UPDATED Sabres free agency assessment

Christian Ehrhoff

The Sabres made two more moves on Wednesday night, acquiring the rights to defenseman Christian Ehrhoff from the Islanders and sending the rights to Steve Montador to the Blackhawks.

The Islanders had received Ehrhoff’s rights from Vancouver earlier in the week, but when the team could not come to terms with the 28-year-old, they unloaded him while they could still get something in return; Ehrhoff will become an unrestricted free agent on Friday.

Here’s what the Sabres contract situation looks like now:

Islanders’ GM Garth Snow would not give exact figures for what the team offered Ehrhoff during an interview Wednesday evening, but reportedly said the offer was “well north” of the deal Ehrhoff’s former teammate, Kevin Bieksa, resigned for in Vancouver — 5 years, $23 million ($4.6 mil/year).

Bieksa and his agent cost themselves a few million dollars by resigning now and not waiting until the free agency period opened up, which is important to note because anyone who watched the Stanley Cup finals would think Bieksa would sign the bigger deal. Ehrhoff is regarded as a good defenseman who contributes on offense, but had a lousy finish to the postseason (minus-7 in the finals against Boston).

Ehrhoff’s deal, assuming Buffalo can sign him before Friday when free agency opens, will likely be worth more than the $4.02 million Robyn Regehr will make next season. Ehrhoff would be the fifth defenseman signed to contract, with Andrej Sekera, Marc-Andre Gragnanni and Mike Weber being the remaining unsigned d-men (all RFAs). The Sabres still need to do something with Shaone Morrisonn, but I don’t expect to see any more additions to the blue line.

Nathan Gerbe can barely see over the boards, but man the kid can play. He hits, too!

Buffalo finalized a deal with Nathan Gerbe this week, which is reported to be worth $4.3 million over three years. This was an expected resigning, and he deserved a raise from his previous $850,000 contract.

His new deal makes our third line very expensive, more expensive than our second line would be even if Derek Roy was put on it. It’s funny how it works out like that but isn’t that big of a deal when you consider the second line is thrown off by Tyler Ennis’ entry-level deal and the fact that we had no say in Brad Boyes’ contract and the possibility Jochen Hecht could be moved to the fourth line, or worse.

The Sabres will likely make at least one more move to bring in a forward, but the blockbuster-ness of the move remains to be seen. Everyone in town is forming an opinion on Brad Richards, and this is where my fandom and objectivity collide. Richards is the best free agent that will be on the market this year but also the most expensive. The Sabres have a shot at signing him but would likely have to offer him much more than his performance is worth (cap hit last season was $7.8 million).

As a fan, I couldn’t care less how much he costs. Spend to the cap every year, Terry! Get me the biggest and best names out there and don’t come back until our lineup is stacked.

The problem is the shortsightedness of doing so. I’m worried about this with Ehrhoff but even more so with Richards. This league has a salary cap, and signing players to long deals for way more than they’re worth cripples the team’s future options (it also wastes money, but when your owner is a billionaire that tends not to matter as much).

Terry Pegula obviously wants to put his mark on this franchise from head to toe, but with new owners and/or general managers often comes gross overspending that, several years down the road, gets teams back into the same straits that caused the personnel change in the first place.

The key is to sign players like Gerbe, who even at $1.4 million will still likely over-perform his contract. Brad Richards probably would do well here, as will Christian Ehroff, but they’d have to have career years to live up to the contracts they are likely to get.

Any rich guy can buy players who are good relative to other players. It takes someone special to negotiate for players who are good relative to their deals. There’s no doubting Pegula will never stop loving this team, but we’ll soon see what type of owner he’s going to be.

Other thoughts:

  • If the Sabres don’t make a big move this offseason, don’t sweat it. Have you seen the list of forwards who will be UFAs next year? Very nice.
  • Ehrhoff has been a very good defenseman before, but another guy I would have liked to see us go after was James Wisniewski, who had his rights sent from Montreal to Columbus Wednesday. He, too, looks to enter some of his best years at age 27 but would be a cheaper option than Ehrhoff.
  • What happens if the Sabres can’t sign Ehrhoff by Friday? He becomes an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any team in the league, including Buffalo.
  • Tyler Myers: lock him up NOW.
  • Still kind of hoping for T.J. Oshie. He dangles and he bangs. Sign him up. However…  Guess I’m updating my update… report out of St. Louis is Oshie has signed a one-year deal to stay with the Blues. Maybe next year, huh?
  • Looking for a good omen for the potential Brad Richards-to-Buffalo move? The forward has 716 career points, the area code for Buffalo and Western New York.
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