In 2011 defenseman Christian Ehrhoff came one win shy of capturing his first Stanley Cup with the Vancouver Canucks.
Following the deep playoff run Ehrhoff decided to sign a 10-year, $40 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres as an unrestricted free agent.
After being bought out of the deal just three years in, Ehrhoff, now a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, all but calls his decision to sign in Buffalo a mistake.
“I thought it was a team on the uprise,” he said. “They had a good roster and I felt, with a few additions, that they could take the next step to be a competitive team. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way and they went into full rebuild mode. That was obviously a little frustrating because that’s not the reason I (signed) there.”
Ehrhoff signed his deal with the Sabres after Buffalo finished the 2010-11 season with a 43-29-10 record. The Sabres were third in the Northeast Division that season and qualified for the playoffs.
After Ehrhoff joined the Sabres, they failed to make the playoffs in three seasons.
Ehrhoff, who had 28 goals and 94 points in 159 regular season games in two years with the Canucks, saw his numbers slowly dwindle in Buffalo scoring 16 goals and 87 points in 192 games with the Sabres.
On July 1 the 32-year-old signed a one-year $4 million deal with the Penguins.
“Last year was obviously very frustrating finishing last in Buffalo – not what I had hoped for when I signed there,” Ehrhoff said. “It’s a new opportunity (in Pittsburgh) and I’m excited to be on a very good team that has a good chance, all the tools, to compete for the cup.”
Under new head coach, Mike Johnston, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby notices the team’s defense more involved.
“Our D is probably more active than they’ve been in the past,” he said. “I think recognizing that as a forward, kind of on both sides of puck: offensively knowing that you might have an extra guy with you, but defensively understanding you might have to stay back more knowing the D is joining the play so I think that’s one major thing I notice here right away.”
It’s a system, which should benefit the offensively gifted Ehrhoff.
“A lot of experience, he’s played a long time,” said Crosby of the defenseman. “On the power play he’s got a big shot, sees the ice well and then defensively, he’s playing with Tanger (Kris Letang) and they’re going to see a lot of top guys so a lot of minutes. I think all the way around he’s a big acquisition for us.”
Ehrhoff struggled to point out where things went wrong with the Sabres.
“It’s tough to say,” he said. “The fact is, it didn’t work out and I’m happy with getting another shot at it here with Pittsburgh.”
The German native admitted the opportunity to play along side Crosby was a big selling point for him.
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” said Ehrhoff. “You can see it every day in practice and every night out there, it’s pretty special and obviously that was one of the reasons why I signed (in Pittsburgh).”
Ehrhoff’s buyout from the Sabres will ensure he gets a check of roughly $860,000 each season until 2027-28, but doesn’t feel it leaves him needing to prove anything after failures in Buffalo.
“I don’t think I have to prove anything to myself,” he said, “but obviously I want to be a big part of this team and help this team win.”
Ehrhoff is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent once again next summer.