Monday, June 30, 2014

Ehrhoff vs Niskanen

Matt Niskanen (left) and Christian Ehrhoff (right) battle for the puck back in 2011.
Photo: Glenn James/Getty Images
With free agency set to open tomorrow at 11, there has been a lot of speculation about the Wild possibility signing a defenseman. Michael Russo has been reporting for the past few days that the Wild have been in touch with Matt Niskanen's agent, fueling the speculation that Niskanen could wind up in Minnesota next year.

But yesterday, news broke that the Buffalo Sabres are putting defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on waivers for the purpose of using a compliance buyout. With Ehrhoff now on the market, both him and Niskanen figure to be the top two sought after defenseman.

Niskanen is coming off a career year, in which he scored 46 points (10 goals, 36 assists) in 81 games for Pittsburgh. Before 2013-14, his previous three season point totals were 10, 21, and 14 respectively (his career high was 35 in 2008-09). In addition to his extremely high point total, Niskanen also carried a 6.2 shooting percentage on the season (to compare, Ryan Suter had a 5.3 SH%).

Meanwhile, Ehrhoff has had three less than stellar years for the Buffalo Sabres since signing his 10 year, $40 million deal prior to the 2011-12 season. His point totals the past three seasons have been 32, 22, and 33, and has only scored a combined 16 goals in that time. His shooting percentage was 3.7%, after having a 3.7% and a 4.9% respectively from the previous two seasons.

From a puck possession standpoint, both are fairly strong. While Ehrhoff may not have great 5-on-5 Corsi For and Fenwick For numbers from the previous three seasons, keep in mind he has been playing for a poor possession team (Buffalo). Ehrhoff's numbers were tops for Buffalo this season. Niskanen has had solid numbers from the past three seasons and saw a bit of a spike thanks to his phenominal season.

As both head into free agency, Ehrhoff does so at the age of 32 while Niskanen is just 27. Niskanen will more than likely demand a big contract after coming off his career season, where as Ehrhoff might not get a big deal due to his lack of production (in terms of points) in Buffalo.

Both would be upgrades for Minnesota on the defensive side. Both have good offensive instincts, and would greatly improve a power play that was horrid beyond belief last year. But with some promising defenseman on the way up for Minnesota (Christian Folin, Matt Dumba, Gustav Olofsson) it would be a more logical move for them to try and sign a defenseman willing to take a short term deal. In this case, that could very well be Ehrhoff.

It remains to be seen if Minnesota has any interest in Christian Ehrhoff. They could and gauge his interest in coming here, or they could just keep trying to court Matt Niskanen and try get him to sign here. The answer will more than likely come tomorrow. Check back then and see who Minnesota lands.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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