Last night, in his first game as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, Christian Ehrhoff impressed, registering a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It was a strong debut for the former Canuck, who was named the game’s first star for his efforts. Now, it would be foolish to read too much into one early preseason game (unless you’re Tony Gallagher), but now seems as good a time as any to examine just what, exactly, Vancouver lost when Christian Ehrhoff  signed in Buffalo.

The lazy question is this: will the Canucks miss Ehrhoff’s scoring? The answer is two-fold: on one hand, of course they will, because Christian Ehrhoff puts up a lot of points; on the other hand, probably not, because the Canucks didn’t let Ehrhoff go due to insufficient point production.

Unlike Henrik Sedin, I’m not comfortable declaring that Vancouver didn’t lose anything when they lost Christian Ehrhoff, especially because it’s not true. The Canucks lost a 50-point scorer, and that’s substantial. There will be times this season when Ehrhoff is scoring and the Canucks are not, and if the Vancouver media feels the need to report Michael Grabner’s nightly numbers, we’re definitely going to hear all about what Christian Ehrhoff is up to.

This city is going to be on Ehrhoff-watch all season long and sometimes his absence will seem regrettable, especially when the team slumps offensively. Still, what we need to understand, is that, while Christian Ehrhoff’s scoring will be missed at times, it isn’t an irreplaceable aspect. Here’s where Henrik Sedin gets it right:

“[Ehrhoff] was in a spot where we have other guys who can step up and play in that role. Alex [Edler] is going to get more responsibility. We have a healthy Sami Salo now. We have a lot of guys who are going to play a few more minutes. We have Chris Tanev who is coming up and he played great when he played last year. I think on the back end we were very deep last year and we are as deep this year.”

In short, there are other guys that can be promoted to Ehrhoff’s job.

Let’s talk about what that is. For much of the summer, I’ve heard people mistakenly refer to Christian Ehrhoff as a powerplay quarterback, and it’s an understandable misunderstanding: Ehrhoff is a defenceman that put up 28 of his 50 points last year on the powerplay. On the surface, that looks like the statline of a powerplay QB.

But that’s not how Ehrhoff was deployed. Rather, the Canucks used him as a roamer, a fourth forward, of sorts. Often, the other members of the Canuck powerplay would form a diamond around the opposition’s four-man box, then have Ehrhoff drop down inside of it. Either the box collapsed, opening up room on the outside, or it didn’t, and a narrow passing lane to Ehrhoff opened up to be exploited by the precision of the Sedins. Consider this goal, the Canucks’ first from last year, as evidence:

You may observe that Alex Edler is quarterbacking the powerplay. Christian Ehrhoff, meanwhile, is down very low.

Ehrhoff was encouraged to drop down that low because he was rarely counted on to be the last man back. Even when the Canucks used a forward at the point, as they did when Alex Edler went down and Mikael Samuelsson was promoted to the first unit in his stead, Ehrhoff remained the roamer. In short, the Canucks were just as comfortable with Mikael Samuelsson as the last line of defence as Christian Ehrhoff.

This is likely why they weren’t willing to make him their highest-paid blueliner, and this is what we need to consider. Christian Ehrhoff will put up a lot of points in Buffalo this year, because that’s what he does. He’ll likely outscore Kevin Bieksa too, and this will be a bone of contention for many after the Canucks effectively chose Bieksa over him. But Christian Ehrhoff was allowed to walk because of what he doesn’t do, and that’s play reliable defence. In a cap world, you don’t pay a defenceman $40 million dollars if his shutdown skills are on par with Mikael Samuelsson’s.

Consider, for instance, Ehrhoff’s playoff statline: yes, he put up 12 points, the most among Canuck defenders, but he was also a team-worst minus-13. Sure, the Sedins were minus-11 and minus-9, but they also put up 20 points apiece. In Ehrhoff’s case, his offence was effectively offset by the offence he afforded the opposition.

In other words, there are parts of Christian Ehrhoff’s game that will be missed, but there are also parts that won’t be. Consider that the next time someone bemoans his absence.

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6 comments

  1. peanutflower
    September 22, 2011

    Amen. I stopped bemoaning his absence the day he said he wanted to play for a cup contender (?) and that Buffalo was that team. Great article. Sometimes the truth gets lost in the bull toodie. Tanev for the win. Make that Tanev and Ballard.

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  2. James W
    September 22, 2011

    Totally agreed. My only gripe at this point is that we didn’t trade him before the deadline. I understand why – we were clearly making a run for the cup, and trading away your most offensive defenceman is ridiculous – but like you said, Ehrhoff’s play was essentially a was in the playoffs. It’d have been nice to pick up a defensive defenceman in his place, or in hindsight, another Samuelsson-esque player to help with leadership and some secondary scoring.

    I support Gillis’ decision to sign Bieksa instead of Ehrhoff. However, I would have preferred to keep both of them and lose Ballard. I’m not saying Ballard can’t have a bounce back year, but Ehrhoff is proven, albeit sometimes proven negatively.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      September 22, 2011

      It would have been career suicide for Gillis to trade Ehrhoff at the deadline while leading up to a Stanley Cup run. He would have been run out of town.

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  3. Rituro
    September 22, 2011

    Great article.

    Not sure I’d characterize Gillis as “choosing Bieksa” over Ehrhoff but even if that were the case, I’d still make that choice. HamJuice is our top shutdown pair; look how crucial it was to have one in the Cup run (*cough*, SJS). Would I get rid of half of that pair and keep a defensively shaky but offensively decent defensemen? Absolutely not.

    Or, to put that another way: Ehrhoff’s good, but not vital.

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  4. Mr Rupert
    September 22, 2011

    Watching game seven, i watched him double clutch and lose the blue line so many times it was painful. I know about his injured wrist but he just looked lackadaisical. Not a big loss at all, the cap space is better spent between and upgraded 2nd line and a solid smart tanev-esque 5/6 defencemen

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  5. Richard
    September 22, 2011

    Great article stating the reality. This happens very often as the writer said about paying attention to a departed player. We will missed Ehrhoff for sure for what he brought to the table but this opens up an opportunity for others, which is how a team can maintain it’s competitive advantage.

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