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Despite their interest, the Maple Leafs should avoid trading for Rasmus Ristolainen

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Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
2 months ago
It’s no secret Brad Treliving is trying to upgrade the Toronto Maple Leafs blue line. The Leafs GM has been quite candid about his trade interest during his recent media rounds but made one thing clear he’s not going to overpay or just make a trade, to make a trade.
One trade he should avoid, acquiring Philadelphia Flyers right-handed defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen.
According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the Maple Leafs have looked into Ristolainen as a trade target and Elliotte had this to say in a recent 32 Thoughts:
I do think Toronto has taken a look at Philadelphia’s Rasmus Ristolainen, who has three seasons remaining on a five-year, $25.5-million contract. But, I don’t believe the Flyers are eager to give him away, and there’s no rush for them to do anything while their group is playing well. That’s not to say it couldn’t be something down the road, but when the team is competing hard, getting good results and generally doing what is being asked of them — why throw a stink bomb into your dressing room?
The Flyers have surprised many this season as they sit a 14-10-2 record, good for second in the Metropolitan division. GM Daniel Briere is looking to re-tool and get younger, but that’s not to say, as Friedman mentions, he’s looking to turn his dressing room upside down as the team is producing.

Ristolainen is too costly and way too risky

Either way you look at it, Ristolainen will be costly for the Maple Leafs to acquire and Treliving needs to turn his attention somewhere else. The 6-foot-4 defenseman is owed $5.1 million annually through the 2026-27 season. While he doesn’t hold any trade protection, some would argue his contract does the trick.
Ristolainen’s annual salary doesn’t match his output and if the Leafs want to get the Flyers to retain some salary throughout the next four seasons, that’s going to be very costly for Treliving to manage. Think at least one first-round pick, or perhaps even a top prospect. Two things the Maple Leafs should avoid trading at this time.
So far in six games this season, Ristolainen has recorded just one assist, 11 hits and seven blocked shots. He battled a mystery injury to start the season and has missed 20 of Philly’s games this season. Nothing screams risky trade target more than a d-man who has a mystery injury to start the season. Compound that with the fact he’s injury prone and hasn’t played a full season since 2015-16, yes eight years ago.
When he’s healthy, the Finnish blueliner produces at a reasonable clip, but the Maple Leafs shouldn’t be in the market for ‘when he’s healthy’ players. They need stability, have already dropped a ton of man games due to injury and Treliving should try to avoid adding a veteran with the wrong kind of track record.
Circling back to the numbers, while Ristolainen’s managed one assist so far this season, he recorded 20 points in 74 games last season and 16 points in 66 games the year before. He’s not an all offense type of defender and his sandpaper or the edge he plays with is likely why Treliving even considered a move in the first place. You can’t teach 6-foot-4, and a willingness to muck it up in the dirty areas of the ice. However, these kinds of underlying numbers should be quite concerning for the Leafs brass:
So with all his stats in mind, he’s output projects as a third-pairing d-man. Yikes. And with his offensive production decreasing season after season since he was a 40-point blueliner in Buffalo, this would be an absolutely risky deal to make and frankly with some of Treliving’s moves he’s already made, he should be avoiding ‘risky trades’ as much as humanly possible.
The risk doesn’t end at the contract and injuries, you can loop Stanley Cup Playoff production in as well. Ristolainen hasn’t played a postseason game since 2013-14 when he was a member of the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. While some will argue his style of play is suited for the playoffs, it’s hard to say what to expect when he’s never played hockey when the games matter the most.

Treliving should avoid moving top prospects

If the Maple Leafs were to trade for Ristolainen, it’s likely the Flyers would need to retain a big chunk of the defenseman’s contract moving forward. Even with the salary cap going up over $4 million next season, Treliving has other priorities to worry about including re-signing William Nylander, securing another goaltender and make decision to re-sign or replace the likes of Max Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi and TJ Brodie are all pending free agents.
If the Flyers eat half of Ristolainen’s $5.1 annual salary, a significant sweetener may need to be included and that could mean the Flyers ask for one of Easton Cowan or Fraser Minten. An absolute 100% hard pass. The 21-year-old Marlies defenseman, Topi Niemela, should be as high on the prospect list as Treliving goes when it comes to adding an experienced NHL blueliner.

Wrench thrown into Treliving’s plans

While it won’t diminish his interest in finding a couple of capable defensemen on the trade market, Joseph Woll going down with what appears to be a significant injury is something that’s going to garner a lot of attention from Treliving.
Ilya Samsonov has been very inconsistent to start this season and he hasn’t practiced much recently thanks to an illness. Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators, Martin Jones appeared in his first NHL action this season and while he looked rather solid, closing out the victory for the Leafs, Jones has posted a .870 Sv.% in five games of action with the Marlies. Treliving will need to keep a close eye to his crease these next few games to determine if he’s set up his team for success with Samsonov and Jones carrying the load.
As for Ristolainen, the Maple Leafs should avoid trading for him. His contract is worrisome, his injury frequency is sketchy and he’s an absolute wildcard when it comes to performing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Add in the fact to make a deal work, Treliving will likely have to move one of his top prospects and frankly, that’s not a price the Leafs GM should be willing to pay for a player of Ristolainen’s caliber.

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