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Re-signing Rasmus Ristolainen would be a colossal mistake for Chuck Fletcher, Flyers

What do we say to re-signing Rasmus Ristolainen? Not today. Or any day for that matter.

Carolina Hurricanes v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Rasmus Ristolainen is a bottom-four defenseman that plays a physical game, which overshadows his flaws in some people’s eyes. Hell, in the Flyers’ eyes, too. Chuck Fletcher gave up a first-round pick, second-round pick, and Robert Hagg to land the Finnish defenseman last offseason –– and he reportedly wants to re-sign him. Re-signing Ristolainen would be a colossal mistake on the Flyers’ part and could very well cost Fletcher his job.

Let’s first look at Ristolainen on the whole.

There’s no doubt that Ristolainen brings some intangibles to the table. He stands at 6’4” and is an imposing figure on the ice. There’s no true way to measure how that impacts the play on the ice, but there are some metrics that can add context. If a guy like Ristolainen instills fear into his opponents, they should be afraid of going into the corners or near the net, right? Well, that hasn’t been the case with Ristolainen.

Ristolainen has been on the ice for 452 scoring chances against in 863 minutes at 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick. Only Kevin Connauton, Keith Yandle, and Nick Seeler are the only Flyers defensemen that have allowed more per 60 minutes. Ristolainen (30.57 SCA/60) is also barely above Nick Seeler (30.77), who was picked up off the scrap heap for $750,000. Sure, that doesn’t necessarily factor in the quality of competition or teammates, but Justin Braun (27.85) has been the Flyers’ best defenseman at suppressing scoring chances while playing on the top pair.

Of those 452 scoring chances, 185 were of the high-danger variety. That’s 12.85 HDCA/60 for Ristolainen, once again only slightly better than Seeler (13.15) and worse than Braun (10.41). In terms of high-danger goals allowed, Ristolainen (1.81 HDGA/60) has only been better than Connauton (2.82) and Yandle (2.13) with Seeler all the way down at a unit-best 1.22. Allowing all of those scoring chances has resulted in 2.83 xGA/60 and 2.99 GA/60 at 5-on-5 for Ristolainen.

Now, let’s compare Ristolainen’s numbers to the rest of the league.

Through March 6th, 102 defensemen played at least 800 minutes at 5-on-5 play. Ristolainen has the 16th-worst GA/60, 15th-worst SCA/60, 12th-worst HDCA/60, and finally the eighth-worst xGA/60. For a defenseman that is supposed to defend the net and limit goals (and chances!), Ristolainen is doing pretty poorly.

On a team with a good top-pair and No. 3 defenseman, perhaps Ristolainen could fit as a decent No. 4 guy. But realistically, Ristolainen should be a No. 4 or No. 5 defenseman on most teams. Looking at the Flyers, Ristolainen has no business being in their long-term plans. And that’s due to problems on both sides.

Ristolainen is not worth $6.3 million –– not that he was actually offered that, anyway. He is not worth his current cap hit of $5.4 million. He may not even be worth $4 million, especially given the Flyers’ situation.

The Flyers already have $13 million (16% of the salary cap) tied up in relatively unknown top-four defensemen. Ivan Provorov has a $6.75 million cap hit through 2025 and Ryan Ellis is at $6.25 through 2027. Provorov has been trending downhill in recent years after the retirement of Matt Niskanen. Ellis was brought in with the hope of resurrecting Provorov’s ability, but he’s played just four games with the Flyers this season. The best-case scenario for the Flyers is that Ellis returns next season fully healthy and he brings Provorov up to his level. But the Flyers can’t count on the best-case scenario.

Realistically, the Flyers have to see what they have in Ellis after this year of missed time before really deciding what to do with their defensive group. Unfortunately, they don’t have that luxury. They are stuck with Ellis (and his contract), as well as Provorov, despite his name potentially being in trade whispers.

With an unknown top pair, it’d be irresponsible of the Flyers to give another $4 or $5 million to a bottom-four defenseman. If the Flyers want a physical defenseman that hits and blocks shots, go pick one up in free agency for a few million. Don’t lock in Ristolainen (or anyone similar, for that matter) to a long-term contract when the near future is murky at best.

There is still that intangible physicality that Ristolainen brings. That’s understandable. However, the Flyers (and other teams) should look to fill that void with either an effective player or a cheap fourth liner. Zack MacEwen has done a great job of that and Seeler has stepped in here and there.

Furthermore, dishing out a large contract to another defenseman could cause Travis Sanheim to walk after next season. The 25-year-old blueliner is having the best season of his career as the Flyers’ most consistent defenseman this season. In fact, he’s really the one driving the second pair with Ristolainen.

Instead of negotiating with Ristolainen, Fletcher’s main focus should be on trading the big defenseman. The physical blueliner wants to showcase his style in the playoffs, and that’s a play style that’s going to be sought after at the trade deadline. Teams always want to add size and physicality, and Ristolainen reportedly drew first-round pick offers from multiple teams over the summer. Some of those teams certainly would throw at least a second-round pick and another piece –– or a first-round pick –– the Flyers’ way for Ristolainen.

The Flyers don’t want to rebuild –– or at least they don’t want to admit it –– instead, they are looking at an “aggressive retool” to fix this mess. Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than a retool to get the Flyers back to relevancy.

Even if an aggressive retool is what the Flyers need, Ristolainen shouldn’t be a part of that.