The big man got a big deal.
The Philadelphia Flyers signed their most physical defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, to a five-year, $25.5 million extension Thursday. It carries an annual $5.1 million cap hit.
The 6-foot-4, 221-pound Ristolainen has a $5.4 million cap hit this season.
It’s a good signing for a player who is eighth in the NHL in hits (177), and keeps opponents’ heads on a swivel. He leads the Flyers in hits and is third in blocked shots (90).
“Rasmus is an important part of our team,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “… He is committed to being a Flyer, and brings a consistent physical presence.”
“It was good to get it done as soon as possible,” said Ristolainen, who probably would have been dealt before the March 21 trade deadline if he didn’t come to terms with the Flyers. “I was pretty confident I wanted to stay and they wanted me to stay, so it’s good to be here.”
Besides the contract, what made him want to sign and avoid free agency this summer?
“I love the city. I love the fan base; (they’re) very passionate,” said Ristolainen, who has two goals, 13 points, and a minus-11 rating. “I love my teammates. I really enjoy my time here, and I believe we can turn it around here real quick.”
The Flyers (18-28-10), crippled by injuries, are buried in the standings and have endured 10- and 13-game losing streaks.
“I hope we learn from this year; we never want to go through this again,” said Ristolainen, adding he believes it will only be a one-year struggle, and that the Flyers have a “pretty good core.”
Ristolainen, 27, who has been used on the second pairing with Travis Sanheim and has played on the power play recently, could have become an unrestricted free agent in July.
Some fans thought the Flyers overpaid:
this is like when my wife comes home with $200 shoes and says YEAH BUT THEY WERE ON SALE!
— Alex (@imostlyreply) March 10, 2022
Some fans thought the deal was a fair one:
I guess this will be the going rate for a 2nd pair guy. I like Risto and i'm looking forward to seeing him bang guys around for the next few years this D Corps will hopefully look so much better next year with a healthy Ellis and Provy to go with Sanheim and Risto
— Chris Heydt (@ChrisHeydt1) March 10, 2022
The player they call “Risto” was acquired from Buffalo in the offseason for Robert Hagg and first- and second-round draft picks. If the Flyers had lost him to free agency, it would have been a disastrous deal.
Now the Flyers have one of their righthanded defensemen locked up until the end of the 2026-27 season.
The Philadelphia Flyers’ other defensemen signed beyond this season: Ivan Provorov ($6.75 million annual cap hit), Ryan Ellis ($6.25 million), Travis Sanheim ($4.675 million), and Cam York ($880,833).
With Ristolainen signed, the Flyers may not pursue righthanded defenseman Jeff Petry from Montreal unless they feel Ellis will remain sidelined next season.
Ristolainen, a Finland native, was selected by Buffalo in the first round (No. 8 overall) in the 2013 draft. In that draft, the Flyers took Samuel Morin with the No. 11 overall pick. Morin has been hindered by injuries throughout his career and has played in just 29 NHL games.
Without the injuries, the 6-6 Morin might have been the same type of player as Ristolainen.
The Flyers, winners of two straight, will play the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday. It will be the Flyers’ first road game since Feb. 15, a 5-4 overtime loss in Pittsburgh.
Philly is coming off a 2-1 win Tuesday over Vegas. In that game, goalie Carter Hart made a career-high 47 saves, and Ristolainen aided the cause with six hits and six blocked shots.
“The expectation were really high early in the year,” Ristolainen said. “We have a really good team on paper. Lot of injuries. I mean, every team goes through injuries and stuff like that, but it’s been a big disappointment. But I believe it will only be this one season, and next season we will be a lot better team.”
In his last six seasons, Ristolainen is second among NHL defensemen in hits (1,209). In his career, he has 258 points (48 goals, 210 assists) in 591 games, and he has averaged 23:40 of ice time per game.