(Update: Ehrhoff has agreed to a 10-year, $40-million deal with Buffalo.)
Christian Ehrhoff declined the New York Islanders’ offer of a long-term deal at a reported $6 million per year, IslandersPointBlank.com reported, meaning the offensively-skilled defenseman will hit free agency Friday.
On the surface, he looks like a great match for the Red Wings — Detroit’s in desperate need of a top-four defenseman with some offensive punch and power-play skills. Ehrhoff fits all the criteria there.
But a closer look may reveal otherwise. Some factors the Wings have to weigh before making a run at the ex-Canucks defenseman:
Money: Detroit GM Ken Holland has said time and again that the team won’t overpay for free agents. That may be frustrating for Wings fans looking for some big scores, but it’s one of the benefits Holland has in Hockeytown — the franchise believes players should want to play for Detroit above all else, and if money gets in the way of that, so be it.
Ehrhoff just turned down $6 million per year from the Islanders. He may have done that just to avoid playing on Long Island, but he figures to cash in with a big payday. Nicklas Lidstrom’s set to earn $6.2 million next season, same as he did in 2010-11. The Red Wings will not pay a defenseman more than that, unless it’s an absolute no-alternatives situation. That fact alone may bump Ehrhoff off Detroit’s board.
Defensive Questions: Ehrhoff was a plus-19 this season and put up 50 points (14 goals), but the criticisms of his game land at the other end of the ice. In the playoffs, for example, that plus-minus number dropped to a negative-12. If he has a weak spot, it’s in the defensive zone.
Detroit wants to replace Brian Rafalski with someone who can score, but not at the expense of its own defense. The Wings had a lot of problems protecting their own net all season — they may put a higher priority on landing a lock-down defenseman than simply trying to mimic Rafalski’s talents.
Lefty-Righty Argument: Again, the Wings aren’t necessarily trying to find a Rafalski clone, but as it stands right now, they don’t have any right-handed defenseman on the roster. Lidstron, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson (if he re-signs) are all southpaw shooters.
Detroit would like to balance that out, mainly for the top power-play unit, so they could put Lidstrom and a righty on opposite sides. Having six lefties on the blue line doesn’t necessarily spell doom. It’s just something the Red Wings might want to remedy if they can.
Injuries: Ehrhoff is expected to be 100 percent by the time the season rolls around, but Vancouver revealed after its Stanley Cup finals loss that Ehrhoff had been playing with an injured shoulder. Lots of guys are banged up by that stage of the season, so this isn’t a huge concern. Still, Detroit can’t afford to go all-in on a guy if there are any worries at all about his health.
There’s no question Ehrhoff is among the group of defensemen that the Red Wings consider on July 1. Is there a better fit out there for Detroit than Ehrhoff? It feels like there will be — we’ll just have to wait and see how the free-agent market plays out.