Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is no stranger to trade speculation as it has seemingly become an annual tradition as of late. Now, as he’s set to entire the final year of his contract next season before being eligible for unrestricted free agency, that speculation will only intensify. Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reported on the latest Insider Trading segment (video link) that several teams have shown some level of interest in the 26-year-old including the Canadiens and Jets.
Ristolainen saw his production dip sharply in 2020-21, going down to just four goals and 14 assists in 49 games, his lowest output since 2013-14, his rookie campaign. However, he has four seasons of more than 40 points under his belt (and had a shot at getting there in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 campaign had it not been for the schedule reduction) and has logged heavy minutes throughout his career. That makes him one of the more intriguing offensive threats from the back to be available this summer.
Of course, there’s the matter of his defensive zone play. It hasn’t been particularly sharp for most of his career and while Buffalo has struggled considerably throughout his career which doesn’t help matters, he hasn’t exactly helped their fortunes in that regard. A change of scenery could help his fortunes which would go a long way towards helping his case on the open market a year from now.
Both Montreal and Winnipeg make sense as landing spots for Ristolainen. The Canadiens have a big hole to fill on their back end with Shea Weber’s playing future in serious jeopardy while the Jets have been needing to bolster their defense corps for a while now with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff already acknowledging that he’s looking to make a move to accomplish that.
Both teams have ample cap space to bring him in as well at his $5.4MM price tag; Montreal can place Weber on LTIR to give themselves some wiggle room while Winnipeg has over $15MM coming off their books plus potential LTIR flexibility with Bryan Little as well.
We’ve seen Ristolainen in trade speculation for a while but with him about to enter the final year of his contract and a UFA market that isn’t exactly loaded with impact blueliners, the timing for a trade is certainly right. With the NHL Entry Draft just days away and the transactions freeze set to lift on Thursday, there will likely be another frenzy of moves and the Finnish rearguard could very well be among them.