The summer of 2011 was a joyous one in Sabreland. Terry Pegula was just months into owning the team, and folks in Buffalo were treated to impressive trades, big-dollar signings and promises of winning.
What foolishness that all turned out to be.
The latest indignity to befall the period came Sunday when the Sabres used a compliance buyout on defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Buffalo erased him from its books just three seasons into a 10-year, $40 million contract.
Sabres General Manager Tim Murray told The News he had been contemplating a buyout of Ehrhoff since getting hired in January. The reasons were twofold:
• The defenseman’s front-loaded deal would be subject to the NHL’s salary-cap recapture penalties if Ehrhoff retired before the contract ended in 2021. Up to $3 million per year could have been tacked onto the Sabres’ cap depending on the retirement date of Ehrhoff, who turns 32 next month. The situation made the defenseman virtually untradeable.
“Since I got here we’ve talked about this,” Murray said in Buffalo Niagara International Airport after flying back from the NHL Draft. “We’ve talked about his contract. We’ve talked about the repercussions of the contract with the penalties that the league has put on it. It’s been an ongoing discussion.”
Ehrhoff was unhappy losing in Buffalo, and Murray was not thrilled with the defenseman.
“The fact that he quite frankly doesn’t want to be here makes it easy,” Murray told The News. “I’ve said at the start that if you don’t want to be here we’ll make it happen. He’s made, I believe, $22 million in three years and feels that we’re not going in the right direction, but he really hasn’t had much part in the direction the team has gone. So time to move on.”
Ehrhoff, who is now an unrestricted free agent, went to Twitter to thank the Sabres and their fans.
“Thanks to the great community of WNY, Sabres fans and Sabres organization for welcoming me and my family with open arms these past 3 years!” he wrote.
The defenseman’s agent, Rick Curran, was advised of Buffalo’s plans late Saturday night and learned for certain Sunday morning. He then informed his client.
“He was a little surprised,” Curran said, adding Ehrhoff had a few other comments during their conversation. “He had a few, but they’re his. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to share any of it.”
The compliance buyout was the second of two Buffalo had at its disposal. Murray used the first one earlier this month on Ville Leino.
The NHL’s buyout deadline is this afternoon.
Leino was also part of the fateful Class of 2011. The Sabres made seven significant moves between May and October of that year. Five could be judged as failures for a team that has gone 81-104-27 since then, with an average finish of 24th place:
• Ehrhoff, as Murray said, made $22 million in three seasons and will get $12 million more over the next 14 years. While he was the Sabres’ top-performing defenseman in traditional and advanced statistics, his output on a bad team was only a fraction of what he accomplished during his time in San Jose and Vancouver. The Sabres also need leaders and advisers for their young defensemen during the rebuild, and the disenfranchised Ehrhoff declined on-ice mentorship, leaving the ice first after practice on a daily basis.
• Leino will earn more than $23 million for 10 goals and 46 points in 137 games.
• Nathan Gerbe signed a three-year deal worth $4.35 million but was bought out with a year left.
• Cody McCormick signed a three-year deal that averaged $1.2 million but spent most of 2012-13 in the minors and had two goals in 79 games before being traded.
• Drew Stafford signed a four-year extension worth $16 million but has failed to come close to living up to it, scoring just six goals during the lockout-shortened season and 16 this year.
The jury remains out on one 2011 deal.
Tyler Myers signed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract extension, and the 24-year-old has five years left to regain trophy-winning form.
The only 2011 move that can be classified as a winner was getting defenseman Robyn Regehr from Calgary.
The Sabres received a draft pick they parlayed into defense prospect Jake McCabe, and Regehr played well in Buffalo before being traded to Los Angeles for two more second-round picks.
The setbacks from 2011 will be felt by Murray this summer. The Sabres have a cap number of just $31.3 million for next season, leaving them $19.7 million away from the required salary floor of $51 million. According to CapGeek.com, the Sabres are nearly $9 million away from the 29th-place team in salary (Calgary).
At present, the Sabres have eight roster openings to fill. That means their acquisitions need to have contracts averaging $2.46 million in order for Buffalo to reach the floor by opening night.
Murray has been upfront about his desire to acquire other teams’ bloated, unwanted contracts. With Ehrhoff gone, he’ll need to quench that desire. He may also have to spend wildly in free agency, which begins Tuesday.