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.

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites entering Stanley Cup Final

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Now that we are through the first three rounds of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs the race for the Conn Smythe Trophy is really starting to sort itself out.

It is down to just two teams and both the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues have several worthy contenders that have stood out as potential postseason MVPs.

Some of them have been dominant from the start, while others have started to make their presence known over the past couple of weeks.

It is time once again to check in on the top contenders in the PHT Power Rankings.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. It is not a stretch to suggest that this is the best hockey Rask has ever played in the NHL. After allowing just five goals in the Bruins’ four game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, he now has a .942 save percentage in the playoffs and is helping to make what was an already great team a downright dominant team. He is one of just six goalies in NHL history to have a save percentage of .940 or better through their first 17 games in a single postseason, joining a list that includes only Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2002-03), Jonathan Quick (2011-12), Olaf Kolzig (1997-98), Henrik Lundqvist (2013-14) and … Rask himself once before (2013).

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Simply one of the most impactful skaters in the NHL. Love him or hate him, he is a total force on the ice in all three zones and he is putting together another tremendous postseason performance for the Bruins. His 18 points are second only to San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture (he finished the playoffs with 20 points in 20 games; Marchand’s per-game average is still higher) and he has already recorded six multi-point games (tied with Tomas Hertl for the most). That includes three games with at least three points, also tops in the league.

3. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz has followed up what was one of the worst regular season performances of his career with a postseason that could be worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Blues end up winning the Stanley Cup. After scoring just 11 goals in 69 regular season games, Schwartz enters the Cup Final having already eclipsed that mark (12 goals) in the Blues’ first 19 playoff games. That includes a league-leading 10 even-strength goals, two game-winning goals, and two hat tricks. Yes, a lot of that goal-scoring spike is due to a 22 percent shooting percentage that certainly will not continue forever, but his underlying numbers are outstanding across the board. When he is on the ice the Blues are attempting more than 57 percent of the total shot attempts and generating more than 55 percent of the scoring chances. He is playing extremely well and when combined with a positive change in his shooting luck it has produced a huge postseason.

4. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues. After a somewhat slow start to the playoffs, at least as it related to his point production, Tarasenko went on a tear at the absolute perfect time by recording at least one point in all six games of the Western Conference Final, finishing the series with eight total points, including three goals. He remains one of the most productive postseason goal-scorers in league history and is currently in the top-25 all-time in goals per game (among players with at least 40 postseason games). Is it a case of recency bias to have him so high at this point? Maybe, but that is how the Conn Smythe voting tends to go. He is the Blues’ best player and when he gets on a roll he can be nearly impossible to stop. Right now he is on a roll.

5. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. It has been business as usual for Bergeron this postseason as he plays big minutes, dominates possession, shuts down other team’s top scorers, and chips in some offense of his own. Maybe the only surprise from him in the playoffs is that six of his eight goals have come on the power play. Before this season he had scored just seven power play goals in 112 postseason games.

6. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues. His overall numbers for the playoffs are not great, and are definitely lower than what he did during the regular season, but that does not mean he has not played extremely well at times. Like Tarasenko, he is doing so at just the right time to get noticed in the Conn Smythe race. He is 6-2 with a .925 save percentage in his past eight starts and has allowed just five goals in the four knockout games he has played (three games where the Blues could eliminate a team; one game where the Blues faced elimination).

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better special teams?
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders sign Brock Nelson to six-year contract

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After a stunning 2018-19 NHL season that saw them reach Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the New York Islanders have some big work ahead of them this summer as they not only work to add some firepower to their lineup, but also keep some of their most important players in place.

Forwards Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson — three of the team’s top-five scorers this season — as well as Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner are all eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. That is a lot of big names to keep while also maintaining enough flexibility under the salary cap to build around them.

On Thursday, they made sure at least one of those players will remain with the team when they announced a six-year contract extension for Nelson.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Islanders, but it is reportedly worth $6 million per season according to The Athletic’s Arthur Staple.

The 27-year-old Nelson is coming off of a career-year that saw him score 25 goals (second best on the team) and finish with 53 total points (third on the team).

Originally a first-round pick (No. 30 overall) by the Islanders in 2010, Nelson’s career has been about as steady and consistent as a player can be. He has missed just 12 games since entering the NHL during the 2013-14 season (with 10 of those coming during his rookie season) and has been a lock for at least 20 goals and 40 points every season. You know he is going to be in the lineup and you know pretty much exactly what you are going to get from him offensively.

Is that level of production worth $6 million per year? It might be pushing it and it might be a slight overpay from a team standpoint, but the Islanders didn’t really have many other options here. If they had let Nelson walk they would have needed someone to replace him and there weren’t many (if any) realistic options on the free agent market that are going to outperform Nelson for a better price, and they only have five draft picks in their 2019 class to use as trade chips.

With Nelson’s contract now completed, the Islanders have 17 players under contract for the 2019-20 season at a total salary cap hit of $53.7 million. Assuming an $83 million salary cap that still leaves them with more than $29 million in cap space to fill out the remainder of their roster.

That should be more than enough to re-sign Lee, Eberle and Lehner if they choose, while also working out new deals for restricted free agents Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle.

Mathew Barzal, who has one-year remaining on his entry-level contract, will also be eligible to sign a new contract on July 1.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Backes ready to face former team in Stanley Cup Final

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The friendships that David Backes still has with members of the St. Louis Blues — three years after he left to sign with the Boston Bruins — will be on hold for the next few weeks as the 35-year-old forward seeks his first Stanley Cup title.

“It would have been fine to make the Final in different years and then you could have each had a shot at it, maybe, but now it’s all about what’s in this room,” Backes said. “One of my best friends [Alex Pietrangelo] is on that team, he’s the captain of their team. I told him I love him now, I’m going to love him afterwards, but I’m going to hate him for the next three weeks here. I think that’s a mutual decision.”

Backes has played with a number of current Blues players, so there is some familiarity, but as he said on Wednesday, he doesn’t necessarily own the “secret sauce” that will figure them out over the course of a seven-game series.

While most of the focus during the NHL conference finals was on the potential of Joe Thornton facing off against the team that drafted him in the Cup Final, the Backes vs. Blues storyline mostly flew under-the-radar, except in the veteran forward’s house. He tried not to think about the possibility, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off the television as the Western Conference Final played out.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Now that the matchup is set, it’s a simple situation.

“There’s going to be heightened emotions,” said Backes, who captained the Blues from 2011-2016. “It’s a binary decision now: It’s us or them. There’s no third party. No ties, none of that stuff. One of us is going to win the Cup. Either the St. Louis Blues or the Boston Bruins.”

After 10 seasons and 928 games in St. Louis, Backes signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins in free agency in 2016. But in those three seasons since his production and ice time have dwindled as he’s battled through injuries. This past season, he found himself a healthy scratch on multiple occasions and sought out a new role within Bruce Cassidy’s lineup.

Backes has sat for six games this postseason, but has played the entirety of the Bruins’ current seven-game winning streak. He’s scored twice, including the Game 6 goal that sealed their Round 2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, and added two assists over that stretch.

“Where he is at this stage of his career — and anybody’s, really — but particularly him who’s been through it, he doesn’t know when he’s going to get another kick at the cat here,” Cassidy said. “I think that’ll be the biggest motivating factor for him, get his name on the Stanley Cup.”

Backes will get that opportunity in the storyline-filled matchup.

“I didn’t make it [to the Cup Final] in my 10 years there or my first two years here, and my first opportunity in Year 13 in the league is their next opportunity after the ’70s,” he said.

“The stars have aligned for this to be one heck of an event. We’re just going to embrace it and throw what we have out there in every shift and every moment of every game. I love this group. I wouldn’t want to be in the Finals with any other group.”

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has the better special teams?

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

BOSTON BRUINS

On paper, this one is hardly a comparison at all.

The Bruins are setting the pace in these playoffs with a 34 percent success rate with the man-advantage, including a whopping 41.7 percent chance to score on the power play on the road.

In 17 postseason games, they have 17 power play goals, five more than the Blues in 12 fewer power-play opportunities. Brad Marchand leads the way with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) with the man-advantage. Patrice Bergeron has been an assassin with six power-play goals. David Pastrnak has seven points, including two goals.

On the kill, the Bruins are running at 86.3 percent, tops among the remaining two clubs and fourth overall. They’ve been shorthanded 51 times, second most this postseason behind the San Jose Sharks.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

This series could come down to how disciplined the Blues can play.

The best way to stop the best power play in the NHL is to not give it any fuel to spark a fire. The Blues have been shorthanded 41 times in the playoffs, which is a relatively low number given how far they’ve come. That will have extra significance given that their penalty kill is 11th among the 16 playoff teams at 78 percent.

On the power play, the Blues are operating at 19.4 percent, including just 9.7 percent on the road. That’s an ugly stat you don’t want to see when you’re beginning the Stanley Cup Final sans home-ice advantage.

Five of Vladimir Tarasenko‘s goals (and seven of his 13 points) have come on the power play, which leads the Blues. That’s something the Bruins will have to contend with.

Quirky stat: St. Louis has allowed three shorthanded goals against in these playoffs, most among the 16 playoff teams.

ADVANTAGE: Bruins. Is there even a doubt? Boston’s power play is as lethal as they come. Assuming it stays hot, Boston has the edge by a mile.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck