Trading Ehrhoff will be a risk-reward venture

If things weren’t frantic enough in the land of Sabres trade rumors, Christian Ehrhoff is now said to be on the block in what’s shaping up to be the biggest fire sale this side of the Florida Miami Marlins.

Ehrhoff has been a steady contributor on the blueline since he first signed and is easily Buffalo’s number one defenseman. While his contract goes forever, it’s at a very friendly cap hit that allows for quite a bit of maneuverability. Adding his on-ice exploits to such a friendly cap hit makes for an attractive trade chip for a number of competitors.

The issue, however, is the Cap Recapture Clause that was included in the new CBA after last year’s lockout. It was built to penalize teams who signed massive, cap circumventing contracts under the previous CBA. It’s a very complicated rule that is difficult to explain but if you read this thread from HF Boards (h/t Scott Michalak @scottyMCSS) on how Ehrhoff’s recapture penalty works you’ll know all you need on how hard the Sabres will be hit if he’s traded.

As you may notice, Buffalo gets hammered if they trade Ehrhoff and he retires prior to the end of his deal. This is particularly true if Ehrhoff chooses to retire after the 2018-19 season ($5M cap penalty) or 2019-20 season ($10M cap penalty). That’s a lot of scratch to sacrifice. It also makes trading him nearly prohibitive.

Any penalty would be erased if Ehrhoff is bought out before his retirement. So the Sabres could conceivably work out an agreement to re-acquire Ehrhoff for the purposes of buying him out or even have the team that acquires him carry out that action. The latter agreement being a risky venture nearly on par with crossing your fingers and hoping he plays out the entire contract. The former, however, is something that might be in the cards for Murray and the Sabres stockpile of Pegulabucks.

What worries me about Ehrhoff is that he doesn’t play a high-mileage style that would see him suffer from a massive physical drop off in the coming seasons. Because he’s such an effective player and he doesn’t suffer from many ailments, I think it’s quite realistic to think that he’ll be flirting with retirement close to the seasons where the penalty is astronomical.

Retirement after 2017-18 – he’d be 35 – or earlier brings a cap penalty that registers at 5% or lower of this year’s $64.3 million cap. That’s a manageable amount that would have even less of an impact as the cap continues to rise in the coming seasons. It’s only the penalty that comes after retirement in 2018-19 or 2019-20 that serves as a sizeable chunk of the team’s cap no matter how high the cap climbs by then.

This is where Murray will need to gamble. If he’s confident that Ehrhoff will retire prior to the 19-20 season then it’s likely that he’ll just take his medicine with the $3.33M cap hit penalty since it wouldn’t make a sizeable dent in Buffalo’s overall cap situation. If he’s not, he’d likely be finding a way to swing an 11th hour deal to bring Ehrhoff back to Buffalo for the purposes of a buy out.

Perhaps that is why Murray is reported to be dangling Ehrhoff in trade talks. Maybe he’s confident in sacrificing something down the line to bring Ehrhoff back for the purposes of a buy out because the return he would fetch now will go a long way towards Buffalo’s rebuild. Of course, whoever holds Ehrhoff’s rights may hold the Sabres ransom when they try to bring him back if they hope to buy him out before his retirement.

It’s a risky venture no matter how you break it down as there’s no foolproof way to get around the impact of the cap recapture penalty. However, the options that are available and the return from a trade may entice Murray to roll the dice.

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