Would You Rather: Assessing the Risto/Jones Deals

Let me start this article by pouring one out for Jake Voracek, going back to the now-rebuilding chasm that is the Columbus Blue Jackets. Deuces.

We were told there would be action this offseason. Whether we like it or not, Fletcher has absolutely delivered in that regard.

This offseason will be remembered across the league for a number of reasons, the biggest reason (ignoring what a certain Cup Finalist pulled at the draft) arguably being the absurd amount of defensive talent available or on the move. With names like Hamilton, Jones, Ellis, Ekman-Larsson, and others being floated as potential replacements, Fletcher has had an opportunity to completely overhaul the Flyers’ defensive pairings.

Enter Ellis and Ristolainen, exit Myers, Ghost, and Hagg (and draft picks, which we’ll get to). The acquisitions of Ellis and Ristolainen are a tale of two trades: One being an example of fantastic asset management, and the other essentially undoing all of that.

Getting Ellis for one of last year’s most underwhelming defensemen in Phil Myers, and Nolan Patrick who looks so far to be one of the biggest NHL Draft busts in recent history, is a remarkable return for two players Fletcher is effectively “selling low” on.

The writing was on the wall for what became the Shayne Gostisbehere cap dump trade, dating back before this season. Fletcher admitted that he had been trying to move Ghost for over a year, even going so far as putting him on waivers during a season in which Ghost had a bit of a resurgence. Ghost going through waivers unclaimed meant that Fletcher would have to pay for a team to take him, and probably got out of this trade fairly well considering alternatives of paying a 1st round pick or Cam York to move Ghost’s contract. For the record, I hope the Flyers absolutely bury Seattle for that outright lunacy of a York+Ghost proposal.

And now, because I’m sure you haven’t seen enough discourse over this on Twitter yet, the trade setting off a tire fire of reaction that saw Rasmus Ristolainen head to Philly for Robert Hagg, a 2nd round pick in 2023, and the much-maligned inclusion of the 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft.

My stance is this: Ristolainen is exactly what the Flyers need in a stylistic sense. This team got pushed around way too much last year, he brings a heavy right-handed shot that can help on the powerplay, and self-proclaims himself to be a “pain in the ass” to play against. He even played pretty well on an abysmal Buffalo Sabres team last year before an awful case of COVID-19 ruined what looked to be everything coming together for Ristolainen. It’s a huge gamble of a move, and as Flyers fans we need to hope Ristolainen fits here. Because if not, it’s another year of unstable defense that likely sees the Flyers miss the playoffs again and effectively condemns them to a full-on rebuild.

I’m aware his public analytics are awful and I really don’t care. Buffalo is a black hole of an organization that sees star players resurge the second they cross city limits. Ristolainen’s very early deployment as a top pairing defenseman is a how-to manual for ruining young defenseman in an awful system. Analytics also said Colin Miller was a top-4 defenseman, and a very analytically-driven Seattle Kraken organization drafted a team that may score 2 goals on a good night.

If we’re going to criticize one thing about this trade, it’s the asset management. What grinds my gears is that the 1st round pick could be used to land a good 2C/3C, preferably a 2C considering the core muscle surgery Kevin Hayes will go under, and he may not be 100% healthy upon return. It could be used to land a better backup goaltender. It could be used to bring in a star forward. Sending a 1st round pick for what will effectively be a rental at the 4D slot, barring an extension which Ristolainen will need to earn, is extremely poor asset management at best. It’s a move you make as a contender shoring up a slot for a Cup Run, which the Flyers aren’t. I don’t mind Ristolainen but the price to acquire him, to quote noted human meme Jimmy McMillan, is too damn high.

But while we’re on the subject of high prices, holy hell do we have to talk about Seth Jones.

Seth Jones was traded to the Blackhawks for Adam Boqvist, Chicago’s 1st and 2nd picks in this year’s draft, and a conditional 1st round pick in 2022 that could slide to 2023. Jones then signed an 8-year, $9.5m extension with Chicago. I have to imagine the Flyers’ equivalent package is Cam York with similar draft compensation, plus signing that albatross of a contract.

Man, Dougie Hamilton’s gotta be salivating after seeing that and the Makar deals.

Anywho, public analytics say that Jones is falling off in terms of defensive prowess and play-driving, but scouting suggests he’s still the top defenseman he’s been billed as. Now Ristolainen is nowhere near the level of player that Jones is, but you can see some parallels in how they’re perceived in both circles. To Flyers fans, I propose a question:

Would You Rather: Gamble on the Ristolainen package, or Gamble on the Theoretical Jones Package?

Let’s say there’s a world in which the Flyers landed Jones for York + several high draft picks and then committed to that 8yr, $9.5m contract.  Is that more appealing than gambling on one year of Ristolainen? I’m not sure, and honestly given the choice between the two, I think I go with Risto. Jones is without a doubt a better defenseman, but that deal he’s signed to is so insanely prohibitive it keeps you from doing much of anything else this offseason. That’s money I’d rather throw at Dougie Hamilton.

If Risto really fails like certain portions of the fanbase seem to already expect and want to happen, you can trade him for extra skate laces or let him walk next year. If Jones came and still regressed, you’re stuck with an insane deal that you hope you can maybe trade to Arizona or Buffalo or some other cap-eating team in 4-5 years. Plus you’d be down several high-end picks AKA currency considering what the Flyers need to do this year, and your best defensive prospect who may as well be NHL-ready.

I know some are going to say neither and go for Hamilton or Savard, or say neither and revert the Ghost trade. Hamilton requires a ton of cap to be moved out, which we’re seeing isn’t the easiest thing (with the Risto trade ironically going against this idea) in today’s NHL, not to mention Hamilton may not want anything to do with Philly where he’d undoubtedly be under a massive magnifying glass. Savard would certainly make sense here too, but what price can you get him at? He’ll certainly command a premium for a middle-pairing guy coming off a Cup win. And can you afford to be in a bidding war for a 4D who may or may not want to come to Philadelphia while having several other areas to improve?

The problem with keeping Ghost is that you still have an in-and-out of the lineup sheltered 3rd pairing defenseman eating a ton of cap. The Flyers need actual defensive help, not another offensive-minded guy turning the puck over, who also becomes a redundancy with York and Zamula on the way.

The Jones and Risto packages seem like the only semi-sure way to bring in a player to help fix the right side of the Flyers’ defensive pairings. Both look like cases of potential asset mismanagement. Where do you stand?

-Brian Adams (@BadamsProblems)

Photo Cred: nhl.com/flyers / wivb.com

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