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Ehrhoff ready to be a money player; Sabre highest paid blue-liner in NHL

Christian Ehrhoff is fine dealing with expectations. There were plenty of them the last two years in hockey-mad Vancouver. And that was especially true last season, when the Canucks got all the way to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup final.

But when he put his name to the dotted line on June 30 and joined the Buffalo Sabres with a 10-year, $40-million contract that's the longest in franchise history, Ehrhoff upped the ante to new levels.

Ehrhoff will earn $10 million from the Sabres this season, $8 million coming in a signing bonus. The only NHL player who will make more in 2011-12 is Brad Richards of the New York Rangers at $12 million.

It also makes Ehrhoff the highest-paid defenseman in the entire league for the season by a good chunk of change. Boston's Zdeno Chara is next at $8.5 million.

The deal is admittedly front-loaded, to the chagrin of several other NHL teams, so that the Sabres only have a $4 million annual salary cap hit. That's a veritable bargain for a quality blue-liner these days. Fellow newcomer Robyn Regehr actually has a cap hit that's $20,000 higher.

Still, Ehrhoff can't come here and merely fit in. He's being paid star money and has to play like one.

"It doesn't really put that much more pressure on me," Ehrhoff insisted after he was introduced to the media Wednesday in HSBC Arena's Harbour Club. "I put enough pressure on myself. I want to be a big part of this franchise for many years to come.

"Pressure is part of the business and you have to deal with those expectations and that pressure. I played in Vancouver before. It's a very pressure-filled city and I think I've dealt with that pretty good."

Ehrhoff is here to bring even more offense to a defense corps that was one of the NHL's best in that area last year. And he should also be an immediate boost where the Sabres need it most, on the power play.

"For me, it's about Christian fitting in in the role we need him to fit in," said General Manager Darcy Regier. "That contract for whatever it represents, he's a young guy and it's a $4 million cap hit and that's very reasonable compared to a lot of other people making more than that.

"The thing that people might focus on is the length of it but it was also something afforded to us by this ownership so that we were able to keep the cap number down.

"As far as his play, the focus for Christian will be to play to his gift, to do what he does very well. He'll have lots of support and that's the critical factor, not having everything on one person. We need him to play his game, to play to his strength and we'll support him."

Ehrhoff, a native of Germany, came to town for a few days to go house-hunting with his wife, Farina, before returning to Europe today. He has two daughters under the age of 3.

Regier, coach Lindy Ruff and team president Ted Black presented him with his white No. 10 sweater, and Black pointed out that owner Terry Pegula had been talking about Ehrhoff as a player he liked even before his purchase of the team was completed in February.

"Christian fits the way we play," said Ruff. "We're a team that has our defense involved and gets up ice. If you look at the way Vancouver's defense played and were involved in the offensive side of the game, it's an automatic fit.

"He brings another weapon to us on the power play and has a great shot. He's just a real good piece for us as a hockey club and we're excited to have him."

Ehrhoff is coming off a season that saw him post career-highs in goals (14), assists (36) and points (50). He said he was impressed with Pegula's commitment to go for a Stanley Cup, and that's why he turned down the New York Islanders' reported five-year, $23-million offer and accepted Buffalo's when the Sabres traded for his rights.

He said he discussed playing in Buffalo with fellow German Olympic teammate Jochen Hecht, former San Jose teammate and ex-Sabre Mike Grier and former Sabre Daryl Shannon, with whom he played in Germany.

"I didn't see [winning a Cup] with the Islanders so I decided not to take their offer, which was a great offer they made," Ehrhoff said. "The next morning I woke up and was with Buffalo and went through the process again of talking to ownership, management and the coach and with people I know.

"Everybody just had good things to say about the city of Buffalo being a great place to live with your kids and a good place for them to grow up, which was another criteria I was looking for."

He also said he was impressed by the Sabres' young talent and by playing in front of goaltender Ryan Miller.

"They are a very talented hockey club," he said. "They've got a great goalie and we saw in the last final that's the No. 1 thing you need to be successful. They've got a lot of good young players and I'm excited to be part of that group."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com