Christian Ehrhoff will sign another big contract soon. ©2014, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Christian Ehrhoff wasn’t expecting buyout from Sabres

BUFFALO – Despite a manageable $4 million cap hit and $22 million of Christian Ehrhoff’s 10-year, $40 million contract already paid, the Sabres didn’t want to keep the defenseman.

Why?

If Ehrhoff retired early, the Sabres could’ve been charged a huge cap recapture penalty, as much as $10 million, according to capgeek.com. Imagine having that dead money eating up space when the Sabres need to lock up their youngsters in several years.

So the Sabres used their second compliance buyout on the final seven years of Ehrhoff’s contract Sunday, the third anniversary of his acquisition from the New York Islanders. Ehrhoff declined waivers.

“We had never discussed a possibility of a compliance buyout,” Richard Curran, Ehrhoff’s agent, told the Times Herald by phone. “So was I surprised this morning when I woke up and realized that was the solution to their problem? Yeah, certainly.”

Curran said he had discussed Ehrhoff’s current role, his future and other possibilities with Sabres general manager Tim Murray.

The 31-year-old’s now an unrestricted free agent, arguably the best one in a weak class. He’ll cash in again.

“I’ve already had a number of clubs that have called,” Curran said.

On Twitter, Ehrhoff, who had a home built in Buffalo, thanked the community and the Sabres.

“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 Sabres owe Ehrhoff two-thirds of the $18 million remaining. His cap hit is gone.

Incredibly, the Sabres have only $30,419,166 committed to players for next season. They’re a whopping $20,580,834 below the salary floor. They have only four defensemen under contract for 2014-15.

Expect Murray to be busy when free agency opens Tuesday.

Murray has already ditched six players acquired by former general manager Darcy Regier, including forward Ville Leino, the Sabres’ first compliance buyout.

Ehrhoff and Leino joined the Sabres just days apart three years ago as supposed missing pieces for a Stanley Cup run.

For about $38 million total, the two combined for 26 goals and 133 points. The Sabres won 81 of 212 the games during their tenures and missed the playoffs all three seasons.

While it’s easy to forget now, Ehrhoff’s signing helped ignite Cup optimism to perhaps an all-time high. Ehrhoff, a player owner Terry Pegula wanted Regier to target, was fresh off two monster seasons with Vancouver.

But he never fully acclimated to the Sabres. Still, he was one of their better players, leading them in ice time and compiling decent offensive numbers, including 33 points last season. He had 16 goals and 87 points in 192 games.

Some observers thought Ehrhoff, an alternate captain, looked disinterested as the Sabres became a laughingstock last year.

In February, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Sabres asked Ehrhoff for a list of teams he would accept a trade to.

When asked about his future following the season, Ehrhoff said he “signed a long-term commitment with the team.”

“As long as they want me to be here, I’m going to do my best for the team,” he said as the Sabres cleaned out their lockers in April.

He added: “I think if they want to move me, they can move me. If not, they won’t.”

Now, he can chase a championship somewhere else.

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