The Terry Pegula effect: Sabres sign Christian Ehrhoff to 10-year, $40M deal

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Apparently Christian Ehrhoff received some good feedback about Buffalo, because it looks like he will play hockey there for a long time.

The Associated Press reports that the hard-shooting German defenseman signed a mammoth 10-year, $40 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres today. This signing comes after they shipped their 2012 fourth round pick to the New York Islanders for his exclusive negotiating rights.

Note: See the bottom of this post for a detailed breakdown of the structure of his new deal.

Instant analysis of the contract

Let’s make no mistake about it: this is a monster deal, especially from the perspective of term. Ehrhoff will turn 29 on July 6, so this early birthday present of a contract will probably cover the rest (or at least most) of his remaining playing days. Honestly, it’s difficult to avoid feeling a little anxious about giving any player a deal for such a long time in a violent sport like hockey, especially when he’s halfway through his career. Calling this deal risky is an understatement.

The greatest perk of these decade-long contracts is how much they dilute a player’s salary cap hit, though. Only Ehrhoff’s sternest critics would deny that $4 million is a bargain for a defenseman who just produced a 50-point season and scored at least 40 points in two other campaigns. Ehrhoff averaged just a second less than 24 minutes per game on the juggernaut Vancouver Canucks team, so his big picture value should be obvious even if he remains flawed in a few areas. Some people might debate this point, but his skill set and resume probably would have made him the top target among unrestricted free agent defensemen if he got that far.

The impact of adding Ehrhoff and Regehr

Interestingly enough, both of the Sabres’ new defensemen will register $4 million per year salary cap hits and were acquired in part because of trades. Buffalo added Robyn Regehr and his $4.02 million cap hit (which expires after the 2012-13 season) via a trade with the Calgary Flames and traded for Ehrhoff’s negotiating rights to get this deal done. The two defensemen add opposing elements to a Sabres defense that was very lacking in 2010-11; Regehr is a rugged, stay-at-home defenseman while Ehrhoff’s game is geared more toward puck movement and scoring points.

With Regehr and Ehrhoff primed to take top pairing (or at least top four) roles going forward, 2009-10 Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers can assume a more comfortable position with the team. Some said that Myers suffered a “sophomore slump” after that great rookie campaign, yet if you ask me, the Sabres stretched super-tall defenseman too thin. Now he can grow into his role as the team’s blueliner of the future (with Ehrhoff, apparently).

Conclusions

There’s a chance that this signing might remove Buffalo as a dark horse candidate in the Brad Richards sweepstakes. Adding Ehrhoff’s expected $4 million cap hit brings the Sabres’ cap space to about $7 million and they need to fill 3-6 roster spots.

That being said, if the opportunity comes along, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Sabres made another bold move or two. It’s clear that Pegula is willing to spend big – and take some risks – to make the team better. We’ll see if their gambles pay off next season … and in the case of Ehrhoff, maybe for the nine seasons that follow as well.

The year-by-year structure of the deal

TSN’s Bob McKenzie provided a breakdown of the year-by-year structure of the deal. I altered it slightly to make it easy to read.

Year 1: $8 million signing bonus, $2 million salary
Year 2: $5M signing bonus, $3M salary
Year 3: $4M
Year 4: $4M
Year 5: $4M
Year 6: $4M
Year 7: $3M
Year 8: $1M
Year 9: $1M
Year 10: $1M
*McKenzie notes that the deal will have a “modified” no-movement clause.

As you can see, the contract is front-loaded as expected. The Sabres might be able to trade him (if they can get around the clause) to a poorer NHL team between years 7-10 because his low salary and $4 million cap hit would help them reach the salary cap floor. Of course, there’s the other alternative: Ehrhoff might retire before his contract expires, which would make his cap hit go away under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

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There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

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— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

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George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.