The Philadelphia Flyers need a roster shakeup. Though improvements to multiple areas are justified, improvements to the blueline are imperative. Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm resides at the top of most people’s wish list, and for a good reason. However, plenty of teams will look to add him to their ranks, making it more challenging to acquire him for a reasonable price. In that case, Philadelphia needs a backup plan. Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen may prove to be a solid consolation prize.
Ristolainen is no stranger to the rumor mill. Every time the Sabres struggle, which is every season, his name comes up as a possible trade piece.
Buffalo’s 8th-overall pick in 2013, Ristolainen has developed into a polarizing defenseman that garners mixed opinions from observers. On the one hand, you have a physically imposing blueliner that’s averaging 0.46 points per game through eight seasons. On the other hand, you have a defensively-flawed player that is no friend to the analytical crowd.
In 513 career games with the Sabres, Rasmus Ristolainen obtained 45 goals and 190 assists. 108 of those 235 points were on the power play. Also, he is averaging 23:59 in ice-time during his tenure with Buffalo. Although he is offensively gifted, he’s demonstrated holes in his defensive game. Plus/Minus rarely is a friend to Ristolainen. Currently, he sits at a minus-11 but once notched a minus-41 in 2018-19. Say what you want about the stat. It’s hard to justify that number.
As previously mention, advanced metrics do him no favors either. As someone who takes his analytics with a grain of salt, I still put a decent amount of weight on Corsi and Fenwick, both possession statistics. Of course, averages well-below the preferred 50% or above in both categories. This translates into the Sabres failing to possess the puck frequently while Ristolainen is on the ice.
Now, one cannot blame the poor numbers solely on the player. The Buffalo Sabres are a brutal team. In case you’ve been sleeping for a decade, they have been that way for a while. Strong possession numbers are challenging on a poor team. The same holds with plus/minus.
It’s foolish to ignore Ristolainen’s upside completely. There’s merit in suggesting that he improves with a change of scenery. Now Philadelphia might not be the most defensively-sound team, but they are not Buffalo. Pairing the right-shot Ristolainen with Ivan Provorov might be what he needs to revitalize his career.
If Philadelphia acquired Rasmus Ristolainen, it would not be as a rental. The 26-year-old is on the books for one more year at a $5.4 million cap hit. The salary may cause some caution, but it becomes a non-issue if the Flyers can attach Shayne Gostisbehere or Erik Gustafsson to the deal.
Of course, expansion draft caution exists as well. Adding Ristolainen to the books means there is another defenseman Philadelphia must consider protecting. The keyword in the previous sentence is “consider.” No rule exists that states the Flyers must protect him. If things don’t go as planned this season, Philadelphia can leave him exposed. If they decide to protect Ristolainen, that means things are working, which can only be seen as a positive.
Does Rasmus Ristolainen check all of the boxes? No, he does not. Certain flaws need fixing. At the same time, it is rare to find the ideal fix available via trade. Teams typically are not in the business of parting with elite assets. Philadelphia must work with what is available. Ristolainen just so happens to be available.
If you focus your attention on reasons to not acquire players, you will rarely find someone you like. Sometimes, it’s worth looking a what makes a player appealing and hope that he improves where he struggles. For an organization in desperate need of a roster shake-up, acquiring Ristolainen might be a move both the player and team need.
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