Ask Christian Ehrhoff about the high expectations, ask Sabres general manager Darcy Regier about his new $40 million defenseman, and both will give similar answers. Ehrhoff is part of an ensemble cast. Hopefully, the German can just fit in and produce like he did in Vancouver.
“You have to deal with those expectations, with that pressure,” Ehrhoff said Wednesday inside the HSBC Arena Harbor Club, his first meeting with the Buffalo media since he signed an eye-popping 10-year contract June 30. “I played in Vancouver before. It’s a very pressure-filled city. So far, I’ve dealt with that pretty good.”
True, although Ehrhoff never earned more than $3.4 million during his two seasons with the Canucks. The 29-year-old will make a whopping $10 million in 2011-12, the NHL’s second-highest salary behind center Brad Richards’ $12 million.
Forget Ehrhoff only has a $4 million salary cap hit. If he slips a little, if he can’t at least duplicate the 15 goals, 47 points or plus-28 rating he averaged the past two seasons, Sabres fans will howl. Nine goals, 35 points and a plus-5 won’t cut it.
“To me, it really doesn’t put that much more pressure on me,” Ehrhoff said about his contract. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. I want to be a big part of this franchise for many years to come.”
Regier simply wants Ehrhoff to “play to his gift, to do what he does very well.”
That, of course, is producing points, moving the puck and playing on the No. 1 power play. Ehrhoff clearly fits the Sabres’ aggressive style well. He’s just one of six defensemen, though.
“Organizationally, I think we can support him in any other area that maybe he isn’t as gifted, whether it’s with Tyler Myers or Robyn Regehr or (Jordan) Leopold back there, or one of the younger guys, (Marc-Andre) Gragnani,” Regier said. “He’ll have lots of support, and I think that’s the critical factor, not having everything on one person.”
That strong supporting cast and the opportunity to win a championship drew Ehrhoff to the Sabres. Initially, he wanted to return to Vancouver, which came within a game of the Stanley Cup in June.
“There was still a few days left before free agency,” Ehrhoff said. “I felt we were working on some kind of progress.”
Then, days before the market opened, the Canucks traded Ehrhoff’s negotiating rights to the Islanders.
“The No. 1 criteria was I wanted to play for a championship, and I didn’t see that with the Islanders,” said Ehrhoff, who will wear No. 10 with the Sabres. “I decided not to take their offer, which was a great offer they made.”
The Isles dished Ehrhoff’s rights to the Sabres on June 29. Before he purchased the club in February, owner Terry Pegula had talked to team president Ted Black about Ehrhoff, Black said.
Ehrhoff knew little about the team or city, so he called former teammates familiar with Buffalo, including current Sabres forward Jochen Hecht, his teammate on two German Olympic teams.
“Everybody just had some good things to say about the city of Buffalo, a great place to live for your kids, a place for them to grow up, which was one of the criteria I was looking for,” said Ehrhoff, who has two young daughters. “I think since Terry took over the team he’s shown that he’s very committed to bringing the team together to win the Stanley Cup.”
Thanks partly to an injured shoulder Ehrhoff suffered in Game 3 of the Western Conference final, his Cup dreams fell short. He compiled only two goals, 12 points and a minus-10 in 23 playoff tilts, including just a single assist and a wretched minus-7 in the final. He never had surgery and insists he’s fine now.
But a healthy Ehrhoff might’ve been worth that extra win.
Ehrhoff spent a few days in Buffalo house-hunting with his wife and plans to return home today. He’ll be back in Germany again in October, when the Sabres play an exhibition contest in Adler and then a regular-season game in Berlin against Los Angeles, something he wasn’t aware of when he signed.
“That was another bonus,” Ehrhoff said. “I’m definitely very excited about that.”