Buffalo Sabres: 4 Reasons to Believe Christian Ehrhoff Will Bounce Back
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When the Buffalo Sabres signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff last summer, expectations were high for both him and the team. However, Ehrhoff and the Sabres failed miserably at living up to those hopes. So should fans expect a bounce-back year from the German blueliner and his teammates?
One thing they should count on is Ehrhoff being in midseason form when play does resume.
He's been lacing them up for Krefeld in Germany's premiere Deutsche Eishockey Liga since mid-September. It's familiar territory for the 30-year-old, as he started his pro career with the same team in 1999.
Bad luck was also part of his struggles last year, as he missed 16 games due to injury.
Although his production was down, his impact in the Sabres' lineup was still huge. They went 3-10-3 without him.
Here we'll examine four different reasons why Ehrhoff will improve on his disappointing 2011-12 campaign.
1. He'll Be Under Less Pressure in His Second Season in Buffalo
Ehrhoff's contract is heavily front-loaded in the first two years.
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We briefly touched on the lofty expectations that Ehrhoff shouldered after signing with the Sabres. The structure of his contract had a lot to do with that.
Contracts like his have caused the league to address the issue of fluctuating salaries from year to year in their CBA discussions.
The $9 million price tag he carried last season was a number he was destined to fail at living up to. His offensive numbers were his lowest since 2007-08 as he became a microcosm of the Sabres' struggles.
He should learn from the experience, though.
When and if the season begins, Ehrhoff won't feel nearly as much pressure to live up to his contract now that he has the first year behind him. His familiarity with the system, his coach and his teammates will allow him to remind Sabres fans why they went out and got him in the first place.
2. He Will Benefit from the Improvement of His Likely D Partner, Tyler Myers
Ehrhoff and Myers need to give the Sabres more production from the back end.
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Ehrhoff was hardly the only Sabre to disappoint last season. In fact, several other players' struggles were much more magnified, none more so than his projected defensive partner, Tyler Myers.
The former Calder Trophy winner has seemingly regressed since his breakout rookie campaign.
However, after enduring being a healthy scratch for the first time in his career and dealing with injuries throughout the year, Myers turned it on in the second half of 2011-12.
As Andy Boron of DieByTheBlade.com put it:
He finally started playing with a sense of grit and toughness that he'd only shown flashes of before, especially as the team rolled through their last few months. This is a very encouraging development for the player that the Sabres have pinned their hopes to for the next seven years.
Ehrhoff will only benefit as Myers continues to increase his physical prowess on the ice. It'll give No. 10 more room to skate or pass the puck into the attacking zone, which is his biggest strength.
This pairing has the makings of being one of the best in the league, especially offensively.
3. The Sabres' Power Play Will Be More Effective
Ehrhoff has to do a better job at getting his shots through on the PP.
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When talking about the potential that Ehrhoff and Myers have as defensive partners, you can't have that conversation without emphasizing the power play.
The Sabres were in the middle of the pack in PP ranking last season, finishing 16th at 17.1 percent. Still, they have the tools in place to become a top-10 unit with the man advantage.
The emergence of Marcus Foligno at the end of 2011-12 gives the Sabres a weapon they were sorely lacking.
Although Thomas Vanek is more than willing to stand in front of the net, his presence doesn't intimidate the opposition. Foligno, on the other hand, has shown he is a physical force to be reckoned with.
Having your teammates take that punishment on the PP in front of the crease matters not, though, if you can't get pucks through.
Last year, Ehrhoff too often had his shots blocked or go wide. His inaccuracy from the point reminded Sabres fans of another talented defenseman who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn (Alexei Zhitnik anyone?).
4. Buffalo Will Be a Much Better Team Than They Were a Year Ago
Even though 2011-12 was a down year for him, Ehrhoff still led Buffalo's D in scoring.
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A reoccurring theme throughout this entire discussion has been that Christian Ehrhoff isn't the only player on the Sabres who needs to bounce back.
When you underachieve as much as Buffalo did last year, it's impossible to lay the blame at the foot of just one guy. Ryan Miller, Ville Leino and Drew Stafford all need to be considerably better than they were last season if this team thinks it's going to contend in the East.
But with all of that said, the aforementioned emergence of Foligno and the acquisition of Steve Ott has left this team with a totally new identity.
Gone is the overly finesse team that was humiliated when they let their goalie get run over. The Sabres have made a conscious effort to get tougher. That alone helps this group get better.
Ehrhoff's return to form would be a key cog to the Sabres' success. Now the only question left is whether or not he's even going to have a chance to show that.