Sunday morning hockey Twitter is abuzz with reports that the Buffalo Sabres intend to buy out the contract of their very best defenseman, Christian Ehrhoff. The 31-year old German-born blueliner was signed to a 10-year $40M contract by the Sabres in Terry Pegula's first offseason as the new owner of the club. The former Shark and Canuck has played well in Buffalo, but he's not good enough to have solved every single problem which has plagued a bad Sabres team.
Now, on the cusp of the end of compliance buyouts and with $22M of Ehrhoff's $40M already paid to him thanks to a severely backdiving contract, Buffalo is faced with the the idea that an early retirement will give the team a salary cap recapture penalty during years that they should reasonably expect their rebuild will be starting to pay off.
Ehrhoff has a NMC on his contract, so it will be his option as to whether he wants to go through waivers first or whether to accept the buyout immediately and become a UFA, eligible to sign with anybody but Buffalo on July 1st. Waiver order will be the same as draft order, so if he chooses that route, it's likely the Wings don't get a claim on him, but I don't think that's a concern. Although GMs have previously been a bit shy about paying big dollars to a recently bought-out player, Ehrhoff joins a thin UFA defenseman market. He's likely to make more money being able to negotiate as a UFA than he'd be able to make going forward with his current deal being paid by a new club. It simply doesn't make sense for Ehrhoff to choose waivers when he holds so much sway as a free agent instead.
[Update: just about two minutes after publishing]
BUF's buyout of defenceman Christian Ehrhoff has been finalized. He's UFA.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 29, 2014
The only thing on the Red Wings' defensive wish-list that Ehrhoff doesn't check off is that he's not a right-shooting defenseman. Honestly with Ryan Sproul and Alexey Marchenko both as right-shooting defensemen who should get playing time this year, I'm less concerned. Adding Ehrhoff means that teams will continue their strategy of trying to clear up the right-side boards where the Wings are attacking to force that defenseman to keep the puck in the zone on his backhand, but when you have REALLY GOOD left-shooting defensemen, it's somewhat less of a challenge.
I think the Wings should go after Ehrhoff. In fact, I think they should have him at the very top of their list, even above Matt Niskanen. However, another top-tier defenseman in the list of UFAs should help control prices a little bit. Even if they don't land Ehrhoff, his presence on the market should make it easier for them to land somebody at a better price than that player might otherwise command.
What do you think?