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NHL Free Agency: Could Christian Ehrhoff Rejuvenate His Career on the Dallas Defense?

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The veteran blueliner just went through one of his toughest seasons in Pittsburgh. Will Dallas be his promised land?

"The crease has been cleared.  I repeat, the crease has been cleared."
"The crease has been cleared. I repeat, the crease has been cleared."
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Ehrhoff had one of the toughest seasons you can have.  After being the victim of a compliance buyout by Buffalo, he surprised everyone by taking a one-year/$4-million deal with Pittsburgh when better offers were surely on the table.  As a reward for his willingness to play for less, everything came apart for Ehrhoff.  A melange of injuries limited him to only 49 games, and Pittsburgh showed no interest in retaining the staple of the German national team's defense.

At 6-foot-2 and 200 lbs, Ehrhoff is right in the middle of the pack as far as size goes.  Known for being a strong puck-mover, Ehrhoff's point totals in 2014-15 did not reflect the expected offense that puck-moving is supposed to provide.  Three goals and 14 points were all that Ehrhoff could muster for the Pittsburgh defense, and the Penguins had clearly decided to move on by the time the playoffs wrapped up.

Here's a summary of the 33-year-old (as of July 6th) Ehrhoff's season from those who watched him most this year:

He managed only 49 games due to various injuries, and put together about 850 even-strength minutes in all. The last injury that signaled the beginning of the end happened in Washington in late January, when Ehrhoff attempted to hit the freight train known as Alex Ovechkin and ended up much, much worse for the wear. After multiple attempts at a return, by early April it was obvious that Ehrhoff wasn't going to see the ice again this season.

What of the time he did spend on the ice, though? 49 games is 49 games, and Ehrhoff seemed like an excelent fit with Mike Johnston's system, which left it up to the defensemen to judge when best to jump into the offensive situations. His heavy shot from the point was a danger to be reckoned with. He was definitely a lot less physical than I thought he'd be, and after Olli Maatta was shut down he played fairly well with Robert Bortuzzo.

[Pensburgh]

And as much as the injuries and age might be a warning sign, Ehrhoff did play all but four of his team's games in the previous two seasons, putting up around 0.4 PPG during that period.  That's not nothing, and it's also pretty good to keep in mind that Pittsburgh didn't exactly have the most stable team last year.  New coach, new system, injuries...if you're looking for reasons to label Ehrhoff's last year as anomalous, there are plenty out there to choose from.

Why might Ehrhoff be worth a short-term deal?  Well, he's generally been a very positive possession player (except for last year) and his scoring chance numbers (again, except for last year) have always been either solid or very good.  He's definitely a buy-low candidate, and good news: he's looking to come to a contender.

...Ehrhoff, an unrestricted free agent, can help a team for sure. The 32-year-old is coming off a tough season in terms of injuries but is still a terrific skater and passer.

"I’ve had a number of clubs call me to let me know that they’re going to be interested [when the market opens]," veteran agent Rick Curran told ESPN.com on Monday morning.

This time around, it’s not about looking for the monster, long-term deal.

"That’s not his priority," Curran said. "His priority is to get with a club that’s competitive and has a chance to challenge for a Cup."

Read into that that they’ve already heard from the more obvious playoff contenders.

[ESPN]

Note the phrases "has a chance" and "to challenge for."  Those are terms that very much apply to Dallas this season, perhaps moreso in most players' eyes than "definite contender" or "deep in the playoffs."  And since Ehrhoff has already shown that he's willing to take less money in order to pick his team, Dallas seems like it would at least have a shot at signing the veteran defenseman ahead of teams that are still rebuilding (or doing whatever the Canucks are doing).

Ehrhoff is a left-handed stick-wielder, so that means you can either pair him with Klingberg/Demers or ask him to hold down the 2nd-pairing RD spot in order to let Nemeth or Goligoski play their natural side.  That's assuming the Stars are still rolling with only two righties come October, but since the Stars would absolutely have to rearrange the back end if they sign a UFA defender, the handedness might already have sorted itself out.

For my money, I'd love to see Ehrhoff come in on a cheap deal--if the Stars have room, which is the problem with every single free agent (and many trade targets) that I look at right now.  This team is in the odd position of having some semblance of a full roster with a goodly amount of cap space left, so they can afford to wait as long as it takes in order to exploit trade with a less cap-wise team. You would hope that they can take advantage of that situation a la the Boychuk or Leddy situations last year, but the thing to remember with those two cases is that they didn't happen for quite a while after July 1st.  October 4th, as a matter of fact.

Maybe that's why Jim Nill has been preaching patience all this time.  He's just trying to keep us short-sighted and impulsive fans from totally losing our minds when he doesn't sign a single free agent in July.  So perhaps we'll find out just how patient the Stars--and we--are willing to be.

Note: if the Stars sign Ehrhoff, we absolutely have to start calling him Herr Ehrhoff, which would be pretty awesome.  Just saying.