As Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports, this is hardly earth-shattering news as the Red Wings have already met with the agents for free-agent defenders Dan Boyle and Matt Niskanen. However, as St. James asserts, the price for Niskanen is likely to be too rich for the Red Wings’ blood, which leaves Boyle as Detroit’s most likely acquisition target.
However, on Sunday, June 29, the Buffalo Sabres threw out a wild card that will cause all teams, including the Red Wings, to reshuffle their free-agent defenseman priorities.
The injection of Christian Ehrhoff into this summer’s free-agent pool instantly adds depth to what was essentially a two-horse race between Niskanen and Boyle as the top blue-line prizes of the summer.
Given his age (32 on July 6), skill set and experience, Ehrhoff is now clearly the best free-agent option among defensemen. While Boyle is still an effective player, he’ll be 38 on July 12 and is well past his prime.
Niskanen has youth (27) on his side but is looking to cash in on what was a career year for him last season in Pittsburgh. The team that signs Niskanen is likely to pay top dollar, largely on the hopes that his 46-point performance in 2013-14 wasn’t a fluke.
Ehrhoff, on the other hand, has a 10-year history of solid performance behind him and, at 31, still has plenty of productive years ahead of him. What’s more, as the Sabres have already made him a decamillionaire a couple of times over, Ehrhoff may be willing to consider more than just a big payday when signing with his next team.
No doubt most NHL teams are now adding Ehrhoff at or near the top of their free-agent wish list, and as Ansar Khan at Mlive.com points out, the Red Wings are no exception.
Still, for all Ehrhoff has going for him, he’s a southpaw shooter, which is the opposite of the right-handedness the Red Wings are seeking on the blue line.
While that is likely not a hill the Red Wings will die on now that Ehrhoff is in the mix, it will still be one of the reasons they will remain interested in, if not continue to pursue Boyle.
The Red Wings may have to choose between pursuing Ehrhoff or Boyle should one or the other get snapped up by another team on July 1. However, there’s no reason Detroit should not attempt to land both of them.
With a shade under $15 million in cap space according to CapGeek.com, the Red Wings have ample cash to throw around. However, they will still need to dip into some of this to sign restricted free agents Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser. Assuming these signings could cost around $5 million, the Red Wings would still have roughly $10 million to work with under the $69 million salary cap.
Now, Ehrhoff was due to collect $4 million annually through the 2016-17 season. Assuming he saw the Red Wings as an attractive destination—and honestly, after toiling away in Buffalo, nearly any team would be more attractive—offering him a five-year, $25-million contract doesn’t seem out of the question.
It would give Ehrhoff a raise to come to a much more competitive team, which he could help build into a contender over the next few seasons.
Granted, at that price point, he would be earning more than Detroit’s current No. 1 defender, Niklas Kronwall, but given the rarefied air surrounding Ehrhoff’s availability, the investment isn’t likely to ruffle any feathers in the locker room.
Regarding Boyle, as St. James indicated in her aforementioned article, the Red Wings were reportedly looking to secure his services via a two-year deal worth somewhere in the $10 million to $11 million range. Given his annual salary in 2013-14, this price point seems reasonable.
However, paying Boyle $5 million-plus for the next two years seems a bit steep given his age and declining performance.
Could Boyle be had at a lower salary, say between $3 million and $4 million per season if he knew that he’d be joining a blue line that included Ehrhoff and Kronwall, and a dynamic group of forwards headlined by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk?
Perhaps that could be enough to entice him to end his career in Detroit.
Whether or not the Red Wings will actually pursue both Ehrhoff and Boyle with the intention of landing both is an open question. That they have the requisite resources to make fair offers to both is obvious.
As such, the Red Wings should be looking to make not one but two large splashes in the free-agency pool come July 1.