There is no doubt the main goal this offseason for Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher was to overhaul his blue line. In just a matter of a couple of days, he has accomplished just that. His latest move came just hours before the start of the NHL Entry Draft. The Flyers have acquired defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen from the Buffalo Sabres for fellow blueliner Robert Hagg, the 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft and their second-round selection in 2023. The Sabres now have the first and 13th picks tonight as they look to speed up their rebuild.
Flyers’ Busy Week Continues
Fletcher’s fury of trades started on Saturday, just prior to the Expansion Draft roster freeze, when he sent defenseman Philippe Myers and center Nolan Patrick to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Ellis. Patrick was then quickly flipped to the Vegas Golden Knight for Cody Glass.
As soon as the roster freeze was lifted on Thursday afternoon, the Flyers moved embattled blueliner Shayne Gostisbehere to the Arizona Coyotes, along with their second and seventh-round picks in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The only thing Fletcher got back in return was the salary cap space and roster flexibility of shedding Gostisbehere’s contract. Many felt this would make the Flyers players acquire Dougie Hamilton via free agency or trade for Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones. Today’s acquisition of Ristolainen likely takes them out of the running for both, but never say never.
New Flyers Defense is Much Improved.
Ristolainen was originally drafted by the Sabres with the eighth overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound defender is still only 26 and has plenty of good years ahead of him. He is in the final year of his six-year contract, worth $5.4 million per season. It is hard to imagine Fletcher would not have paid such a steep price without being confident Ristolainen will be in an orange and black sweater far beyond the 2021-22 season.
The Finnish defenseman had four goals and 18 points in 49 games for Buffalo last season. He missed seven games due to testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. He had four straight seasons of at least 41 points between 2015-16 and 2018-19, missing a total of just 16 games during this span. He had a career-high nine goals during the 2015-16 season and set his high-water mark for assist the following season with 39.
Ristolainen has struggled in his career with both plus/minus and Corsi for percentage (CF%). He has never finished a season with a plus rating. His best was a minus-2 during the 2019-20 season. He has only had one season with a CF% over 50, finishing at 50.3% in 2017-18. He is at 46.0 CF% for his career. To be fair, he has played on some bad teams in Buffalo, so those numbers will likely go up on his new club.
Fletcher has given up quite a bit this week to revamp his blue line, but, on paper, the improvement is vast. The new guys, Ellis and Ristolainen, will join Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Justin Braun. They also have an impressive group of young defensemen like Cam York, Wyatte Wylie, Mason Millman, Linus Hogberg, and Yegor Zamula, all signed to entry-level contracts. The Flyers still have just over $10 million in salary-cap space, so their wheeling and dealing general manager’s offseason is far from over.