The case for and against Christian Ehrhoff returning to Canucks

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Image: canucks.nhl.com

While most of the world watches FIFA slowly melt into the ground like the Wicked Witch of the East, there was a brief flicker of hockey news on Twitter today that still managed to catch Canucks fans interest.

Richard Curan is Christian Ehrhoff’s agent. It is of course an NHL agent’s job to go around and try and market his players and raise the interest in them, so don’t read into this as some sort of plea from Ehrhoff to Vancouver to bring him home.

Ehrhoff is a well traveled mercenary who is still cashing cheques from that monstrous 10-year Buffalo deal, and tried to cash in on a year of playing with Crosby to increase his value even more. Ehrhoff would possibly play for your beer league team if you could put together enough funds.

That being said, Ehrhoff’s “Crosby Plan of Domination” didn’t go quite as expected last season. Although he got top four minutes, the offensive production just wasn’t there for him. Then concussion problems effectively ended Ehrhoff’s season, leaving him with 14 points in 49 games. Not exactly numbers that scream “big contract” heading into UFA season.

Still, they call UFA season “stupid season” for a reason, so for all we know Buffalo will offer him a new 10 year deal. The question for Canucks fans, of course, is whether or not Vancouver should dip their toes in Ehrhoff’s pool (ok that reads creepier than I intended). Should the Canucks try and go back to the future with the Hoff? What are the pros and cons you ask? Let’s break this down!

Con – Possible Salary Cap Hell

The Canucks are already in a cap crunch. So much so that Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson are probably too rich for their blood. Yes, Brad Richardson is possibly too much money for the Canucks, that is how dire things are. They also already have a lot of money tied up in their defence, as they currently have five d-men getting paid $3.6 million or higher. It’s not impossible to ice a team with an expensive D-corps (Tampa Bay rocks a slightly more expensive defence for example) but the Canucks also have the large Sedin, Burrows and Vrbata contracts as well.

Basically there is next to no wiggle room, unless the salary cap jumps up far higher than anybody anticipated.

That being said, “Trader Jim” is one of the random nicknames that has been assigned to Benning, so it’s not as if he can’t make trades in the offseason to create more room. It’s just an extra step that would be required before even thinking of taking on Ehrhoff.

Pro/Con – Salary Demands

Ehrhoff struggled in Buffalo and he had a terrible year in Pittsburgh. His agent will probably paint that as “everybody struggles in Buffalo” and “concussions were the reason for his Pittsburgh failure”. However, Ehrhoff took a one-year deal last year hoping to hit a home run the next year, so maybe if the offers aren’t what he expects this year, he might take another one-year offer on the cheap.

Now, would Vancouver be a place he would view as a great city to go to for a year to increase his value? Possibly. He had his best years in Vancouver (44 and 50 point seasons), he knows many of the players so he would be comfortable here, and he certainly has a wide open path for being the number one power play guy on the team (sorry Edler and Tanev).

The problem of course is if Ehrhoff wants too much money. The mantra every year from fans is “what if he signs cheap??” but that rarely seems to happen. Also, look at some of the top UFA d-men available this year:

Mike Green

Paul Martin

Sergei Gonchar

Andrej Meszaros

Bryan Allen

Francois Beauchemin

Cody Franson

Jeff Petry

Not exactly a murderer’s row of top-end defencemen. Not terrible, but certainly no guarantee of top pairing talent. With so few high profile UFA d-men available, desperate teams might offer Ehrhoff good coin if they strike out on Mike Green or Cody Franson.

Still, if Ehrhoff is no longer about money, and is all about finding a place he feels at home at, Vancouver might be somewhere he would take less to play for. If he wants somewhere he can win a Cup as well, that would be up to management to convince him Vancouver is the place to be.

Con – Age

Ehrhoff will be 33 by the time next season rolls around, and as some studies are starting to confirm, that age means he is about four years past his prime. As the study in that link alludes to, defencemen will usually play to around 90% of their peak until they are 34, but on the plus side, d-men usually decline more slowly than forwards. This means Ehrhoff won’t be a useless husk of a player, but it does mean his best days are behind him.

Still, as we saw with Sami Salo in Vancouver, he could still be a valuable asset to the team at an older age. The question, of course, is what kind of team is Vancouver going to ice next year? Will they fully embrace a youth movement (Baertschi, Virtanen, Cassels, Corrado, Clendening, Hutton) or will they slowly ease them into the lineup? All signs point to the team embracing the “retool, not rebuild” philosophy, so it’s hard to see the Canucks going all out youth movement.

If they make cap room, and want to ease the young guys into the lineup (and as Jim Benning recently suggested, he loves the idea of having 11 d-men around) then maybe Ehrhoff becomes a viable option.

Pro – Offensive Talent

If there is one thing Ehrhoff can bring, it’s offence. Vancouver’s highest scoring d-man last year was Alex Edler at 31 points. Dan Hamhuis was second with 23 points. It’s not impossible to go far with a low scoring defensive back-end (the Rangers, for example have similar back-end scoring, Ryan McDonagh with 33 points, and second closest Kevin Klein with 26 points, though they did add Keith Yandle at the deadline), but it never hurts to add more offence. This is especially true with a player like Ehrhoff, who can excel on the power play and can carry the puck into the zone effectively. Also, Ehrhoff has played well with Edler in the past, which could free up Tanev to work his magic with somebody else.

Luca Sbisa might be great in scrums, but there is something to be said about a player who can make a solid breakout pass without panicking and hurtling the puck off the glass.

Con – Concussions

Daniel Sedin’s long road to recovery from the Duncan Keith’s “Elbow O’ Doom” showcased the struggle it can be to recover from a head injury. It seemed like Daniel had lost the ability to simply lift the puck off the ice at times in 2014. Every head injury is different, but there has to be some concern when a concussion is involved.

Ehrhoff was hurt bad enough this season that he didn’t play a single playoff game. Pens head coach Mike Johnston went so far as to say Ehrhoff’s recovery had “flat-lined”.

Again, this might lead to a perfect “one-year offer” situation, but it’s still a gamble to roll the dice on a concussion recovery going smoothly.

In Summary

I was a big Ehrhoff guy in 2011. I loved what he brought to the team, and I really feel like the Canucks could benefit from his skill set. I know people want to see the young guys play, but it feels like Corrado and Clendening are a couple of years away from hitting their stride. Ehrhoff could be a very valuable stopgap during this time.

That being said, the Canucks salary cap situation is murky at best, and free agency usually boils down to money. Even if the Canucks can clear the room, would they have enough to offer? Hell, should they even offer a lot of money on Hoff? Probably not.

While it is cliche to file this one under “If he’s affordable!”, that is exactly what this situation is. It would be nice to add Ehrhoff to the team, but there are enough red flags that the Canucks shouldn’t go out of their way to try and make it fit. And believe me, it pains me to say that as I really did love his time in Vancouver, almost as much as I love the idea of changing up the defence corps so it doesn’t have to rely on Sbisa in the top four.

Instead, let’s just sit back and look back at the glory that was 2011 Ehrhoff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4n9199dYGo

 

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Wyatt Arndt Wyatt Arndt is a freelance writer who currently writes for The Province, Canucks Army, Canucks.com and Vancity Buzz. He's probably written in bathroom stalls near you as well. You can find him on Twitter where he is most likely making fun of Eddie Lack's goalie mask.
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