The Buffalo Sabres launched their offseason overhaul Friday by trading veteran defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Buffalo acquired fifth-year defenceman Robert Hagg and the Flyers first-round pick, 14th overall, in a trade struck hours before the Sabres were scheduled to select first in the NHL draft. The acquired pick from Philadelphia is actually 13th in the draft order after the NHL stripped the Arizona Coyotes of their first-round pick, 11th overall, for testing players in violation of NHL combine policy.
Buffalo also acquired Philadelphia’s second-round pick in the 2023 draft.
The trade could be the first of several made by general manager Kevyn Adams, who is also shopping captain Jack Eichel and forward Sam Reinhart.
Each of the three players raised questions about their futures in Buffalo in May after the Sabres finished last in the standings for the fourth time in eight years and extended their playoff drought to an NHL record-matching 10th season.
“Like I told Kevyn a little while ago, I just said, ‘I’m open for all ideas,’” Ristolainen said, referring to his exit meeting with Adams. “Yeah, I’m frustrated. I’m (unhappy) and it (stinks). So I told him I’m open to all the scenarios, staying or if he trades me.”
This isn’t the first time Ristolainen has expressed an interest to be traded. He had grown frustrated with a team that has not made the playoffs during his tenure, and is now on its sixth coach in Don Granato.
At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, Ristolainen is a big, workhorse defenceman who has led the Sabres in ice time during most of his eight years in Buffalo. The 26-year-old has one year remaining on a six-year, $32.4 million contract, which is being fully picked up by the Flyers.
Ristolainen had four goals and 18 points in 49 games with the Sabres last season. Overall, he has 46 goals and 245 points while averaging nearly 24 minutes per game in ice time in 542 career games. From Finland, he was selected by Buffalo in the first round of the 2013 draft.
Ristolainen gives the Flyers another right-shot defenceman for their top four after acquiring Ryan Ellis from Nashville last weekend. General manager Chuck Fletcher has been active in trying to upgrade Philadelphia’s blue line after a second-half collapse led to the Flyers missing the playoffs last season.
Fletcher is betting Ristolainen improves in what should be a second-pairing role in a more structured system. The Flyers also freed up cap space this week by trading defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere to Arizona.
The Sabres are moving in an opposite direction by focusing on youth.
Eichel, the face of the franchise, is on the trade block in part because of a dispute with the team over how to treat a herniated disk that forced him to miss the final two months of the season. Eichel revealed the rift in May by calling it “a disconnect” that has led him to question his future in Buffalo.
Eichel favours surgery while the team is against it because the procedure has never been performed on an NHL player.
Hagg, also 26, was in and out of the lineup last season as either the team’s sixth or seventh defenceman and finished with had two goals and 5 points in 34 games. Selected by Philadelphia in the second round of the 2013 draft, Hagg has 13 goals and 47 points 236 career games.