Newly signed Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was expecting an eventful summer, but he never saw this coming.
After a contract buyout by the Buffalo Sabres that unexpectedly thrust him into the free-agent market, Ehrhoff is excited by the chance to revive his career with a Pittsburgh team going through several changes of its own.
Ehrhoff was at his offseason home in Germany when he received a phone call Sunday from his agent, Rick Curran. It was almost 7 a.m. ET when Curran called, so Ehrhoff knew it must have been important.
"My initial thought was I might have been traded," Ehrhoff said Wednesday. "It was different news."
Curran was calling to inform Ehrhoff that the Sabres had used the second of their two compliance buyouts on him, relieving them of the seven seasons remaining on the 10-year, $40 million contract he signed with Buffalo in 2011. Two days before the official start of the free-agency period, Ehrhoff was on the market.
When it came time to gauge the offers for his services, Ehrhoff acted quickly to accept the one-year contract with Pittsburgh.
"I had a few other [offers] I was thinking about but when Pittsburgh came up it was really my preference," Ehrhoff said. "Obviously the new rules in the CBA, with the penalty you would receive if a player retires early on in his contract, scared off Buffalo and they just decided to make the contract go away. It was definitely a huge surprise for me. After the very disappointing last season, I'm happy with the new start."
After going within days from Buffalo's rebuild to the buyout to Pittsburgh hoping to contend for a title, the whirlwind is just beginning for Ehrhoff. He has to make arrangements to sell his home in Buffalo and find a place to live in Pittsburgh before training camp begins in September. He's also joining a team in transition.
The Penguins have undergone a major organizational facelift since losing to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Second Round. It began with the firing of general manager Ray Shero, who was replaced by Jim Rutherford on June 6. One of Rutherford's first acts as GM was to fire coach Dan Bylsma; after a search that lasted almost three weeks, Mike Johnston was named as Bylsma's replacement.
Further complicating things were the exits of three key contributors, forward Jussi Jokinen and defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, who each signed elsewhere Tuesday. As the major name on a busy first day of free agency for the Penguins, Ehrhoff wants to be a part of the new plan in Pittsburgh.
"It's obviously a fresh start for everybody; new GM, new coach, a few new faces on the roster, so I'm sure everybody is going to be pretty excited about a fresh start," Ehrhoff said. "When you have [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin on the team, it's pretty obvious that you have two of the top players in the game. The supporting cast I think is very good too. I think all around we have a good lineup. Pittsburgh is always one of the names that is mentioned when you talk about teams that have a chance to win the Cup. That's why I signed here."
There will be some familiar faces with the Penguins, who re-signed Ehrhoff's former teammate, forward Marcel Goc, and another German player, goaltender Thomas Greiss. All three came up through the San Jose Sharks organization and have played together in international competition. Ehrhoff and Goc started their careers together with the Sharks and have represented Germany together in two Olympic tournaments, five World Championships and the 2004 World Cup.
"It definitely helps when you know somebody on the team," Ehrhoff said. "On the other side, it wasn't a selling point for me that another German was going to be on the team. It's definitely nice to have him there though."
That familiarity with his countrymen could help ease the transition. Ehrhoff wasn't expecting his career to shift so drastically in a matter of days. But after enjoying great success in San Jose and with the Vancouver Canucks before enduring three disappointing non-playoff seasons in Buffalo, he'll gladly accept the chance to prove himself on a championship-caliber team.
"I can play in every situation. I don't really see myself as just a power play specialist," Ehrhoff said. "We'll see how it plays out with the minutes, but I'm just excited to be on a contender. I'll work really hard for my minutes and will try to earn them."