In the weeks leading up to the recent NHL trade deadline, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was frequently mentioned as a possible trade candidate. Indeed, the week before deadline day, the Sabres requested he submit a list of eight teams to which he wouldn’t accept a trade.
The deadline passed with Ehrhoff still a member of the Sabres, but it’s possible this season could be his last in Buffalo. Following the deadline, Sabres GM Tim Murray told The Buffalo News he wasn’t finished making changes to his roster. Murray didn’t single out anyone, but Ehrhoff could be among those changes this summer.
In July 2011 Ehrhoff inked a 10-year, $40 million contract with the Sabres. The deal was heavily front-loaded, paying out $22 million of the $40 million in the first three seasons, allowing the Sabres a cap-friendly annual average salary of $4 million. The deal also comes with a clause preventing him from being demoted to the minors plus a modified no-trade clause.
Assuming the Sabres put Ehrhoff on the trade block this summer it’s believed there could be considerable interest in the 31-year-old puck-moving blueliner. In the days leading up to the trade deadline Ehrhoff was frequently linked to the Detroit Red Wings.
If Ehrhoff is traded, however, he’s among a handful of players who fall under the league’s salary-cap advantage recapture rules in the current CBA.
Assuming Ehrhoff is traded to the Red Wings this summer, the Sabres will be penalized if he retires before his contract expires in 2021. The severity depends upon which season he retires. For example, if he retires in the summer of 2015, the Sabres get tagged for $1.666 million per season against their cap over the remaining tenure of his contract.
If he retires in 2016, it’s $2 million per season. In 2017, it’s $2.5 million per. In 2018, over $3.333 million. In 2019, $5 million. The worst penalty comes if he retires in 2020 before the completion of the final year of his contract. For 2020-21, the Sabres would be penalized a whopping $10 million against their cap. Even with the anticipated annual increases to the NHL cap ceiling, that’s still a huge bite out of the Sabres’ payroll.
As for the Red Wings, they wouldn’t be penalized by Ehrhoff’s retirement in any of the aforementioned years. Combined with his annual $4 million cap hit, that could provide additional incentive for the Wings to pursue him this summer.
This doesn’t mean Murray won’t trade Ehrhoff out of fear a potential early retirement could come back to haunt his team. It’s merely to illustrate how the actions of Murray’s predecessor could still come back to bite the Sabres in the wallet down the road.