Negotiations between the Vancouver Canucks and Christian Ehrhoff have reached an endpoint with the news that Vancouver has accepted a fourth round draft pick from the New York Islanders in exchange for the pending unrestricted free agent.
Ehrhoff is coming off the best season of his National Hockey League career with the Canucks. In four seasons with San Jose, Ehrhoff managed to top 35 points on one occasion – he managed 42 points in 2008-09 – but in the last two years he has twice managed a career high in goals (14) and hit first the 44- and then 50-point plateau.
The Canucks also lose more than offense in Ehrhoff. During the regular season, no defenseman logged more ice-time, and only Alexander Edler (narrowly) finished ahead of Ehrhoff in terms of ice-time per game. On a by-committee blue-line featuring some exceptional talent, he was a top-pairing defender. In the playoffs, however, things changed – Bieksa and Hamhuis took the top two spots in the rotation, with Edler relegated to the third spot and Ehrhoff to the fourth.
Frankly, I think the reason for that is the role Ehrhoff played. In the regular season, the Canucks were a dominant team playing an assortment of opponents, both strong and weak. Because they were generally the better team (and not rarely the far better team), the pairing of Edler and Ehrhoff – both offensive defensemen, both easily getting the most favourable zone start assignments and both facing inferior competition than the Bieksa/Hamhuis duo – got a lot of time to strut their stuff.
There’s a place for offensive defensemen that are best played against second-tier opponents. On a team like Vancouver during the regular season, that place is pretty substantial – most opponents are second-tier, and there are a lot of times when a tandem like Edler and Ehrhoff is the ideal pairing to send out. In the playoffs, those opportunities are fewer – opposition improves, and there are fewer potential matchups to exploit. It’s the time of year guys like Bieksa and Hamhuis really earn their pay, as evidenced by the fact that while they got more ice time and the likes of Edler and Ehrhoff got less, their respective roles didn’t really change – Edler and Ehrhoff were used in offensive situations, Bieksa and Hamhuis were used elsewhere.
While I generally frown on the notion of playoff teams versus regular season teams (hockey is hockey; the advent of the playoffs does not fundamentally alter the game), in this case I think there is some merit to it. If the goal is a Presidents’ Trophy, Christian Ehrhoff is not a guy that gets dealt to the Islanders. If the goal is the Stanley Cup, Ehrhoff’s still a valuable guy to have around, but salary pressures might mean that he’s the odd man out – which is what I think happened here.
It’s also worth considering the shooting percentage aspect. Generally, it takes not just ability but also some luck to hit career-highs in goal-scoring. Ehrhoff had scored 25 goals on 608 shots before joining Vancouver (4.1% conversion rate) and managed 28 on just 390 shots for the Canucks (7.2% conversion rate). I would suggest that there’s a decent chance his goal-scoring is going to drop back into single digits.
As for the return, a fourth round pick (particularly from the Islanders, as it is likely to be a top-100 pick) isn’t too shabby for Mike Gillis. Ehrhoff wasn’t going to sign, and any deal would have been a good one.