The first significant draft day trade was executed by Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher, as he traded the 14th overall selection in the 2021 NHL draft, a 2nd round selection in 2023, and former 1st round pick Robert Hagg to the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Rasmus Ristolainen. This deal was made possible by the Flyers decision to trade Shayne Gostisbehere, a 2022 2nd round pick, and a 2022 7th round pick to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for future considerations the day before. That move cleared $4.5 million in cap space for the Flyers, and in addition to Hagg’s $1.6 million the Flyers only took on an extra 300k in salary by getting Ristolainen in this deal.
Starting with the Flyers side not only are we, as well as the rest of the analytics community incredibly low on Rasmus Ristolainen, we fail to see the logic behind the asset management in this situation by the Philadelphia Flyers front office team. Essentially the Flyers gave up all of the assets below for Rasmus Ristolainen, who could potentially walk to unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of this season.
A 2021 1st round pick (14th overall)
A 2022 2nd round pick
A 2023 2nd round pick
A 2022 7th round pick
Rasmus Ristolainen has been one of the worst AB defensemen in hockey since he made his NHL debut in 2013-14. Not only has he failed to register a single individually positive AB season in his career, but he has also failed to register a score better than -4. In his eight year career, he has recorded FIVE seasons with an individual score worse than -12, including one of the worst single season AB scores ever recorded in the 2018-19 season at a -22.52. Ristolainen’s Career AB score of -11.94 is the lowest of any active NHL player today with more than three seasons of data recorded. Production wise, in 2020-21, Ristolainen scored four goals with fourteen assists for eighteen points in forty-nine games averaging just above twenty-two minutes of ice time.
We’ve seen the argument made amongst Flyers fans about players leaving the Sabres organization and finding success. The most used example was the case of Ryan O’Reilly, which we find to be an outrageous comparison. When we look at O’Reilly’s AB trajectory, we see that prior to his arrival in Buffalo, he was a consistently positive AB player, as his Career AB score at the time was a +2.03, including 5/6 individually positive seasons. We knew he was a great AB player before his arrival. His first year in Buffalo he registered a -6.01 score which was his career-worst by about 5.5 points, and his last year in Buffalo he registered a -8.34 score, which then became his worst. His 2nd year however, he registered a +5.89 score, which was the best individual score registered by a member of the Buffalo Sabres who played more than 70 games in a season since Derek Roy’s +6.10 score in the 2009-10 season, which is simply incredible. St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong recognized this, and since his trade from Buffalo to St Louis, O’Reilly has won a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup Championship, all while being one of the best AB players in the league during the three-year span. In St. Louis O’Reilly has registered three consecutive individual AB scores above +8, and two scores above +13, for a career average of +12.17 with the team. To think that Ristolainen will have a similar turnaround in Philadelphia, is something we just can’t fathom.
In fact, one could argue that the two defensemen the Flyers gave up in Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere, would make a more positive contribution to the Flyers success in 2021-22. For comparison purposes, we examined each of Hagg, Gostisbehere, and Ristolainen’s recorded individual AB scores from the first year in which all three players were in the league together (2017-18) to present day, the image below shows the results.
Ristolainen’s career AB score during this time span is a whopping -11.54 worse than Gostisbehere and -10.71 worse than Hagg in the same time span. Production wise Gostisbehere had 134 points in 239 games (0.56 PPG), Hagg had 47 points in 235 games (0.20 PPG), and Ristolainen had 135 points in 269 games (0.501 PPG). When we did this comparison, Gostisbehere ad Ristolainen especially stood out to us because of the similar production numbers. We don’t understand why the Flyers would pay to get rid of Gostisbehere to acquire Ristolainen when the numbers are virtually the same, but the AB scores are significantly better. Also, Gostisbehere makes about a million dollars less than Ristolainen. These are the types of decisions that get General Managers fired, and we don’t believe this deal, along with the Cam Atkinson for Jakub Voracek trade, make the Flyers a better team in 2021-22. We do like the Ryan Ellis addition however, as we plan to discuss that when we examine the Flyers offseason to a greater extent than this article.
Now to briefly address the Sabres side, General Manager Kevyn Adams hit this trade out of the park. He was able to get Robert Hagg, who as we’ve somewhat already discussed, is a serviceable NHL defenseman who won’t significantly hurt the team as Ristolainen appeared to do, cleared $3.8 million in cap space, acquired another lottery pick that they used to select Isak Rosen, in addition to a future 2nd round pick. Not only do we believe this is a significant haul for a potential rental player, but we really like what Isak Rosen could potentially be. Rosen played fifty games in 2019-20 and 2020-21 combined for the Leksands IF Jr. team in the Swe-Jr league, and in these fifty games he scored twenty-eight goals and registered nineteen assists for forty-seven points. While he still needs time to develop, the potential is clearly there for the Sabres to work with.
We apologize for the lateness of this article, as working a full time job as well as preparing to return to college takes its toll, but we assure you that we’re working hard to catch up on every major move made to this point in the summer. Much more to come, thank you for reading as always.