When Christian Ehrhoff’s agent called him very early on Sunday morning – around 6:45 a.m. EST – the defenseman knew something was up.
He was calling to inform Ehrhoff, where it was about 1 o'clock in the afternoon back home in his native Germany, that the Buffalo Sabres were buying out the remaining seven seasons of his 10-year, $40 million deal in order to avoid future cap retribution penalties, which meant he was unexpectedly becoming a free agent in two days – and arguably the most coveted defenseman on the market.
However, it was over almost as quickly as it started. Just minutes after free agency officially began at noon on Tuesday, Ehrhoff finalized a one-year, $4-million deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s been really crazy starting Sunday with the news when my agent called me (about) Buffalo buying me out,” Ehrhoff said. “Then going through the quick preparation for free agency. Then within minutes of the opening of free agency getting the deal done with Pittsburgh. It’s been pretty crazy. I’m sure there will be a few more crazy hours with organizing, everything from the move, selling the house, and finding a new place to live before camp starts in September.”
This deal was an incredibly shrewd one for Pittsburgh, especially considering that a defenseman of Ehrhoff’s status could have signed anywhere he wanted for a longer term and more money – which the Penguins wouldn’t have had room for with their current cap situation. But Ehrhoff’s biggest priority was a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, and that’s exactly what he’ll get in Pittsburgh. So the Penguins got their guy.
“The main reason for accepting a one-year deal was that I thought Pittsburgh was the best fit for me, the best chance at a shot at the Stanley Cup,” Ehrhoff explained. “With the salary cap issues Pittsburgh has for this year it was not possible to get a higher number. That was their best offer for me. I decided to go with it. For me it keeps the option open later to either re-sign when it works out well. Then we’ll see what happens. The term wasn’t the biggest point for me going into free agency.”
The biggest point for Ehrhoff was going to a contender. The 11-year NHL veteran has yet to win the Stanley Cup and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2011, when he went to the Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Vancouver Canucks. He believes he’ll have a chance to get back there – and win – with the Penguins.
“When you have (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin on the team it’s obvious you have two of the top players in the game, especially at the center position,” Ehrhoff said. “It’s huge to have two guys like that in the lineup. The supporting cast is very good, too. To me the defense still looks good. All around we have a good lineup. Pittsburgh is 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.”
Ehrhoff should be a tremendous fit playing alongside guys like Crosby and Malkin, and certainly helps Pittsburgh’s chances of winning the Cup with the caliber of player he is.
Ehrhoff is a top-four, big-minute offensive defenseman who’s an excellent skater, has tremendous puck-moving ability and a heavy shot. He’s also a veteran presence that helps fill the void left by the departures of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to Washington.
“Ehrhoff is a player that can play in all situations,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. “He can play a lot of minutes; 23-24 minutes a game. He can play right or left defense, power play, penalty kill. He’s in great shape, he’s a great team guy and he can really skate. With the kind of team we have, the up-tempo game, having a guy back there that can skate with the puck is important.”
Ehrhoff has yet to speak with Penguins head coach Mike Johnston, but believes he’ll thrive within his system which emphasizes puck possession, puck management, tempo and pace.
“For me definitely a puck-possession game is huge,” Ehrhoff said. “I’m a player that likes to move the puck, get the puck to the forwards quick and try to be involved in the offense, too. It definitely would fit my style of play.”
Ehrhoff joins a blue line that already has a pair of gifted puck-moving defensemen in Paul Martin and Kris Letang. But Ehrhoff isn’t concerned about competing with them for minutes in certain situations, particularly the power play. He’s more concerned about doing whatever it takes to reach his ultimate goal.
“The coaches will figure it out,” Ehrhoff said. “I see myself as an all-around defenseman. The last four, five years I’ve played a lot of minutes on good teamsin San Jose and Vancouver in every situation. … We’ll see how it plays out with the minutes. I’m just excited to be on a contender. I will work really hard for my minutes and try to earn them.”