Mar 9, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (10) during the game against the Chicago Blackhawks at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Should The Buffalo Sabres Keep Christian Ehrhoff?

Should the Buffalo Sabres keep Christian Ehrhoff beyond this season as they continue their youth movement? At 31 years old, Ehrhoff is one of the few prime aged veterans left on the Buffalo Sabres roster who could fetch a decent return on the trade market, despite the gargantuan term left on his contract. The modest $4M cap hit shouldn’t be a problem for a contender to absorb, which could make a deal easier to work. Unfortunately all of that thinking is geared toward an idea that simply isn’t preferable for the Buffalo Sabres.

Much like we did with Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers earlier this season, we’re going to defend the idea of keeping #10 on the blue line. Christian Ehrhoff has been one of the rare bright spots on this team since his arrival. Not only is his cap figure one of the best deals in the league, but he’s the kind of player who embodies the skill and speed necessary to make plays and thrive in the NHL. Plus, he’s got an ear of steel. That’s not a player this team should ship out.

Mar 20, 2014; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (10) passes the puck against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period at Rexall Place. Buffalo Sabres won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to point to the plethora of veterans who have left in return for draft picks and prospects, then say the Sabres could add to that pile of future assets a little more by trading Ehrhoff to any number of teams that could use a solid puck moving defenseman with 15-20 goal potential. But those players all left Buffalo within a year of their contract’s expiration. There’s no such fear with Ehrhoff. He can’t leave for nothing and as long as he’s in Buffalo, he’ll honor his commitment and play what has been the consistently best blue line play in Buffalo since his arrival.

The easy stats and the deeper stats both reflect Ehrhoff’s tremendous value to this team, and more importantly as a player in the NHL in a growing generation that focuses more and more on skill and speed.

Ehrhoff leads all Buffalo defensemen in points and he’s fourth overall on the team. He also leads the team in assists and short handed points. Whatever that means. I feel like it’s good though, right? He’s a great passer which helps in the transition game — a key to short handed goals.

Dig deeper and Ehrhoff’s play pops out even more. He’s hovered between 7th and 15th among all NHL defenseman in Corsi Relative with a 12.1 rating — meaning that the difference between Buffalo with Ehrhoff on the ice and Buffalo without Ehrhoff on the ice is worth about 12 shots attempted per game. The next best Corsi Relative among Buffalo regulars is Tyler Ennis with a 5.6 rating. Imagine how much worse Buffalo’s league-low shot differential would be without Ehrhoff?

Christian Ehrhoff isn’t just the best player on this decrepit Sabres squad — he’s the best player by a long mile.  He would bring value to any roster in the NHL. Why part with that player when you can’t lose him for nothing like the team would have with Thomas Vanek or Ryan Miller when he’s not likely to regress for another four years?

At some point, the Sabres have to put their foot down and say they’re going to start getting better. They’ve done a pretty good job of getting worse from season to season and fans have been relatively patient, given the circumstances, with the understanding that the new management regime will find the kind of players they want, now that the team has accrued a boatload of assets. This allows GM Tim Murray to build this team the way he chooses. If league trends are an indication of Murray’s preference, then Ehrhoff fits that mold.

This article does a fantastic job of exploring the idea that players historically seen as ‘soft’ or ‘disinterested’ are usually the methodical, offensive minds that drive a team to better possession numbers. The whole piece is a great read, but in the case of Ehrhoff I’d direct you about a third of the way through when toughness is discussed. A player who can deliver a few big hits every game, but can’t pass beyond his own blue line isn’t nearly as valuable as a guy like Ehrhoff who can take two steps out from the front of his net and put the puck on a forward’s stick past the center line. That play is worth more than a big hit laid on a guy who already moved the puck up the ice.

The idea is to keep the puck out of your zone and keep the puck in their zone. Skilled players do that better than anyone else. It sounds so simple, but hockey media makes us feel like every player on every team has to be willing to sand their knuckles before a game if their coach asks of it, and really it’s players like #10 who often make the difference in tight playoff games and regular season games alike.

The goal of a hockey game isn’t to be the Toughest Dudes Out There; it’s to score more goals than the other guys. In making plays that lead to goals, Ehrhoff is miles ahead of any blue liner on Buffalo’s roster not named Tyler Myers.

Any young team building around 20 year old players needs veteran leadership. Having a guy who not only understands how to play the game the right way in 2014 is a valuable asset not only as a player, but as a leader. The Sabres will have a lot of young forwards coming up through the ranks in the next few years. There is no better safety cushion for a young forward than a fast blue liner with the skill to turn the play the other way.

Christian Ehrhoff signed in Buffalo for ten years because he believed he could finish his career here. Let him honor that and be a part of a turnaround that doesn’t have to take forever. If things change and the glut of defensive prospects turns into a glut of defensive NHL starters, then so be it. As long as Buffalo’s trading partner is willing to pay for the value at hand.

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