- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2011

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The Sabres have done their part in showing how interested they are in signing free agent-to-be defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.

Now it’s up to Ehrhoff to determine whether he’s interested in Buffalo or intent seeking other offers once the NHL’s free-agency period opens Friday.

General manager Darcy Regier described initial talks as “positive,” after he and team officials contacted Ehrhoff by phone in his native Germany on Thursday morning. The call was the first direct contact the Sabres had with the player, who was fast asleep a day earlier, when Buffalo acquired him in a trade with the New York Islanders in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.

It was the second time in two days Ehrhoff switched teams after the Islanders gave up their own fourth-round pick to acquire the player from Vancouver.

Regier said the conversation ended with Ehrhoff intending to consult with his wife and also contact other NHL players _ including current and former Sabres _ to learn more about Buffalo and the team to help make his decision.

Regier expected to hear back from Ehrhoff before the end of the day.

Though Regier has not set a deadline for getting a deal done, time is short. If unsigned by noon Friday, Ehrhoff will become a free agent and eligible to accept offers from around the NHL.

Ehrhoff’s agent, Richard Curran, declined comment now that the Sabres have contacted his client. Thursday night, Curran was encouraged by the Sabres’ aggressive approach, but also cautioned that the decision to sign with Buffalo was ultimately up to Ehrhoff.

Regier expressed confidence a deal could be reached in explaining why the Sabres made the bold step to make the deal so close to free agency.

The Sabres have a need at defense and wanted to get first crack at landing Ehrhoff given that this year’s crop of top-flight free agents is comparatively smaller than previous summers.

“We decided we would try to get a head start. And it’s costly, I mean a fourth-round pick is significant,” Regier said. “But it’s an advantage I think we plan on making pay off.”

Ehrhoff is a seven-year NHL veteran who is expected to command a raise over the $3.4 million he made in the final year of his contract last year. He’s a puck-moving blue-liner who fits the Sabres system.

Ehrhoff had 14 goals, 36 assists and a plus-19 rating in 79 games for Vancouver last season. He had two goals and 10 assists in the Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup finals, but was a minus-13 while hampered with a nagging shoulder injury.

Overall, the 28-year-old has 53 goals, 173 assists and 338 penalty minutes in 500 regular-season games with San Jose and Vancouver. He has seven goals and 27 assists in 73 playoff games.

The Sabres have identified defense and center as two needs they’d like to address this summer in improving a team that was eliminated from the first round of the playoffs for a second straight year.

The retooling process began last weekend, when Buffalo acquired defenseman Robyn Regehr and forward Ales Kotalik in a trade with Calgary.

Joined by his wife Kristina, Regehr had a good first impression of the Sabres in making his first visit to Buffalo on Thursday since being traded.

Regehr said he “made the right decision” to drop his no-trade clause to allow the deal to happen. And he credited new Sabres owner Terry Pegula for the hands-on approach he took during trade talks.

Pegula contacted Regehr several times to sell the player on the Sabres. And Pegula then flew to Regehr’s home in northern Saskatchewan shortly after the trade was completed.

“We heard on the phone how committed Terry, Darcy and Lindy (Ruff) are to the Sabres,” Regehr said. “And I think this just goes to show you that they’re willing to back it up with actions as well.”

Regehr then described the Sabres’ bid to sign Ehrhoff as another indication of Pegula’s desire to build a winner since the Pennsylvania billionaire purchased the team in February.

“I think it’s great,” Regehr said. “That’s a definite change and another sign of the change that’s happening here with this hockey team.”

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