Flyers defensive retool complete after Ristolainen trade

After sending Shayne Gostisbehere to Arizona yesterday, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher stated:

It was like Fletcher knew something was already in motion, and as it turns out that was an understatement. Sending Ghost and some picks to the Coyotes for “future considerations” was not the most exciting trade ever, especially when those considerations equal nothing. Cap space is that valuable these days apparently. So, was this trade what most Flyer fans were clamoring for? From the initial reaction I witnessed, I would have to answer with an emphatic “no.”

There had been some chatter yesterday leading into today regarding possible Flyer interest in Sabres players such as Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen. We all know what Eichel is capable off when he is healthy and motivated, and personally I was really digging the idea of Reinhart donning the orange and black. Reinhart being a guy who can play on the powerplay, can play wing or center. However, it ended up being the most divisive of the three rumored players who was acquired.

The trade:

I have no real issue about moving out Robert Hagg, as it seemed he would have been a depth defenseman on this year’s squad and therefore expendable. However, what was shocking was that the Flyers 13th overall pick in tonight’s draft was included in this package. As well yet another second-round pick from 2023. That is a steep price to pay.

Even with reports stating other teams were offering their first-round picks to Buffalo, the fact Ristolainen’s trade value warranted a first rounder baffles me. When you compare this trade to the acquisition of Ryan Ellis just a few days ago, the Flyers gave up less-valuable assets to acquire a better player. Nolan Patrick needed a fresh start and yes, it did kind of hurt to lose Phil Myers. But replacing him with Ellis and not losing any draft picks was a great outcome.

I can understand the initial frustration from the majority of the fanbase, especially when everyone and their mother is saying we got “fleeced.” Whether the heavy price paid can be attributed to a market that is just very inflated this summer, I cannot say. It could be that the league is still high on Ristolainen and associate his struggles with the team he was on. It is a head-scratcher in the moment, but I will not go as far as to say it is one of the worst deals in team history.

Ristolainen was the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft and has been on one of, if not the worst team in the NHL. High expectations, poor team around him. Considering that, the man known as “Risto” has basically been forced to play on the top pair during his entire Buffalo tenure. The least amount of average time on ice (ATOI) he has had was 19:07, back in his rookie year.

For a guy who has been labeled as a bad play-driving defenseman, his career point total beat my expectations. From the 2015-’16 season to 2018-’19, Ristolainen had 40+ points and for his career has 291 points in 542 games. For a “non-offensive” defenseman on a bad team, to me that is not half bad. Last season, he finished fourth in hits with 193 and usually finds himself around the 200 mark for hits in a season. There are also multiple examples of players escaping Buffalo and elevating their play, paging Taylor Hall. Sure, I am being optimistic here, but Buffalo has truly been awful.

Of course, I have not seen a lot of Sabres games in recent years (because who would consciously choose to watch them), but maybe a reduced role and better team are just what the doctor ordered for Risto. Regarding the price paid, Ristolainen’s play will now be the justifying factor in letting that first-round pick go. Since that is the case, I really hope that Buffalo was the issue.

Assuming no other changes and Cam York making the opening day roster, the Flyers defense would most likely look like this:

Provorov – Ellis

Sanheim – Ristolainen

York – Braun

It is also worth noting that Risto’s contract expires at the end of this upcoming season ($5.4 mil cap hit). I guess worst case scenario, he is here for one season and we basically lose a first-round pick. With Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier needing new deals next year as well, things could get interesting.

After this move, it is unclear if the Flyers are still in on other players such as Vladimir Tarasenko, but Fletcher is not done filling out other gaps in the roster. I’m sure he is still looking to move Jake Voracek at the very least. We will have to see what else Chuck has up his sleeve in the coming days or weeks.

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