Breaking Down the Not-So-Terrible Flyers Trade for Rasmus Ristolainen

PHOTO CREDIT: CHARLES LECLAIRE-USA TODAY SPORTS

Let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?

The Flyers trading two high draft picks and Robert Hagg for Rasmus Ristolainen is not a bad trade.

Yes, I know I’m in the minority. Yes, I’m fully expected a barrage of hate tweets. Yes, I totally expect to be called a homer, an organizational mouthpiece, and a shill. Which, frankly, is what I find most comical, but I digress.

Yet, the reality is, this isn’t as bad a trade as everyone wants to make it out to be.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

The First Round Pick

This one is the biggest bone of contention for most people. Trading away the 13th overall pick for Ristolainen does seem like a lot if looked at in a vacuum.

But is this pick really that valuable?

Most everyone you talk to believe this draft is about 8-9 picks deep as far as can’t miss prospects, and then picks 10-through-75 are all lumped together in a group of should-be NHL contributors, but all with varying degree of flaws, skills, floors and ceilings.

Is it possible the Flyers could have selected a nice prospect at pick No. 13? Yes. But, is it just as possible that they could get that same prospect they like at pick No. 46.

COVID created this possibility. Some leagues didn’t play at all in 2020-21. Some played, but just a small number of games. Some played, but just against the same teams. Colleges mostly got through their seasons, but some NCAA leagues – like the Ivy – didn’t play at all.

So, scouting these players was based on either limited views, or old notes when the player was a year or more younger.

As such, the 2021 draft is going to be more of a crapshoot.

It’s why several teams were offering or trading first round picks for players in advance of the draft.

Vancouver, for example, made this trade with Phoenix:

That first round pick was No. 9 overall. Vancouver also gave up a 2022 2nd rounder and a 2023 7th rounder. Yeah there was a little salary retention ($990,000) and other players in the deal, but Ekman-Larsson and the 1 and 2 were the primary points of this deal.

Ekman-Larsson is locked up for six more years at a cap hit of $7.26 million each year.

Meanwhile, Ristolainen only has one year left on his deal at $5.4 million.

Ekman-Larsson is 30. Ristolainen is 26. However, I’m betting Fletcher is waiting to talk turkey about an extension with Ristolainen until he can clear more cap space.

Obviously he has to sign Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim prior to the start of the season as they are both restricted free agents, and then Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier join Ristolainen as unrestricted free agents at the end of this season.

So, there’s still a lot of chess to be played on that front.

Oh, and then there’s this:

So wait a second, teams picking below 20 were interested in Ristolainen too? I wan’t told who, but I was told there were three other teams considering him.

Here’s who’s picking below 20 tonight:

Boston, Minnesota (two picks), Detroit, Florida, Columbus (two picks), Carolina, Colorado, New Jersey, Vegas and Montreal.

I was told Colorado wasn’t one of the teams. So… six playoff teams and three non-playoff teams. Odds are, there are a couple playoff teams who thought Ristolainen could improve their team and were willing to pay a first rounder… just not one as high as the Flyers.

The Second Round Pick

This one is the one that befuddles me when it comes to fan ire.

Second rounders reach the NHL roughly 25% of the time. So, we’re going to be mad that Chuck traded a future player who we don’t know, who has a 1-in-4 chance of making it to the NHL and if he does, probably doesn’t until 2028?

Come on folks. This pick is so far down the road, it’s almost irrelevant and it also gives the Flyers time to recoup it in a future deal.

Vancouver traded a second next year. Detroit got a second next year as well as Washington’s first rounder this year, Richard Panik and Jakub Vrana at the trade deadline for Anthony Mantha. That was also more than the Flyers gave for Ristolainen.

The point is, this is the going rate. Chuck Fletcher, when answering my question about the assets used in this deal, talked about the importance of making sure that when he added a second rounder into the trade offer, that it wasn’t this year or next year. He felt it was a win to get it far enough down the road that it can b replaced.

It also protected the Flyers from trading any prospects. The Flyers still have a good amount of could-be NHLers in the system. It’s not a cupboard filled with A-list names, but it does have quantity when it comes to NHL caliber talent.

So, departing with a few picks, as they did first by shedding Shayne Gostisbehere’s salary and then by trading for Ristolainen, is not going to negatively impact that depth.

Robert Hagg

I liked Hagg a heck of a lot more than most fans did. Even so, I recognized his limitation was that he would never be more than a third pair defenseman, or a rotational piece. Either way, those types of defensemen are more easily found in free agency or on the waiver wire or can be developed with mid-round picks in the draft.

Losing Hagg wasn’t a lot, and it mitigated part of Ristolainen’s salary.

Rasmus Ristolainen

This is where things get crazy. The analytics sect will tell you this is a terrible trade because of his underlying numbers.

And yet, at least four teams were willing to trade a first round pick-plus for him. Guess they all need their heads examined.

Chuck was asked about this. And here’s what he said:

“Well, I think it’s all context and what he was asked to do, play in a lot of minutes, had a rotating cast of partners, a rotating cast of coaches. Buffalo is clearly a team that’s been developing and had a lot of turnover in the last few years. We believe that we have a good, really good defenseman now. We have a good veteran team. I think we have some pretty good stability right now on our back end. I think anytime players are slotted in the right role with the right mix of players around them, they have a much better chance to improve and work better. We’re obviously banking on that and we like the skill set that he brings. There’s still an important role for size and physicality in this game.”

In other words, you know why his numbers were so bad? Because his team was so freaking bad!

It’s more than that. He was misused. He was played far too many minutes against top lines and asked to do everything for a team that had no help around him.

Every shift was basically a suicide mission for Ristolainen. And yes, there were times when he pulled the cord on the exploding vest the Sabres made him wear every game. But there were many more times when he was fodder as a result of teammates skating around with the puck like it was a land mine.

In the right system, in the right role, Ristolainen can be an effective, second pair defenseman. He plays nasty. He told us on his first call with the Philly media that he likes to be “a pain in the ass.” He said he wants to be a guy the other team doesn’t like playing against.

Heck, I was told of a text one Flyers player sent to someone that said, “Having that guy on the ice behind me will make my job a whole lot easier.”

All that should be welcome in Philadelphia. And maybe eventually it will be.

But for now, everyone is caught up in what was given up and what the player acquired was on the on the worst franchise in the sport and not really assessing value.

The Verdict

I’m not going to sit here and tell you this was a great trade. I can agree that if you asked me what it would take to get Ristolainen in a trade, I never would have come up with a 1 and a 2.

But that’s why I write about the sport and why I don’t manage it.

This was the going rate. It’s a price multiple teams were willing to pay or did pay in similar deals.

Is it possible the Sabres draft the next Dustin Brown or Craig Janney (arguably the best players ever selected at No. 13 overall) with one pick and the next Nick Lidstrom or Duncan Keith with the second rounder in a few years and in the future we look back and say this was a horrible trade?

Sure. That could happen.

But at this point, it’s equally likely that the Sabres select the next Marek Zagrapan and Philipp Gogulla, and that Ristolainen becomes an effective, long-term, second-pair defenseman who fans learn, in time, to love for the nastiness of his play.

Time will tell on the trade, and while it may not go down in history as an all-time steal for the Flyers, it’ also likely not going to hang on the wall of shame either.

Somewhere in between seems about right, and that’s OK.

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