BUFFALO, N.Y. – Defenceman Christian Ehrhoff has a big surprise waiting for him when he wakes up at his home in Germany. Ehrhoff will learn he’s with his third team in two days after the Buffalo Sabres acquired the free agent-to-be’s rights Wednesday.
“He’s fast asleep. He doesn’t know,” Ehrhoff’s agent, Richard Curran, told The Associated Press. And that leaves Ehrhoff and the Sabres about 36 hours to negotiate a deal before the NHL’s free agency period opens Friday afternoon.
In the latest bold move made under new owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres acquired the rights to the veteran defenceman from the New York Islanders for a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft. The move was made a day after the Islanders gave up a fourth-round pick to acquire Ehrhoff’s rights from Vancouver.
While the Islanders were unable to entice Ehrhoff with a contract, the Sabres are gambling they can get a deal done with Pegula now in control. Since purchasing the Sabres in February, the Pennsylvania billionaire has made it no secret he is intent on opening his deep pocketbook—and ready to spend to the newly established US$64.3 million salary cap—to build a winner.
The Sabres announced the trade, but otherwise declined comment.
Later Wednesday, the Sabres traded negotiating rights to defenceman Steve Montador to the Chicago Blackhawks for a seventh-round pick in 2012 or 2013.
Curran said it’s too early determine what Ehrhoff’s reaction will be to the deal.
Curran was left impressed. The agent said he’s very familiar with Pegula and encouraged by the Sabres’ aggressive approach.
“You have to be encouraged,” Curran said. “But it’s still up to management to present itself to Christian. Ultimately, it’s not my decision. It’s Christian who will have to make the final decision.”
Curran said he’s informed the Sabres that he will first have a discussion with his client on Thursday morning. After that, the Sabres will have an opportunity to speak to Ehrhoff to make their case.
Ehrhoff, a seven-year NHL veteran, had 14 goals, 36 assists and a plus-19 rating in 79 games for Vancouver last season. He had two goals and 10 assists in the Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup finals, but was a minus-13.
Overall, the 28-year-old has 53 goals, 173 assists and 338 penalty minutes in 500 regular-season games with San Jose and Vancouver. He has seven goals and 27 assists in 73 playoff games.
Ehrhoff became eligible for free agency after completing his contract, which paid him about $3.4 million last season.
The Sabres were preparing to enter free agency with an eye on landing both a defenceman and forward to improve a Ryan Miller-led team that’s been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
On Monday, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said he has the green light to spend to the cap, while acknowledging this year’s free agent crop of elite players is small as compared to previous summers.
The Sabres already began adding to their lineup at the NHL draft last weekend, when they swung a deal to acquire veteran defenceman Robyn Regehr and forward Ales Kotalik in a trade with Calgary.
Earlier Wednesday, Pegula emphasized his desire to improve his team.
“I think we’re going to be reasonably aggressive. We’ll be right in there with, I think, most other teams,” Pegula said following a news conference in which he was introduced as the new owner of the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans.
Pegula even hinted that the Sabres have been well prepared for the start of free agency.
“Well, free agency started a long time ago for us,” Pegula said. “We’ve been working real hard. Obviously, I can’t come up with any names of players. But we’re going to do our best.”
Montador had five goals, 21 assists and 83 penalty minutes in 73 games last season for Buffalo. He has 28 goals, 89 assists and 762 penalty minutes in 519 games with Calgary, Florida, Anaheim, Boston and Buffalo.