff's presence does, however, is raise some doubt about the possible role of Marc-Andre Gragnani, the AHL defenceman of the year who led the Sabres with seven points in seven games against Philadelphia in the playoffs.
Gragnani showed that he could quarterback Buffalo's power play and might have been a candidate to have a big rookie season in 2011-2012, but with Ehrhoff's power play credentials, it would seem most likely that Gragnani will be getting second-team power play duty, at best, if he can even secure a regular spot in the lineup.
From Vancouver's perspective, the loss of Ehrhoff is significant and could affect the league's top-ranked power play last season.
Aside from Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler was the only other Canucks defenceman with more than seven power play points, so they'll need to find a puck-moving defenceman and the free agent market is thinning. The Canucks could certainly re-sign Sami Salo or look to free agents James Wisniewski, Ian White, Tomas Kaberle or Anton Babchuk, though none of those options is necessarily as appealing as Ehrhoff.
The structure of the ten-year, $40-million contract is shaky, with Ehrhoff receiving $18-million through the first two seasons. The most significant concern would be that the last three seasons come in at $1-million per season, the years in which Ehrhoff would be 36, 37 and 38-years-old.
As long as Ehrhoff plays those seasons, there's no concern, but if he happens to retire or get bought out, after having earned more than 90% of his contract value, then there could be the whiff of salary cap circumvention.
What this deal announces, however -- if it wasn't already made clear by the trade for Regehr and Ales Kotalik last week -- is that the Sabres are going to be aggressive in their pursuit of talent and that new owner Terry Pegula apparently isn't planning on taking a gradual approach to turn the Sabres into a Stanley Cup contender.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.