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Trading Rasmus Ristolainen- by Hank

May 16, 2021, 2:47 PM ET [1180 Comments]
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Trading Rasmus Ristolainen

​Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is by far the most polarizing player among Sabres fans for a simple reason: at 6’4” 221 lbs., he has all the physical tools to be a dominant top-4 defenseman, but the advanced metrics say he is flat-out bad defensively. The “Angry Finn” appeals to a certain sub-set of the fan base because he hits a lot, he rarely misses a game, he can play 20+ minutes a night without getting tired. His desire to get under the skin of opponents can also be extremely entertaining. The Sabres may now look to deal “Risto” as he enters the final year of his contract rather than risk him simply walking away next summer.
​Before getting into the nitty gritty of trade proposals, I will say this to the fans of other teams here on Hockeybuzz: I know you do not like Ristolainen. You think he is terrible. Your general manager is too smart to trade for him. You have seen the charts and graphs on Twitter for years that show you that he is not good. I get it. Here, I will even post a chart (via Evolving-Hockey.com) that shows that the smart money says he is bad:

(formatting issues do not allow for graphics at this time. Allow me to paint the picture for you: It’s a lot of scary red lines pointing south, and one sort of happy blue line for his goals above replacement on the powerplay.)

Happy? Good.

​With that out of the way, Ristolainen has plenty of attributes that will still make him desirable to GMs around the league. First and foremost, he rarely misses time due to injury. This year he missed a chunk of games due to COVID-19, but in general, the off-season tireflipper is healthy as a horse. Looking at games played in his career, we see that out of an 82-game schedule he has played 78, 82, 79, 73, 78 and 69 games (that last number is the entirety of the truncated 2019-2020 season. In addition to that, he is a very useful weapon on the powerplay as a right-shot quarterback from the point (see above chart; specifically “GAR,” or Goals Above Replacement, under the powerplay column). Historically, he has generated a large percentage of his offense from that position although he has lost some time recently due to another Rasmus – Rasmus Dahlin.

​The reason we are talking trade here is that like a couple of other Sabres, Ristolainen said he has no interest in sticking around for a rebuild. During his year-end press conference, #55 said he doesn’t care if he’s traded or if he stays, but he needs to make the playoffs next year. The Sabres are currently on a trajectory to miss the playoffs for an NHL-record 11th time straight due to the chaos involving other players elsewhere on the roster. So into the trade proposals we go while bearing in mind that only a certain type of GM will be interested in adding the rugged defenseman.

Dallas Stars:
The Stars only have three defensemen currently under contract for next year although Miro Heiskanen is clearly a lock to receive a contract as a pending restricted free agent. The Stars roster is very top-heavy which means the Sabres are going to need to retain half of Ristolainen’s current annual value of $5.4m to facilitate a deal with GM Jim Nill. According to Puckpedia.com, NHL teams can retain retain money on a maximum of three players at any given time which means the Sabres can retain $2.7m on Ristolainen prior to the start of the new league year when the retained salaries of Taylor Hall and Eric Staal come off the books.
​The Sabres will not be receiving a blue-chip prospect back in a Ristolainen’s deal in all likelihood which means looking to the second level of prospects in the Stars organization. Oskar Bäck is a 21-year-old former third-round pick of the Stars currently playing in the SHL. The 6’2” center projects as a 2-way, bottom-six player in the NHL. Final trade: Buffalo Trades Rasmus Ristolainen and their 2022 4th round pick for Oskar Bäck and Dallas’s 2021 2nd round pick. The retained salary elevates the pick coming from Dallas.

​Arizona Coyotes:
​Like the Stars, Arizona has only three defensemen under contract for next year. General Manager Bill Armstrong is still attempting to pick up the pieces left following the disastrous tenure of former GM John Chayka who left the organization in disarray last spring. The Coyotes simply can’t afford to lose any more draft picks after forfeiting their 2021 1st round pick to due to unsanctioned prospect work outs under Chayka, so the Sabres will need a better prospect to close this gap. With young goaltender Adin Hill behind established starter Darcy Kuemper, perhaps the Sabres could pry goaltending prospect Ivan Prosvetov from the Desert Dogs. The 22-year-old Russian is listed at 6’5” and 176 lbs which means he probably has some more filling out to do before he sees any regular NHL time. The Sabres will also target recently signed defenseman and Jeff Skinner doppelgänger Ty Emberson. Emberson was the captain of the University Wisconsin team where he played with Sabres prospect Linus Weissbach.
​Final Trade: Buffalo Sabres trade Rasmus Ristolainen the rights to Lawrence Pilut for Ivan Prosvetov and Ty Emberson

​Detroit’s crop of defensemen is incredibly young. General Manager Steve Yzerman could look to add some veteran presence to an emerging team through the acquisition of Ristolainen – who, if nothing else – can eat some minutes if any of the young guys struggle. Yzerman is widely considered to be a savvy NHL GM and he has built up a nice war chest of picks in the coming years which makes parting with some draft capital somewhat inconsequential. This deal is for picks only, none of which originally belonged to Detroit.
​Final trade: Buffalo Sabres trade Rasmus Ristolainen to the Detroit Red Wings for VGK 2021 3rd round pick and VGK 2022 4th round pick.

​The return for Rasmus Ristolainen figures to underwhelm Sabres fans due to NHL Twitter (and probably the analytics departments of NHL clubs) pointing out how poorly the underlying metrics reflect on the big Finn. With that said, it will only take one GM who is obsessed with Ristolainen’s size and tenacity to drive up the price. The Sabres would do well to get a couple of quality assets that can help with a rebuild while allowing increased cap flexibility in the short term.
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