Last summer, then-Nashville Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis was the belle of the ball among unrestricted free agent blueliners. The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins traded for his negotiating rights before July 1 of that year, but they ultimately wasted those assets since Hamhuis elected for free agency (and ultimately signed with the Vancouver Canucks).
Christian Ehrhoff might be the 2011 version of his (soon-to-be-former?) teammate Hamhuis. The New York Islanders sent a 2012 fourth round pick to the Canucks for the chance to negotiate with Ehrhoff today, but the hard-shooting defenseman promptly shot down their contract offers. It seemed like the Islanders would be the laughing stock of the league once again after being rejected by Evgeni Nabokov during the 2010-11 season.
While Ehrhoff’s rejection might still sting, the Islanders saved face tonight by sending Ehrhoff’s rights to the Buffalo Sabres for their 2012 fourth round pick. I disagree with Katie Strang’s conclusion that the Islanders matched their losses from trying to acquire Ehrhoff (at least on the assumption that the Sabres’ fourth round pick is unlikely to be as valuable as the Islanders’ fourth rounder), but it still covers most of the cost.
As far as the likelihood of the Sabres actually landing Ehrhoff, one can only speculate. On one hand, Buffalo might not be an enticing market for Ehrhoff. On the other hand, the Sabres regularly make the playoffs and have a new owner who is willing to spend money to help them transition from “solid but not scary” to “legitimate contender.” It may be a small plus for outsiders, but Ehrhoff might also see some appeal in playing alongside fellow German Jochen Hecht.
Ehrhoff might not be perfect, but he could be a solid fit for the defense-needy Sabres. Buffalo lacks a strong offensive defenseman (no offense to up-and-comers Tyler Myers and Marc-Andre Gragnani) and Ehrhoff scored a career-high 50 points in 2010-11. Buffalo’s defense would probably still be a few strides short of elite even with the addition of Ehrhoff, but having Ehrhoff-Myers-Robyn Regehr as their top three would make life easier for all-world goalie Ryan Miller.
Then again, considering the shrinking market on unrestricted free agent defensemen, Ehrhoff could always play the field even if he likes what the Sabres are selling. Whatever happens, we’ll keep you up to date about all the latest happenings for Ehrhoff and other free agents as Friday’s frenzy approaches.