Christian Ehrhoff seems to be exactly the sort of player whom contending teams pay dearly for at this time of year. The veteran defenseman has size, a heavy shot from the point and plays a solid possession game. He also comes with an affordable cap hit ($1.5 million) and an expiring contract, making him a fit for nearly every budget.
So how is it that the 33-year-old passed through waivers unclaimed on Thursday?
Turns out that these days, "free" is no bargain.
“Taking on a salary, taking on a contract, [these things aren’t] done in a vacuum,” one team executive told SI.com. “There’s only so much room. You don’t want to corner yourself. If you’re going to bring in a player, you probably want to move one out, too.”
In other words, there may have been several teams interested in his services. But rather than claim him on waivers—a move that would require assuming his full contract—it makes more sense to work out a trade that involves the Kings retaining salary or taking on another player and his contract in return.
That could yet happen. There’s no shortage of teams that could use a player with Ehrhoff’s skill set for insurance, if nothing else. Boston, Washington, Dallas, Chicago, Ottawa and the Rangers are all looking for blue line help and it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of them consummated a deal with the Kings.
Or Ehrhoff may have run out of options as his skills have eroded. He’s not particularly mobile and his hockey sense seems to be waning with his confidence. He’s also shown a tendency to take bad penalties. That may be the issue that finally ate away at the patience of Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who seems to have more faith in newcomer Luke Schenn. And it may be an issue that scared off other teams as well.
For now, Ehrhoff is headed to Ontario of the AHL. By burying him there, the Kings clear some space ahead of the Feb. 29 trade deadline. According to General Fanager, the move leaves the Kings with the ability to assume just over $4 million in contracts. Not a lot in the grand scheme, but it might be just enough to pay for an upgrade on Ehrhoff for the stretch run.