Should the Red Wings Trade for Ristolainen?

Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Ristolainen wants out from under the scrutiny of the Buffalo Sabres. And why wouldn’t he? Where will he go, and could the Detroit Red Wings be a dark horse candidate? Ristolainen and the Sabres have had a rocky relationship since the team drafted him eighth overall in 2013. And as great of a player as he is on the power play, Sabres fans seem unhappy with his performance on the ice over the past four seasons. In an interview with MTV Sports in his native Finland, Ristolainen expressed that he wishes to start the season on a new team. The interview was translated by the Buffalo News last week. Ristolainen stated:

“I cannot say anything other than the fact that on the 12th of September, I will be at one of the NHL team’s training camps.”

From ‘Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen implies he’s asked to be traded,’ Buffalo News, 8/11/2019

Does this young star defenseman fit into Detroit’s General Manager, Steve Yzerman’s, grand plan for the Red Wings? Could a deal even be reached? Detroit’s GM should at the very least inquire about the asking price, shouldn’t he? Ristolainen is a strong power play leader. And chews up a lot of minutes on the ice. He is also a young 24 years old, with plenty of time to fine tune lackluster aspects of his game. Ristolainen would also be less likely to miss time due to injury, than perhaps Trevor Daley or Mike Green.

Ristolainen: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In four seasons with the Buffalo Sabres Rasmus Ristolainen has produced very solid offensive numbers. Burying the puck in the net 36 times, and assisting on 158 goals for the team over a span of 424 games. He has collected more than half a point per game in each of the last four seasons. Averaging 43 points in each of them. It’s no secret that Detroit’s defense could use his skill with the puck. Especially on the power play. Last year alone Ristolainen collected 17 points on the special teams unit. Last year Detroit scored 39 goals on the power play, converting 18.1% of the time. 

New York Rangers right wing Michael Grabner
Former New York Rangers right wing Michael Grabner moves up ice past Buffalo Sabre Rasmus Ristolainen. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Ristolainen’s biggest issue, though, is defense. Ironic for a defenseman to be bad on the defensive side of the ice. But the stats tell the story. He has been miserable in the Sabres’ end of the rink, having been on the ice for a goal differential of minus-41. To put that in perspective, that would give him the worst plus/minus for players in the NHL last season. In his career? He holds a minus-143. Now you know why fans are ready to move on from the Finnish star.

On Saturday, Sabres general manager, Jason Botterill, spoke with media sources expressing that the Sabres intend to keep Ristolainen in their future plans. Ristolainen will more than likely start the season on Sep. 12 at Sabres’ training camp. But things could change between now and the trade deadline in February. He could continue to struggle to play with teammates in even strength situations, continuing a streak of poor on-ice performance.

Why the Red Wings Should Call the Sabres

The Red Wings scored 39 times last season on the power play. Not the worst in the NHL, as the Montreal Canadiens scored only 31 times, but certainly not the best. The Red Wings have struggled on the power play since Nicklas Lidstrom retired following his final Stanley Cup in 2008. And trading for the Sabres’ young defenseman could help bolster an aging defensive core and help to ease the pressure put on the team’s young guns to make immediate career strides.

The Sabres will have a fairly steep asking price for Ristolainen, and that would be fair considering he is one of the premiere defensemen for his age group. They will expect someone who could be just as offensive in return. The Red Wings have two forwards who could come to mind for the Sabres, Andreas Anthanasiou and Anthony Mantha. The issue is that when teams swap young talent for young talent, it often doesn’t work out for both teams.

Andreas Athanasiou makes a play along the boards against Tampa Bay’s defense. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

For the Red Wings, the worst outcome would be that Ristolainen continues to struggle defensively as one of the aforementioned forwards goes on to help the Sabres reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The upside to Ristolainen’s game is that he would help the transition from old to young on the Red Wings defense and add some offense to the back end. The Red Wings have a strong core of young forwards that should make the NHL roster within the year.

Filip Zadina, Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Veleno, Taro Hirose and Michael Rasmussen are all likely to be called up at some point this season, if they all don’t make the roster out of training camp. And with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi on the first line, the return of Valtteri Filppula and addition of Adam Erne, the offense could potentially afford to miss out on Anthanasiou or Mantha. That’s especially true if Ristolainen is acquired and can step in and fill big shoes on defense. His presence on the Red Wings roster would relieve Mike Green and Trevor Daley of some ice time, as well as give young players like Jared McIssac more time to develop in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Ristolainen is still young and would work out as a long-term transition guy for the rebuild plans. GM Steve Yzerman should at least make an inquiry into what the Sabres expect in return for Ristolainen and see if there’s a deal to be made.

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