The Flyers have worked themselves into an interesting situation with 27-year-old upcoming unrestricted free agent Rasmus Ristolainen. They gave up a king’s ransom for the defenseman last offseason as part of their overhaul, but the team has ultimately fell flat and will now have to make a decision on the fate of Ristolainen that will have ripple effects on the rest of their defense corps.
When the Flyers gave up a first and second round pick to acquire Rasmus Ristolainen last summer, it was pretty clear their intentions were to have him around long term. Chuck Fletcher confirmed as much when the question was asked at his mid-season press conference. If their goal is to keep him, there’s a good chance they’re looking at close to a six-year, $6 million aav deal. Obviously those number could fluctuate, but that seems like a reasonable baseline. Then the question becomes is Ristolainen worth it? Can $6 million a season go to better use? He’s been a good player, better than most will give him credit for, and understands his role perfectly, but is he a $6 million player? $5-5.5 seems to be a more comfortable spot for someone like Ristolainen, but would he take an extension similar or even less than his current deal?
Trade Ristolainen, sign Klingberg
This has seemingly arisen as the popular fan theory on social media, but it’s the one that seemingly makes the least sense. Essentially they trade Ristolainen at the trade deadline, then sign Klingberg in free agency. They issue is, Klingberg turns 30 before the start of next season and has already made it pretty clear his camp will be looking for close to a max deal. What’s the bigger risk, a 28-year-old Ristolainen at 6x$6, or a 30 year-old Klingberg at 7x$8?
Trade Ristolainen, trade for RHD
Here’s one that probably won’t be popular, but may ultimately be the best option of the group. The Flyers trade Ristolainen at the trade deadline, recoup as many assets for the guy as they can, then use the reacquired assets to once again test their hand on the trade market for a top four RHD. If the Flyers can max out their return at the trade deadline, they’ll technically break even on the original trade and the draft picks can be used to secure another, potentially better fitting second pair RHD.
There are also some bubbling rumors that Ristolainen may want to move on and go to a winning team, and if that’s true it’s hard to blame the guy, but if that’s the case their route may be picked for them. The Flyers collect their assets for him at the trade deadline and go back on the hunt for a righty in the offseason.
The defense for the Flyers is a bit tricky. They clearly can’t count on Ellis to play every night, and Riso has found his niche as the second pair righty who struggles when his minutes and responsibilities heighten. It’s a precarious situation of a lack of trust in the players.
Ultimately, there’s a good chance the Flyers do their best to try and convince Risto to stay, but he hold the cards as a pending UFA. If he flat out refuses to sign, then the decision becomes pretty easy. Trade him, get a good return, and reassess your options in the summer. If he is willing to stick around in Philly, he’d still be a welcome part of the defense, but the organization will still have to get creative to craft a solid three-man unit on the right side.
The fact that Ryan Ellis can’t be counted on as an everyday option for the Flyers, finding at least one suitable defenseman on the right side who could also ascend to the top pair long-term if Ellis is unavailable will be crucial. Whether Ristolainen stick around or not, the Flyers are going to have no choice but to find someone who can swing between the first and second pair with ease. It may be one of the more important decisions they make this summer to help prevent the defense from collapsing in on itself like they did this season. This will definitely be one of the more interesting storylines heading into the offseason and it starts at the trade deadline with the fate of Rasmus Ristolainen.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: buffalonews.com