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Sabres go after Ehrhoff, trade away Montador; Blue-liner due for free agency

Terry Pegula said the Buffalo Sabres would be aggressive in free agency. After they acquired the rights to Christian Ehrhoff, one of the premier defensemen remaining on the marketplace, it became obvious the owner wasn't kidding.

The Sabres sent a fourth-round pick in next year's draft to the New York Islanders on Wednesday night just for the right to talk with Ehrhoff, who helped Vancouver reach the Stanley Cup finals.

The Sabres weren't done, trading the rights of defenseman Steve Montador to Chicago late Wednesday night for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2012 or 2013 NHL draft.

Ehrhoff was the night's biggest move. The pending unrestricted free agent was shipped earlier this week to the Isles, who were unable to sign him despite an offer reported to be for five years and more than $23 million. He made $3.4 million last season.

The Sabres were unable to talk with Ehrhoff on Wednesday night because he was in his native Germany, which has a six-hour time difference. The Sabres did talk with Ehrhoff's agent, Rick Curran, who will set up a call today.

"Sabres management will have an opportunity to reach out and chat with him a little bit about their organization, express to him their aspirations for bringing him to Buffalo and what they hope to accomplish," Curran said by phone.

Ehrhoff will be available to all 30 NHL teams at noon Friday if the Sabres fail to sign him before then.

The defenseman, who turns 29 next week, has back-to-back seasons with 14 goals. He recorded 36 assists and 50 points with the Canucks this year, both career highs.

"Getting the right players is key for your game plan," Pegula said Wednesday afternoon in Rochester after being introduced as owner of the Americans. "We're going to be reasonably aggressive. We'll be right in there with most of the other teams.

"Free agency started a long time ago for us. We've been working real hard. Obviously, I can't come up with any names of players [due to tampering rules], but we're going to do our best."

With teams successfully working to re-sign their free agents this week, the Sabres obviously felt they needed to strike before the market became even thinner.

"It seems we're taking names off the board on a daily basis," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said at the Amerks news conference. "There's still some good players out there, and we plan to be active."

Ehrhoff is a three-time German Olympian, including two stints with Sabres forward Jochen Hecht. The 6-foot-2, 203-pounder has played seven seasons in the NHL, spending his first five years with San Jose and the last two with Vancouver.

A shoulder injury suffered in the Western Conference final limited Ehrhoff during the Canucks' Stanley Cup loss to Boston, but he finished the postseason with two goals and 12 points in 23 games.

"His mind-set is to be with an organization that is looking at being a Stanley Cup contender, and being part of a group of players that are looking to win," Curran said. "The best way to put it is, 'I've left Vancouver, where we were knocking on the door for the Stanley Cup, and wherever I go I want to make sure that I have that same opportunity.' "

The fourth-round pick in the 2001 draft has played 500 games, recording 53 goals and 173 assists. He has a plus-55 rating and 94 penalty minutes the last two seasons.

Montador did not figure into the Sabres' plans. He spent two seasons in Buffalo, and he was one of their top defenseman through the first half of last year. He struggled late, a slide that continued when he was scratched for Game Seven of the first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia.

The 31-year-old had five goals and 26 points in 73 games, putting up a plus-16 rating.

The Sabres were successful in signing one of their own free agents, forward Nathan Gerbe.

Gerbe has been surrounded by all the Cup inspiration he needs. He's been working out the past six weeks in Boston, where's it's been impossible to avoid talk of the Bruins winning the Cup. Gerbe did manage to miss the victory parade, however.

"I didn't go," he said by phone. "It's always tough to see the team you're competing against win the Cup. That's something you always dream of and want. I guess there's a little bit of jealousy there, but it makes you work harder."

He'll be working for the Sabres for the next three seasons.

The team and the 23-year-old have agreed to a three-year contract worth $4.3 million. He'll make $1.25 million each of the next two seasons and $1.8 million in 2013-14. Gerbe was a restricted free agent who made $850,000 last year.

"I'm pretty excited to be part of the team again," Gerbe said. "I know this team is going in the right direction, and I think everyone wants to be part of a winning group. I hope that's exactly what I'm a part of."

The former Boston College standout helped the Sabres excel in the second half last season. He scored 15 of his 16 goals in the final 41 games and added two more in the playoffs.

"Nathan has a tremendous amount of potential that really we began to see in the second half of the season," Regier said. "He's always been a goal scorer. I think he'll continue to be a goal scorer. The sky is the limit for him."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com