The 2014-15 NHL season was a difficult campaign for the Los Angeles Kings, and the offseason hasn’t been particularly easy either. The Sunday addition of veteran defenceman Christian Ehrhoff was a nice change from all that; it was a clear win for a team that needed one.
Partially, the deal is a win because of the contract details. According to NHLNumbers.com, Ehrhoff’s deal is for one season and will see him earn just $1.5 million. That’s less than the Kings will be paying fourth-line winger Kyle Clifford this season.
Partly, it’s because Ehrhoff fits with the kind of game that Darryl Sutter coaches. The Kings are known for physical, defensive hockey, but as their coach explained when the team acquired Marian Gaborik, that’s not the secret to their success. Via the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson:
The game’s changed. They think there’s defending in today’s game. Nah, it’s how much you have the puck. Teams that play around in their own zone they they’re defending but they’re generally getting scored on or taking face-offs and they need a goalie to stand on his head if that’s the way they play.
Ehrhoff is cheap, signed short-term and plays the puck-possession style that Sutter emphasizes. More importantly, though, he’s quite good, and he’ll help stabilize a defence corps that is facing some uncertainty.
Ehrhoff is a left-shooting defender and typically plays on the left side but has spent time on the right over the course of his NHL career. He plays in all situations and was a regular part of both the Penguins’ penalty kill and power play last year. He typically also plays second-pairing minutes at even strength.
He’s been effective in all those roles. Over the last three seasons at even strength, he’s faced difficult competition and outperformed the team average in terms of both on-ice scoring chances and on-ice shot metrics. His teams get more chances and more shots when he’s out there than when he isn’t, even though he’s playing tougher minutes.
It’s been a few years since Ehrhoff had a big power-play season, but he still should certainly be able to handle second-pairing minutes. He was a mainstay on Buffalo’s penalty kill and the team consistently performed better in terms of chances against when Ehrhoff was on the ice than it did when he wasn’t.
It’s a reasonable bet that the Kings intend to use Ehrhoff on the second pairing. Assuming that’s the case, this may be an indication that Slava Voynov will not be back with Los Angeles; at the very least it’s a sign that the Kings are ready to play without him if need be.
Voynov is currently under suspension from the league, a step the NHL took back in October when Voynov was charged with domestic violence. ESPN’s Katie Strang reported in July that the defenceman had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor domestic abuse charge and would be jailed for 90 days.
With the Ehrhoff signing, it’s now possible to put together a plausible defensive depth chart for the Kings that excludes Voynov:
- Jake Muzzin / Drew Doughty
- Alec Martinez / Christian Ehrhoff
- Brayden McNabb / Matt Greene
- Jamie McBain
If, somehow, Voynov dresses for another NHL game with the Kings, the addition of Ehrhoff will make the team deeper and more capable. If Voynov’s time with the team is finished, the addition allows L.A. to move on.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.