Chuck Fletcher has gone to work this offseason. So far, he’s made four trades and acquired three players to help bolster the Flyers roster. Rasmus Ristolainen was the second player –– and defenseman –– that he added.
With the dust settled from NHL Draft weekend and a few days before free agency starts on Wednesday, I wanted to take a look back at each trade. What did the Flyers give up, what did they get, and, most importantly, how did the Flyers fare in the trade?
Let’s get into these Flyers trade grades.
July 22nd & 23rd: Flyers clear cap space for Rasmus Ristolainen
In: Cap space
Out: Shayne Gostisbehere, 2022 second-round pick, 2022 seventh-round pick
Out: Robert Hagg, 2021 first-round pick, 2023 second-round pick
I’m grouping these two trades together. The Shayne Gostisbehere trade to Arizona was a pure salary cap move in order to clear room for their next acquisition: Rasmus Ristolainen.
Essentially, the Flyers gave up Gostisbehere, Hagg, a first-round pick, two second-round picks, and a seventh-round pick for Ristolainen. It’s a very steep price for a defenseman that’s been the No. 1 defenseman on the worst team in the league.
Ristolainen is 26 years old and carries a $5.4 million cap hit for this season. The Flyers may look to re-sign him either this offseason or during the season, depending on how things play out.
The big right defenseman is one of the most polarizing players that has been moved this offseason. His underlying numbers and on-ice goal metrics don’t do him any favors. However, he is a physical defenseman that is tough to play against.
Ristolainen a top-pair punching bag in Buffalo
Ristolainen played over 3,400 minutes at 5-on-5 play over the past three seasons. Only 77 defensemen played over 3,000 minutes in that span. Unfortunately, in terms of shot attempts, shots on goal, expected goals, scoring chances, and actual goals, Ristolainen is right down near the bottom.
|Relative||Rasmus Ristolainen||Rank (of 77)|
Stats via Natural Stat Trick
To put it simply, the Sabres had more shot attempts, shots on goal, scoring chances, expected goals, and goals with Ristolainein on the bench. They also allowed fewer shot attempts, shots on goal, scoring chances, expected goals, and goals with Ristolainen on the bench.
Say whatever you want to about his competition, teammates, how bad the Sabres were, or whathaveyou: that’s not good.
But there may be some reason for some hope.
Could Ristolainen turn things around in right role?
Ristolainen was thrown right into the fire by the Sabres after being drafted in 2013. He averaged 19:07 of ice time per game across 34 games in the 2013-14 season. He played 20:37 per game the next season and has played at least 22 minutes per game for the last six seasons.
The Finnish defenseman had to learn on the fly and develop in the best league in the world. Perhaps that impacted him and forced him into playing below his level. It also didn’t help that the Sabres were one of the worst teams in the league for the entirety of his time there.
“Rasmus is a young man that stepped into Buffalo and played a really big role at a young age on a developing hockey team. I believe he had five different head coaches in Buffalo, so AV will be his sixth head coach,” Chuck Fletcher said. “We’re hoping that with stability and putting him with an experienced partner, another good young player, that he can come in and fit in very nicely with our group. He can shoot the park. He can skate. He’s big and strong. I think when you look at our defense corps now, we have a pretty good mix of youth and veteran players.”
Ristolainen will likely slot onto the second pair with Travis Sanheim. He won’t have to play first-pair minutes against every team’s best line as he did with the Sabres. Instead, he’ll play in a role that more fits his skill level. Hopefully, that can help turn things around for Ristolainen. He had some disappointing years (to say the least) in Buffalo.
Flyers paid too much for Rasmus Ristolainen
If the Flyers had just traded Gostisbehere and Hagg for Ristolainen –– or similar ––, this trade wouldn’t be nearly as bad. But they didn’t. They also gave up the 13th overall pick this year, two second-round picks next year, and a seventh-round pick next year. That’s a lot of assets to give up for a defenseman that hasn’t played too well over the past few seasons.
What made the trade look worse is that the Sabres then traded Sam Reinhart for a first-round pick and a prospect. Reinhart is a player that the Flyers could’ve used as a second-line center.
Ultimately, the Flyers gave up a lot of future assets and two defensemen of similar enough quality to Ristolainen for the right-handed defenseman. It may be a better fit, but the price was way too high.
Trade Grade: D