Should The Leafs Pursue Ehrhoff?

It’s not often that the solution to one of your key problems lands into your lap, and this morning, that very scenario just happened. The Buffalo Sabres have used one of their two compliance buyouts on defenceman and alternate captain Christian Ehrhoff, which means he will hit unrestricted free agency on Tuesday. But is he somebody the Leafs should pick up?

Yes, Yes, Also Yes

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Make no mistake, Ehrhoff is a case of a real deal defenceman who plays on an awful, awful team.

Offensively, he’s not an absolute juggernaut, but he gets the job done. Over the past three seasons, 109 players have played 2500 even strength minutes. Of those, Ehrhoff is 37th place in points per 60, with 0.79 (also notable, Cody Franson at 9, Tim Gleason at 95, Roman Polak at 99). He makes up for being just “quite good” on the powerplay however, something he particularly showed in Vancouver as their powerplay quarterback in 2009/10 and 2010/11 – years where he finished 9th and 8th in Norris voting.

His possession game is also better than his team implies. His 46% CF percentage this season looks sketchy, but the Sabres were such a hot mess this year that they made the Leafs almost look okay in that regard. In reality, he was 4.8% above the Sabres average, following 50.1 (+8.1) and 49.8 (+1.1) seasons. On top of this, the Sabres tend to score much more with him on the ice (+7.3 and +9.1 GF% rel in the past two years), despite him getting relatively average zone starts and having below average on-ice shooting percentages (6.7 and 7.5%, with league average being around 8.5).

The one possible area of skepticism is who he matches up against. Of 143 full time (62+ GP) defencemen this year, Ehrhoff was 72nd in Quality of Competition (based on ice time), making him the league median. He also ranked 101st in Quality of Teammates. Going further into those teammates, his most regular partner was Mark Pysyk, who split his season between Buffalo and Rochester. Not exactly the best situation to be in.

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Beyond the numbers, Ehrhoff is a smart defenceman on both sides of the ice. He’s capable of good positioning, can get physical when absolutely necessary, knows how to make a good first pass, and can help on the powerplay. He’s exactly what the Leafs need next to Dion Phaneuf for the next couple of years while Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly hit the second gear in their development.

If He’s So Good, Why Was He Bought Out?

Also known as the Mikhail Grabovski argument, a compliance buyout doesn’t necessarily mean that a player has no value. In Toronto’s case, a very obvious (and possibly coach driven) off year meant that Grabovski’s deal was not an easy one to move without getting salary back on short notice, and, whether you agree with it or not, the Leafs needed that money immediately to pursue Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson.

Ehrhoff is a similar situation, for different reasons. If the Buffalo Sabres wanted to, they could have easily picked up some assets for the 31 year old German. He’s put up solid numbers and was signed to a deal that paid him just $4 million per season for the next seven years, which for all intents and purposes is a filthy steal. But, with the new structure of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are penalties when a player with a long term, front loaded deal retires early, and they go to the team that initially signed him. For example, Vancouver is crossing their fingers that Roberto Luongo somehow stays in the NHL until days after his 43rd birthday.

The Sabres are very clearly in a long-term rebuilding phase, picking up draft picks like a psychotic child playing Be a GM mode in NHL 14, giving lots of ice time to youth, and unofficially beginning to tank for a chance at Connor McDavid. This means a couple of things: having a player like Ehrhoff is going to be counter-intuitive to being bad next season, and that this team is going to be loaded with young players needing new contracts in the next few years. As well, owner Terry Pegula is committed to running a cap ceiling team when he expects his club to win.

With all of this considered, the absolute worst case scenario for the Buffalo Sabres is to be put over the salary cap by a player who doesn’t play for anybody when they need they’re competing or close to competing for the Stanley Cup. Look at the mess the Boston Bruins are wading through right now with Jarome Iginla’s performance bonuses (a 4M+ cap penalty next year). Getting nothing for Ehrhoff sucks now, but its the safest option for Buffalo’s long-term success moving forward.

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Do The Leafs Go After Him?

I would hope so. Dave Nonis sounded pretty happy with his defence core after acquring Roman Polak yesterday, but there’s a stark difference between these two players. I wouldn’t even be against flipping Polak immediately to make some cap and roster room, if it came to that. Getting Tim Gleason off the books would probably be in Toronto’s favour as well, but that may be significantly harder, possibly even requiring a standard buyout.

As for Ehrhoff’s cost, I have to imagine he’ll be in the $5-5.5M range if you’re looking for a 2-4 year deal. He could go higher, but I have a feeling that some GM’s will feel there are other reasons behind the buyout and be scared of his -27 plus/minus (which I’d like to call a ‘Buffalo tax’). With no assets required to be given up, and the potential to still get him at market dollar value, this is the ideal target for a team that desperately needs a player like this. At that point, the focus can then shift entirely to the mythical number once centre.

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  • frazors

    I agree that the Leafs should go after him… But this is the Leafs. They are known for overpaying free agents but then again, we clearly can’t make good trades either *cough* Polak. Our D sucks, no question there. However I don’t think the Leafs will go after him unfortunately. I’d be all for him coming here, but I think they will pay too much even though it looks more and more likely we’ll spend another year up against the cap.

  • Back in Black

    Ehrhoff is an older version of Phaneuf, Ranger Gardiner, Reilley, Brennan and Franson. He’ll probably get a good deal somewhere else, from a team that is lacking in puck-moving/quarterback defensemen. This is one area in which the Leafs do not have ‘need’.

    Gleason and Polak were acquired to clear the crease, take the bodies and protect the kids – their role is that of shut-down defencemen. They may not be the greatest specimen but they should certainly not be judged on their point-production or possession numbers.

    What the team needs is a top-pairing shut-down defenceman to relieve the Captain of his shut-down duties and allow him to roam a little more, go for more of his trademark open-ice hits and score more goals.

    Ehrhoff in no way fits this description.

    • Benjamin

      ‘Take the bodies’, ‘protect the kids’, ‘not judged by possession numbers’. What decade is this?

      If the dollars and term are reasonably then yes please to Ehrhoff, double so if it forces them to buyout Gleason. Since when do the Leafs not ‘need’ quality defencemen?

      • Benjamin

        The year is 2014 and there are still 18 and 19 year olds in the NHL roaming around and trying to do it all alone, getting pushed around by bigger, older and stronger players, the goals are still scored in the crease area and all teams – including those great at shooting a lot of pucks at the net need the likes of Zdeno Chara and Brent Seabrook to win.

        • Benjamin

          Funny you should mention Zdeno Chara and Brent Seabrook because they both happen to have excellent possession numbers, Chara in particular.

          I’m not saying strength and size aren’t important, I’m saying skill is much more important.

    • Back in Black

      If a player cannot be played against the opposition’s top players, then he cannot be called a “shutdown” defenceman. Just because he sucks offensively does not make him valuable defensively.

      • Back in Black

        But the obverse is true too – just because a player gets a lot if shots on the net and can skate the puck out of the zone doesn’t mean he’s a good defenceman.

    • Back in Black

      The Leafs dont need a puck moving powerplay defenseman, they have too many
      cheaper/ younger/hungrier options already.

      As well the Leafs should be a little gun shy about signing expensive freeagents.
      Thank god we didn’t win the Brad Richards free agents
      sweepstakes a few years ago!

      If they go after a free agent I would like them to try to get Jarome Iginla. If he is really available this is a character guy who wants to win.
      Ehrhoff left a good team to cash the biggest paycheque possible when he signed in Buffalo.

  • CMpuck

    20 million for 33 points? He can’t really do anything in his own end. Franson can be had for what 2 million? Erhoff is the blueline version of Clarkson in terms of wasted money.

  • CMpuck

    All this bs about culture change and what? Gunnerson and maybe Reimer are getting moved this summer. Pretty weak even for MLSE. A backup goaltender switch and a new 5th defensive, standard practice once Nonis sign a terrible UFA contract (Christian Erhoff come on down), why did they even bother to fire JFJ?

    Trade Phaneuf if you want this fanbase’s attention back. At the very least set a company policy that forbids Mimico fraternization.

  • FlareKnight

    The problem is that everyone else is probably going after this guy. Even if the Leafs win out they’ll have to pay through the nose to get him.

    Honestly you have to let him go. We’ve picked our gap mess with Clarkson, can’t be fighting the majority of the league to go for Ehrhoff.

    If you could get him for a reasonable price maybe, but otherwise I don’t think it’s a smart move.

    • FlareKnight

      I have to agree with this. Most of the players the leafs drafted this year were canadian/ontario players and specifically the slow skating facepunching types.

      I gotta agree with the advanced stats folks here and say that Shanahan is an even worse leader then the potato and rotten randy

    • FlareKnight

      I have to agree with this. Most of the players the leafs drafted this year were canadian/ontario players and specifically the slow skating facepunching types.

      I gotta agree with the advanced stats folks here and say that Shanahan is an even worse leader then the potato and rotten randy

  • FlareKnight

    With the Sabres $20M under the cap floor, wonder if it will be possible to ship Gleason (and unlikely Clarskon) to Buffalo for a few picks?
    We can use that money to get Ehroff and/or re-sign our free agents

  • Back in Black

    This guy would be a great player to get, but he’s not worth the overpayment. And sure in a perfect world Jeffler he would sign for 4 years but in reality this guy will be going for 6 or more.

    I say sign Boyle for 2 years at a reasonable price. Then when the kids are ready to step up the contract will be off the books. Boyle may be a bit older but he can still play good hockey, and he’ll be and excellent mentor to younger players.

    I also don’t understand why people harp on Gleason constantly. The guy is an absolute warrior on the ice and the leafs have been trying to acquire a defender like this for a while (Scuderi). He may make a bit much but it’s a hell of a lot better than liles making 3.5 in the minors.

    • Benjamin

      Can’t speak for anyone else but I harp on Gleason because he makes $4M and struggles with 3rd pairing minutes against average competition. If there wasn’t a salary cap I wouldn’t care.

      • Benjamin

        Yes The one move I didn’t understand the Leafs made was to use a compliance buyout on Komeserik. Michael liles/ Gleason was a much better option for a buyout.

        I think the leafs will try to squeeze one more year out of Gleason or try to bury him in the Marlies
        to help some of their young players.

      • Benjamin

        So you’d rather have liles making 3.5 in the minors? Or perhaps you’d rather pay Gleason to play somewhere else? Or perhaps you would have rather kept Komi like the genius above me. Those seems like smarter answers ?

        No. The guy should makes around 1 mil more than he should, moral of the story: Stop whining.

        • Benjamin

          Here’s what seems like a smart answer: Gleason’s no more than a replaceable 3rd pairing defencemen by any objective standard (TOI, quality of competition, points, etc.). Unless you think 3rd pairing defencemen should be making ~$3M, no he doesn’t make around $1M more than he should. I’d rather he be bought out so we can spend over $3M on a better defenceman.

          I like the ‘way’ Gleason plays the game as much as anyone, I just wish he had some hockey skill to go with it. We live in a salary cap world and paying guys $4M for something a Marlie could do doesn’t make sense.

          • STAN

            So your answer is no solution at all. Gleas played on the US olympic team which might denote some skill, but I’m sure your expert opinion trumps that.

            He’s excellent at intelligently breaking out of the zone and has stellar defensive play, but due to the lack of objective stats to measure that…. those points must be moot.

            Not every contract is going to be a steal. This is best-case scenario, better then having lilies buried and sure as heck better than paying him to play for someone else PLUS paying another (likely crappier) player to take his spot.

        • STAN

          Komiserik only had one year left on his contract
          and a normal buyout would of been the better option
          for him. At the time Liles had 3 years left on his contract and if they had used the compliance buyout on him -there would be no Gleason no -just capspace.

          The Leafs have no shortage of money “Genius”
          -just a shortage of capspace.

          and sending a veteran NHL defenseman to the marlies
          has a real value in developing our developing players.

          • STAN

            No ones saying the Leafs have a shortage of money buddy, Komi had two years left on his contract, not one.

            Maybe you’d like to explain to me how they could have managed to pull off your amazing plan yet stayed under the cap last year? Oh right, you couldn’t.

            But yeah paying a guy 3.5 mil a year to play in the minors isn’t a waste at all.

            Do me a favour, wear a helmet on the way to work today. Wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself

          • Benjamin

            Your wrong and I think it’s too late for you to wear a helmet your memory is already gone.I think you should check your facts before you start insulting people,

            The buyout will save the Maple Leafs $4.5 million by removing the final season of his five-year deal from their salary cap.

            Anyway the point is mute as the leafs just bought out Gleason but if they had bought out Liles instead of Komeserik at the time the Leafs now would not have to pay for the next 4 seasons
            (which was my original valid point)

            Gleason, who has $4 million left in each of the next two seasons will be a non-compliance buyout that will affect the Leafs’ salary cap over the next four seasons.

            They could of just used a normal buyout on Komisarek originally and there cap for that year
            would have been identical to what it ended up being.

            Sorry for making a comment that had some complexity
            to it ….obviously you got angry because what I said was over your head.

  • Benjamin

    If you’d care to read my comment my solution is buying him out and putting that $3+M to a better defencemen.

    Yeah he was an Olympian, around the time Carlyle last won a cup. Unfortunately for Gleason we’re talking about today, not 6 years ago.

    If he plays the game the ‘right way’, is intelligent breaking out of the zone and ‘has stellar defensive play’, then why is he the least used regular defenceman on one of the most defensively inept teams in the league? Not to mention this is under a coach that should probably love him more than any of us.

    I don’t understand what you’re arguing. Present an argument that he’s more than a middling third pairing defender making much more than he should and I’ll reconsider.

    • STAN

      I agree that he’s making more than he should, I’ve said that. More or less what I’m saying is buying him out would be idiotic, paying another player to NOT play is the last thing the leafs should be doing.

      He’s useful, bottom line. So shut the f*ck up and stop whining, because that 3 mil would be used to pay him, not another better defenseman.

      Guarantee if they did buy him out, next season you’d be saying “Can’t believe we still have the cap hit of Gleason, stupid nonis stupid gm stupid management wah wah wah”

      • Benjamin

        Buy out Gleason and it costs you less than $1M against the cap next year (go to CapGeek if you don’t believe me). He’s not useful by any eye test or measurement I’ve seen or that you’ve presented and I don’t think its crazy to think you can get a better defenceman for $3+M.

        No one’s whining here except you kid, just because people aren’t agreeing with your opinion.

        • STAN

          Here’s my attempt at ending this redundant conversation.

          If you can’t see the use of Gleason then I consider you idiotic, clearly we’re not going to see eye-to-eye.

          Keep calm and whine on old man

          • Benjamin

            Like I’ve said I see the use of Gleason and its as a so-so 3rd pairing defender.

            But if you can’t see the fact that the NHL has a salary cap, or if you value Gleason’s contributions as more than the $3+M you’d save by buying him out, then I’ll agree we aren’t going to see eye-to-eye.

            Maybe don’t reply to comments if you don’t want to have a discussion, it just seems to upset you.

          • Benjamin

            The NHL has a salary cap? Woah! Did you figure that one out all by yourself ?

            You are right though, people who I consider stupid do upset me. Which is wrong I suppose.

            You’ve taught me acceptance Ben, and for that I thank you

          • Benjamin

            It’s not that Gleason has no use, it is that there is no place for someone like Gleason on a contender in the playoffs. It is a game based on skill and I’m sorry but Gleason just isn’t cutting it in that regard.