BUFFALO, N.Y. – Once defenceman Christian Ehrhoff put his round of golf on hold to hear what the Buffalo Sabres had to offer, general manager Darcy Regier was confident he had a shot of signing the player before the start of the NHL’s free agency period.
The Sabres’ gamble to acquire and then sign Ehrhoff in under two days paid off Thursday after the seven-year veteran signed a 10-year, US$40 million contract, which will pay him $10 million this season. The terms of the deal were confirmed by two people familiar with the contract, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because those details were not released by the Sabres.
The deal was struck a day before Ehrhoff was eligible to become a free agent. And it came a day after the Sabres gave up a fourth-round draft pick to acquire his rights from the New York Islanders.
And it didn’t matter to Regier that Ehrhoff had turned down an offer from the Islanders a day earlier after New York acquired him form Vancouver.
“As you know, it’s uncharacteristic for us to give up a fourth-round pick,” Regier said. “We just felt very strongly that if we could get to the player early that we would have the opportunity to sign him.”
That happened during a long-distance phone call with Ehrhoff, who was playing a round of golf in his native Germany.
“We offered to talk to him after,” Regier said. “But he wanted to stop and talk about it there.”
Ehrhoff then did his part by consulting with NHL players—including fellow German and Sabres forward Jochen Hecht—to get a feel for Buffalo and the Sabres under new owner Terry Pegula.
“I was very impressed,” Ehrhoff said, in a statement released by the team. “My goal is to win the Stanley Cup. And after the offer I received from Buffalo, I believe this is the best place to make it happen.”
Ehrhoff, who turns 29 next month, will receive $8 million in his second season followed by four years at $4 million, according to a person familiar with the deal. He’s due $3 million in 2017-18, with the contract owing him $1 million in each of his final three seasons.
Regier said the length of Ehrhoff’s contract was a necessity to relieve the cap hit, which averages out to $4 million.
Ehrhoff’s signing is the second major move the Sabres have completed in less than a week, and another sign of the influence Pegula has since purchasing the team in February. The Pennsylvania billionaire has made it no secret of his intention to transform the Sabres into a cup contender after they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs each of the past two years.
The Sabres began retooling last weekend, when they acquired defenceman Robyn Regehr and forward Ales Kotalik in a trade with Calgary.
Ehrhoff acknowledged he was aware of an impressed by Regehr’s decision to drop his no-trade clause to allow the trade to happen.
Ehrhoff made $3.4 million in the final year of his contract last year. He’s a puck-moving blue-liner who fits the Sabres’ system.
Ehrhoff 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 while hampered with a nagging shoulder injury.
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.
Regier said his top off-season priority was to add depth and experience to his young group of defencemen, that’s headed by 2010 rookie of the year Tyler Myers. Regehr provides the unit grit, leadership and a physical presence, while Ehrhoff adds speed and offence.
And Regier says the Sabres aren’t done yet. With the green light from Pegula to spend to the $64.3 million salary cap, he’s now turning his attention to address holes at forward, including the need to land a top-line forward.
Centre Brad Richards is regarded as this summer’s highest profile candidate.
The Sabres are projected to have about $5 million left under the cap to start the season, and Regier hasn’t ruled out shaking up his roster further—through trades or potentially buyouts—to free up additional room.
Ehrhoff’s deal was completed on the day Regehr visited Buffalo for the first time since being traded.
Regehr said he “made the right decision” to drop his no-trade clause and credited Pegula for the hands-on approach he took during trade talks.
Pegula contacted Regehr several times to sell the player on the Sabres. And Pegula then flew to Regehr’s home in northern Saskatchewan shortly after the trade was completed.
“We heard on the phone how committed Terry, Darcy and Lindy (Ruff) are to the Sabres,” Regehr said. “And I think this just goes to show you that they’re willing to back it up with actions as well.”