TSN’s Bob McKenzie is reporting that defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has agreed to a 10 year, $40 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres. Ehrhoff was set to become an unrestricted free agent if he was not signed by noon tomorrow. The Sabres acquired Ehrhoff’s rights yesterday for a 4th round draft pick. McKenzie has verified and confirmed the 10 year deal. He breaks it down as follows: Year 1: $8M signing bonus, $2M salary; Year 2: $5M SB, $3M sal. That’s $18M in 1st 2 yrs, or $15M before puck drops on 12-13 season. Year 3: $4M; Year 4: $4M, Year 5: $4M; Year 6: $4M; Year 7: $3M; Year 8; $1M; Year 9: $1M, Year 10: $1M. Modified NTC. Cap hit=$4M/yr.
It looks as though the days of the meek and mild Buffalo Sabres are over. No longer a franchise that doesn’t rock the boat, and skims along as safely as possible, Buffalo made a big splash with the trade acquisition of Robyn Regehr this past weekend.
Regehr gives the Sabres just the kind of shut-down defenseman they have been sorely lacking. His addition is huge for Buffalo and it will show once the season starts. Regehr will quickly become a fan favorite. Buffalo GM Darcy Regier found his bag of “Jedi Mind Tricks” and performed one on Calgary.
The Sabres are now talking about acquiring another veteran defenseman, either through free agency or a trade. Buffalo would have at least three strong components on the blue line with Tyler Myers, Regehr and a possible near-future acquisition. Ryan Miller should be sleeping easier.
Fireworks should be going off on Friday when free agency begins. The Sabres are looking to sign a big name scoring center, which is a surprise to no one. Do they believe that Brad Richards would be a good fit? Will they go in a different direction? Would they possibly make a trade to bring in a first-line center? At the very least, it looks like the Sabres will not be on the sidelines come July 1st.
Buffalo’s draft this past weekend looks quite strong as of now. Things can certainly change over the next 3-4 years but I like a lot of the players they picked. Maybe Joel Armia pans out as a legit scoring threat as a first-line right wing down the road. The Sabres took a couple of promising centers (Dan Catenacci and Colin Jacobs) that were projected to go earlier than where they were selected. I like that they took some chances on players like goalie Nathan Lieuwen in the sixth round and Wisconsin high school center Brad Navin in the seventh round. Both players are a bit on the “boom or bust” side of things, but why not take some chances like that in the later rounds?
The Sabres re-stocked their cabinet for centers with Catenacci, Jacobs and Navin joining Kevin Sundher, Steve Shipley and “sometimes center” Luke Adam. Wouldn’t hurt to add a couple more centers in the 2012 draft.
The Sabres now look to be lacking mostly at left wing among the minor pros and juniors. Marcus Foligno, Jacob Lagace, Riley Boychuk and Cedric Henley make up the LW group. There needs to be an influx of youngsters at that position over the next couple of years.
Buffalo has a strong grouping of prospects. Jhonas Enroth heads up the goaltending part of things… Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb, Drew Schiestel, T.J. Brennan and Jerome-Gauthier Leduc highlight the blue liners… Armia, Zack Kassian, Adam, Foligno, Catenacci, Sundher, Jacobs and Corey Tropp head up the forwards. It may not be as talent-rich as some other clubs, but it’s a grouping that has to rank in the top half of the league.
The Buffalo Sabres have announced they will hold a press conference on Wednesday June 29th to announce their affiliation with the Rochester Amerks, a team the Sabres purchased recently.
Sabres’ GM Darcy Regier once again stated he is talking to Tim Connolly’s agent. Regier also said he’s going to talk to Cody McCormick’s agent.
The Sabres have qualified all their restricted free agents with the exception of Felix Schutz who will remain in Germany. Nate Gerbe, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber have arbitration rights. Players have until July 5th to declare player elected arbitration.
The Sabres will open negotiations with Tyler Myers about a contract extension next month.
Regier said yesterday the Sabres will talk to Mike Grier about his future with the team after the initial wave of free agent signings is complete.
This weekend, and again this morning, Darcy Regier stated that he had spoken to Tim Connolly’s agent about the possibility of re-signing Connolly. Regier’s obsession with Connolly reached the unhealthy state years ago but the thought of bringing Connolly back is far more puzzling this summer when Regier would appear to have his pick of players thanks to new owner Terry Pegula. Of course Pegula has stated that Connolly is one of his favorite players which could mean Connolly is back no matter what, we’ve already seen in the Pegula era, if Pegula wants something, he gets it.
Still, the prospect of Connolly coming back to the Sabres at any contract amount and in any role cuts across the grain a new era dedicated to winning multiple Stanley Cups. Last season Connolly scored 13 goals, 29 assists and was a -10. Not good numbers for a team’s number one, number two or even number three center (Gaustad had 12 goals, 19 assists and was +7). Connolly went through his usual seasonal streaks and slumps, in the playoffs he failed to score a goal and notched just two assists. The Sabres struggled with the Flyers’ ECHL level goaltending and eventually allowed a 3-2 series lead to evaporate in game six and didn’t show up in an embarrassing game seven. The saving grace for Connolly in that series was his penalty killing, which even his sharpest critics can’t deny, was impressive. Connolly’s strength has always his play making but his shifty skills have eroded over time and the long list of injuries he has endured appears to have caught up to him to some degree.
There’s no real hockey reason to bring Connolly back at any price. As a role player Connolly is greatly lacking, especially compared to other centers that are available this summer. If money is no object and the Sabres truly want to improve the roster, why isn’t Brooks Laich the prime target for the Sabres’ top paid role player? Laich is still in the prime of his career and while his price tag this summer will probably be higher than the $2.066 million he earned last season with the Capitals, the Sabres have the cap room to sign him. If more cap space is needed the Sabres have a glut of fairly high paid wingers, moving one or two of them could easily clear space for a top center, still the team’s most dire need.
The hockey case for the versatile Laich is easy to make. Laich is a leader on and off the ice. He’s a solid two way player known for his shot blocking, penalty killing and decent offensive skills (he can even play the point on the power play). Offensively Laich’s numbers have risen to essentially equal Connolly’s numbers. Last season Laich played in 82 games, scored 16 goals, 32 assists and was a +14. Connolly played in 68 games, scored 13 goals and 29 assists as was a -10. In 36 career playoff games Connolly scored 5 goals and 18 assists, Laich played in 37 games and scored 7 goals and 16 assists.
The Hockey News named Laich one of the NHL’s “elite” role players. Caps’ assistant coach Dean Evason praised Laich’s intelligence. “He won’t make any system mistakes – like nothing. If you ask him ‘Forecheck this way’ or ‘Do this in the neutral zone’ or ‘Here’s what we do on the power play’ or ‘This is how we want to forecheck on the penalty kill’ he does exactly what you ask him to do. And he does it to the fullest of his ability. He trains hard. He’s the perfect hockey player in the sense that he plays both sides of the puck. He’s so good defensively. He’s so aware. And yet he has the speed and the offensive ability to create offense and score goals.”
Laich has earned the respect of coaches and players around the NHL. In terms of hockey decisions, Laich over Connolly is as close to a no-brainer as there gets in the NHL. But can the Sabres finally sever ties with Connolly, a player who has underachieved most of his career? Saying goodbye to a long time employee is a hard thing to do in any business but it would be for the best to say goodbye to Connolly. Connolly represents more of the same, Laich would represent a huge step toward hockey heaven and the Stanley Cup.
McNally, Brian. “How Much is Caps UFA Brooks Laich Worth”. The Washington Examiner. May 27, 2011. <http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/loose-pucks/2011/05/how-much-caps-ufa-brooks-laich-worth>.
The Buffalo Sabres selected goalie Nathan Lieuwen with the 167th pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The deeply religious Lieuwen is a big goalie, listed at 6’5″ and 192 pounds. Former winner of the WHL playoff MVP award. He has suffered with concussions, two on the ice, one from an off ice roll over accident in 2007.