“Should I stay or should I go.” It’s not only a song made famous by the English punk rock band The Clash, it also describes the nonstop swirl surrounding Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Will he be staying with the organization or be shipped off in a trade?
The overhyped machine of churn and rumors was refueled when Ristolainen told MTV Sport in Finland in a recent interview that he hasn’t been able to enjoy hockey and that he has had talks with the Sabres about his future with the team. The headline of the MTV Sports article read: “Ristolainen dissatisfied with situation with Buffalo Sabres – wants to move elsewhere.”
MTV Sports is the same news outlet that reported months ago that Ristolainen would not be back with the Sabres.
The blueliner finished last season with an NHL-worst rating of minus-41 in 78 games. It’s the second-worst mark by any player since the 2005 lockout and tied for the worst in franchise history. He struggled with decision-making, outlet passes and defensive coverage. He was a turnover machine on far too many nights. A silver lining is the fact that he put up 43 points (five goals and 38 assists), the second-best total in his career.
In the interview, the native of Turku stated, “I haven’t been able to help the team to win. Recent seasons have been tough and I haven’t been able to enjoy hockey.”
Though his words were translated through Google Translate, it’s a very similar sentiment made by former Sabre Ryan O’Reilly after the 2017-18 season ended. During his locker cleanout day interview, O’Reilly stated he had “lost his love of the game” several times during the season.
Before the 2018-19 season started, O’Reilly was shipped off in a multi-player deal with the St. Louis Blues. He then went on to win the Stanley Cup as well as the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff’s most valuable player.
Ristolainen Under Contract
The 24-year-old right-shot defenseman was drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He has three seasons left on a six-year, $32.4 million contract (average annual value of $5.4 million) that he signed with the Sabres in October 2016. Though he’s played 424 NHL games spanning six seasons, Ristolainen has yet to sniff the playoffs. The Sabres currently own the league’s longest drought – eight straight seasons without postseason action.
When Ristolainen met with Buffalo reporters at the end of last season, he seemed uncertain about whether he needs a change of scenery or if he wanted to remain with the Sabres.
“[Losing] gets tougher every year,” said Ristolainen at locker cleanout day. He acknowledged there are several problems with the team and didn’t have any answers, adding, “Thank god I’m not the GM or management, so I don’t need to think about all of those things. I’ve been and I don’t really have the answers.”
When asked if he needed a change of scenery or if he wanted to stay, Ristolainen’s blank stare was followed by this, “Honestly, I know changes will happen … it’s too early to say what’s going to happen.”
Ristolainen Asking for a Trade
With new head coach Ralph Krueger behind the bench, newcomers Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju on the blue line, and forwards Jimmy Vesey and Marcus Johansson added, the Sabres are hoping to turn things around.
On June 29, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill was asked if Ristolainen wanted to be traded. The question flummoxed the young GM.
Reading between the lines of Ristolainen’s most recent interview, it’s implied that he wants out of Buffalo. That said, No. 55 didn’t give specifics and wants to keep his discussions with Sabres’ front office private. “Nothing had been decided,” said the Sabres blueliner candidly. “All I can say is that come Sept. 12th, I will attend an NHL team training camp. Don’t know which team, though, at this point.
It’s almost as if Ristolainen was echoing one of the final verses of The Clash’s hit song:
This indecision’s bugging me
If you don’t want me, set me free
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be
Don’t you know which clothes even fit me?
For now, he’s under contract to wear a Sabres jersey next season. Which one he’ll actually wind up wearing, well, that’s anyone’s guess.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”