Read any hockey articles on the internet from markets outside Buffalo and you'll notice a common trend. Yes the rest of the league has taken notice that Buffalo is improved from last year, but they also are quick to point out the folly of the Sabres new-found spending prowess. I'd like to debunk that myth right here and now.
Let's get the 800lb gorrilla in the room out of the way first, Christian Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff signed a 10yr, 40$million dollar contract with an annual cap hit of 4$mil dollars. Last year the Vancouver Canucks won the Presidents trophy and went to the cup final. Ehrhoff was 2nd on the team in time on ice per game, and finished tied for 4th on the team in scoring behind the Swedish twins and Kessler. Leaguewide Ehrhoff ranked tied for 7th in points by a defenceman and was in the top 25 in ice time. Keith Yandle and Lubomir Visnovsky were the only two defenceman to produce more points than Ehrhoff and have a higher ATOI per game. Yandle just signed a multi-year contract with Phoenix with a 5.25$mil annual cap hit, and Visnovsky's cap hit is 5.6$mil. I'd say that Ehrhoff is comparable to these two players and the Sabres have him at a much friendlier cap hit. How about the two players that Ehrhoff finished tied in scoring with? Those would be Dan Boyle and Chris Letang. Boyle's cap hit is an astronomical 6.667$mil per year, and Letang's is at 3.5$mil. Of the 4 aforementioned players only Letang has a lower cap hit, and only by 500$k. Seems reasonable to me.
The other gripe people have with Ehrhoff's deal is the term. Okay, when you attempt to sign a star player you have to give up one of two things: money or years. Ehrhoff is not Crosby, so the Sabres didn't have to budge on both, they only had to concede one and i think they made the right choice by giving him the years. He is 29 years old and will be just shy of 40 when the contract ends. Could he play that long? Yes, especially since he's a defenceman and we've seen that the last few years but ultimately it is unlikely that he will finish out the contract. However, given the rules of the CBA, since his contract was signed prior to him turning age 35 he can retire and his contract will not count against the Salary Cap. No harm no foul right? So Ehrhoff plays till he's 36 and then retires and Pegula pays him a few million to improve his golf game. Additionally, each year that the salary cap goes up, it makes his 4$mil hit seem lower and lower. By the time he's in his mid thirties he may be looked at as an affordable veteran that can be traded off if the Sabres are out of contention. In no way do i see this deal as being anything but a home run.
Ok that leaves us Ville Leino. Leino's value is much harder to quantify than Ehrhoff's because Leino is being paid somewhat on potential. He only truly has 1 full year of NHL experience and Buffalo is expecting him to improve upon his totals. If he doesn't, and continues to put up numbers similar to last year (53 points) then his 4.5$mil cap hit will seem like an overpayment. However given that he is only 27years old and will be under contract in his prime years (27yrs old to 33yrs) it is not a giant leap of faith to assume he will get better.
Ville is a playmaking winger (though the Sabres plan to move him to center) so let's see some comparable contracts. Ales Hemsky has a 4.1$mil cap hit, Loui Eriksson has a 4.25$mil cap hit, and Alex Tanguay has a 3.5$mil cap hit. Leino is costlier than all 3 of them. Hemsky is never healthy and Tanguay is making less because of his age, but either way Leino is going to be expected to put up similar or better numbers than the aforementioned players and i see him fully capable of doing so. The Sabres are hedging their bets that he will as well, and I fully agree with that decision. I'm sure that part of the reason Pegula gave Regier the green light to pay Leino that money is because in doing their due diligence on the pulse of the league, they felt that if they didn't pay him 4.5$mil he was going to get it elsewhere anyway.
Now in terms of fit, i think Ehrhoff and Leino both fill a need for this team. No one is going to argue the need for Ehrhoff (and Regehr) after watching the Philly debacle. However Leino is a bit more interesting. The Sabres are pretty stacked at wing, but Derek Roy aside, this team is devoid of pure playmakers. Any time you can add someone with Ville's ice vision you have to do it. They couldn't land a big time playmaking center, so they went out and got a playmaking winger. I think he'll fit in here fine, regardless of what position they decide to play him at.
In addition to the free agents the Sabres have a core of players in Vanek, Roy, Pominville, Myers, Weber, Sekera, Ennis, Gerbe, Gaustad, Miller and more that have come up through their own system. With guys like Foligno, Kassian, McNabb, Brennan, Adam, and Enroth on the way, the Sabres do not appear to be deviating from the plan to build from within. Just because Pegula has a lot of money doesn't mean they will wantonly spend and try to put together a late 90's Rangers lineup. Instead they will promote players from within their system and fill the gaps with free agents. Seems sensible enough.
Most people are probably griping because their own teams didn't have the green light to go ahead and be as aggressive as Buffalo was in signing Ehrhoff and Leino. Being as objective as I possibly can i just can't knock the Sabres for their signings this off-season, especially with 15$million coming off the books at the end of the 2011/12 season. They went out and made the team better, and managed to do it with fiscal responsibility. So have we spent our money wisely? I say yes. It could be worse, we could have signed Connolly to a 4.75$mil cap hit...now that would be crazy!
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