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Now It's On: Islanders' Christian Ehrhoff Gamble is Reach for Next Step

All your Deutsche Marks are belong to us?
All your Deutsche Marks are belong to us?

There are as many ways to evaluate Christian Ehrhoff as there are opinions on how important this former Shark was to the Canucks.

With their respective playoff performances (small sample size alert) fresh on the mind, Canucks fans will tell you Kevin Bieksa was by far the more important blueliner.

But with two seasons of consistent offensive contributions on the mind, microstat wonks will tell you Bieksa is a beneficiary of a few good months (and Ehrhoff a few bad ones when it mattered), while Ehrhoff's contributions have regularly been equal or better. Sharks fans, likewise, remember Ehrhoff's offense at the expense of his defensive coverage.

To elaborate, using GVT (a food-for-thought measure similar to baseball's value over replacement player), here's Hockey Prospectus microstat evangelist Timo Seppa:

Going by Goals Versus Threshold for the last three seasons. Bieksa: 9, 4, 10; Hamhuis: 6, 7, 9; Ehrhoff: 9, 15, 13

That means Ehrhoff has done more, more regularly, but of course he's played more than the oft-injured Bieksa, and GVT -- though it tries to account for defense -- will necessarily favor the goaltender and the offensive defenseman over the more stay-at-home type. The difficulty with this eval is Ehrhoff and Bieksa are different types of defensemen.

But for the Islanders, the need is greater for an Ehrhoff type. The Islanders already have defensive-minded, keep-it-simple defensemen. What they need is a more offensive, puck possession-minded defenseman to alleviate pressure on Mark Streit, who we all hope -- but do not know -- is returning healthy after a year on the shelf.

                                        --- Regular Season ---      ---- Playoffs ----
Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
2003-04 San Jose Sharks NHL 41 1 11 12 14 -- -- -- -- --
2003-04 Cleveland Barons AHL 27 4 10 14 43 9 2 6 8 11
2004-05 Cleveland Barons AHL 79 12 23 35 103 -- -- -- -- --
2005-06 San Jose Sharks NHL 64 5 18 23 32 11 2 6 8 18
2006-07 San Jose Sharks NHL 82 10 23 33 63 11 0 2 2 6
2007-08 San Jose Sharks NHL 77 1 21 22 72 10 0 5 5 14
2008-09 San Jose Sharks NHL 77 8 34 42 63 6 0 0 0 2
2009-10 Vancouver Canucks NHL 80 14 30 44 42 12 3 4 7 8
2010-11 Vancouver Canucks NHL 79 14 36 50 52 23 2 10 12 16
NHL Totals 500 53 173 226 338 73 7 27 34 64

Thanks to Les Beaver for posting Ehrhoff's stats and igniting last night's wild Ehrhoff discussion.

Just yesterday in the defensive depth chart thread, several regulars were talking about the need for top four upgrade -- but how? Ehrhoff's name came up as a solid candidate, but as with every UFA, the question is how attainable he is and at what price?

Turns out the Islanders were prepared to pay a 2012 fourth-round pick just for the opportunity. The price to sign the German is yet to be determined, but certainly it will be heavy. Even to stay with Stanley Cup runner-up Vancouver, Ehrhoff apparently wanted more than Bieksa just received:

Bieksa took what was likely a discount to stay with the Canucks, signing a five-year, $23 million deal to remain in Vancouver. When Gillis was asked about how the negotiations with Ehrhoff were going, he made it sound as though Ehrhoff is pricing himself out of Vancouver.

"We're still taking about different possibilities, but like I said earlier, playing on this team is more important than individual compensation," Gillis said. "That's our expectation with everybody. It works with some but it may not work with others. I can't tell you what I expect.

The uneven Ehrhoff negotiations with Vancouver go back to last fall, when the player and his agent Rick Curran consistently demanded more than the Canucks were willing to offer.

So obviously Ehrhoff (and his agent) is after a massive payday, perhaps at the price of a spot with the team very close to a Cup.

The Gamble

  1. Can the Islanders produce that (over)payday?
  2. Should they?
  3. Is the drop from the 1st overall Canucks to the 27th overall Islanders too much for even Ehrhoff?

We'll find out (1) and (3) within 24 to 48 hours. If the Islanders get their wish, (2) will be debated for the next three to six years.

Or as Wysh at Puck Daddy put it:

If he doesn't … well, at least Snow can take a bathroom break during the fourth round next summer.

(After witnessing the draft in person this year, I cannot overstate how important that bathroom break is.)

Risk and Reward

With the cap floor going up yet again, the Islanders need to commit some more money for next year. But with the next CBA undetermined, it's completely unclear how much money they need to commit beyond that.

If you accept the Islanders need one more marquee defenseman to go into next season with confidence, Ehrhoff could be your man.

If you accept that Ehrhoff is not quite the level that he and his agent think he is, then it requires tolerating an overpayment, as happens with most UFAs.

And if you accept that Ehrhoff's playoff performance was indicative rather than a one-off, then you have to ask yourself whether these risks are worth it to help get the Islanders back into playoff contention first.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of trading draft picks for limited negotiating windows, but I do think it's worth doing every once in a while. This one reminds me of that defensible Ryan Smyth gamble, on a far lesser scale: They can afford it, having just added eight more prospects last weekend to their pool of darts. Odds are a fourth-round pick doesn't pan out, while odds of converting that negotiating window are probably a bit better.

What I like about this move is Garth Snow is making the aggressive attempt at an upgrade now. We can quibble over his value, but Ehrhoff was an important figure on a Cup finalist and he would fill a need for the Islanders. We can admire the Islanders' blueline prospect pool, but this move shows they will neither force those prospects nor sit idly by until they maybe pan out.

Hockey Bygones

And on the lighter side, we must ask ourselves: Can Doug Weight, Mark Streit and Ehrhoff really get along after this:

You know, I was thinking the Islanders should get fellow blueliner and potential captain Mark Streit on the phone with Ehrhoff to do some German commiserating, but after seeing that clip maybe they better just send fellow ex-Canuck and Austrian Michael Grabner.

Tangential Update: Swiss native and Austrian-based commenter and WOWY master BenHasna recalls another Streit-Erhoff encounter, only this when Streit was in the broadcast booth for a game between Switzerland and Germany. Check his comment below for the details and video.