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Report: Rasmus Ristolainen extension ‘first domino’ in potential Flyers roster makeover

Rasmus Ristolainen is locked up for five more years, which could reportedly trigger a lot more movement on the Flyers’ blue line.

Minnesota Wild v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Flyers made a significant move Thursday by signing defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to a five-year contract extension worth $5.1 million annually, and it sounds like the Ristolainen contract could be the first of a series of moves that ultimately reshapes the Flyers’ entire back end.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on his 32 Thoughts podcast (at the 32:50 mark), a lot more moves could be coming now that Ristolainen is locked up for five more years.

What does that mean? Well, it could mean Ivan Provorov, among others, could soon be on the way out.

“I have a feeling that they are gonna be reshaping their roster a bit more, and I do wonder about Provorov,” said Friedman.

“I made a few calls about him, and he is really struggling. And I had people saying to me, if he didn’t have the pedigree he did — a high draft pick, someone who is supposed to be a franchise cornerstone, who they hope would be a franchise cornerstone and somebody who they are paying a significant amount of money — they think he might have been scratched (against the Florida Panthers). And he has really struggled.

“I think they’re facing a decision on what to do here. I never think it’s all Provorov’s fault. It’s just been a really hard year there — (Ryan) Ellis has only played a few games — I just wonder where it’s gonna go with him. (...) The Flyers are definitely thinking here, ‘What’s his future?’ And I’m sure Provorov’s thinking it too. Like, ‘Is this the right fit for me?’ And so I just wonder if signing Ristolainen is a sign that there’s just a big defensive makeover coming here. Because one of the things I’ve heard was that if they sign Ristolainen, it’s the first domino in some other things. So I wonder what are those other things?”

It’s no secret that Provorov has struggled mightily as of late, but his struggles aren’t unique to just the 2021-22 campaign. He’s regressed ever since Matt Niskanen, his former defensive partner, announced his retirement ahead of the 2020-21 season. He’s had issues with turnovers throughout his career, but his egregious errors have only become more frequent this season. In fact, a pair of ugly mistakes nearly cost the Flyers a win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday. And a ghastly turnover actually did cost the Flyers a victory against the Minnesota Wild last Thursday.

Only five defensemen in the entire NHL have committed more giveaways than Provorov this season, and out of 238 defenders with at least 200 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, the 25-year-old ranks 163rd in Corsi For percentage, 168th in Goals For percentage and 179th in Goals For per 60.

As the Flyers’ top blueliner, those numbers are simply unacceptable.

Provorov isn’t the only Flyers defenseman who could be on the move, either. Friedman also hinted that there could be interest in Travis Sanheim, who has arguably been the Flyers’ top blueliner this season.

Sanheim, who turns 26 on March 29, is tied with Provorov for the team lead in points by a defenseman with 20 and currently leads all Flyers defensemen in several key advanced statistical categories at 5-on-5 (Corsi For percentage, Goals For percentage, Expected Goals For percentage).

Selected in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Sanheim has become a key cog on the Flyers’ back end in recent seasons. He may not be the game-changing presence many fans hoped he’d become, but he’s still relatively young and can play important minutes on the penalty kill, as well as on a second power play unit if needed.

Of course, there’s no guarantee Provorov or Sanheim eventually end up getting moved, but with the March 21 trade deadline quickly approaching, the trade chatter will only intensify.