Availability of Ehrhoff sweetens free agent pool; Boyle still seems likely fit

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings’ chances of landing a top-four defenseman through free agency just got better.

The very limited pool of top four unrestricted free agent defensemen got a bit bigger Sunday when the Buffalo Sabres decided to use a compliance buyout on Christian Ehrhoff, who still had seven years left on a 10-year deal with an average salary cap hit of $4 million.

That’ll make Ehrhoff, who turns 32 on July 6, an unrestricted free agent so he can sign with any team beginning at noon on July 1.

Detroit had interest in Ehrhoff in 2011 when Brian Rafalski decided to retire, leaving a huge hole on the blue line, but didn’t want to overpay him.

The teams have also had decisions a couple of times about a possibly trading Ehrhoff, but Buffalo decided to hang onto him.

Even though the Wings would like to land a right-hand defenseman, the left-handed Ehrhoff (6-2, 196) has the offensive abilities they’re looking for.

He’s a premier skater, who logs a ton of minutes, can move the puck and likes to join the rush. He can also quarterback the power play.

“We’ve got seven left-hand D,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I love it but how do you get (a righty)? It’s great to have this fantasy, like Kenny Holland would tell you, there’s no tree. I’ve been all over him but there’s no tree to grab them off of, so we’ll get what we get.”

Ehrhoff, who’ll get $12 million over the next 14 years, had six goals and 27 assists in 79 games last season. He however was a -27. In 692 career regular season games he has 69 goals and 244 assists. In the playoffs he’s totaled seven goals and 27 assists in 73 games.

“I just think it’s so much easier when you have a right and lefty on every pair,” Babcock added. “All you’ve got to do is look at LA, a right and lefty on every pair. It makes it easier to get through the neutral zone. It’s easier off D-zone faceoffs to execute, you have the puck more. You can get it off the wall and shoot it ion the offensive zone. To me it just makes sense.”

The free agent pool for right-handed defensemen is thin and the asking price via a trade – Buffalo’s Tyler Myers or Arizona’s Keith Yandle – is quite steep – Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar or Tomas Jurco.

The Wings, along with numerous other teams, met with the agents for right-handed defensemen Dan Boyle (New York Islanders) and Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh) Thursday in Philadelphia.

Niskanen, 27, is most likely looking for a lengthy deal, probably a maximum seven years and possibly upwards of $6 million a season to sign.

The Wings would be OK with the length, but they’re not going to break the bank to get him. They may not want to pay him much more annually than what Niklas Kronwall ($4.75 million) is making.

Boyle, who’ll turn 38 next month, and could be had for a two-deal at around $5.5 million a season.

Detroit, which wants its young right-handed defensemen to start the season in Grand Rapids, also could settle on Anton Stralman (Rangers), Stephane Robidas (Anaheim) or Tom Gilbert (Florida).

Detroit has $54.2 million tied up in 18 players for next season and still need to sign restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan.

With the salary cap at $69 million for next season that’ll leave the Wings close to $10 million to spend on other free agents.

Defenseman Kyle Quincey, who’s unrestricted, is expected to hit the open market.

Daniel Alfredsson and Daniel Cleary, who was promised a possible extension after signing a one-year deal on the first day of training camp, could both re-signed as well.


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