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Flyers extend Rasmus Ristolainen to five-year deal

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

The Philadelphia Flyers and Rasmus Ristolainen have come to terms on a 5-year extension worth $5.1 million AAV. Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher reiterated all year that he was going to try and bring him back into the fold for the foreseeable future with the trade deadline only 11 days away. The Flyers acquired the hulking defenseman from the Buffalo Sabres for Robert Hagg, a first round pick in 2021, and a second round pick in 2023. Fletcher made it very clear that he wouldn’t trade the first round pick unless he was getting someone he deemed was impactful and here for the long run.

With the deadline fast approaching, Ristolainen was seemingly the second most valuable trade asset in the Flyers’ arsenal behind Claude Giroux. There were rumours about every expiring contract on the team and even young players like Travis Konecny and Travis Sanheim, but mum was the word when it came to Ristolainen. There were very little rumours about his trade whereabouts, if he’d even be traded, and if the Flyers were even trying. A lot of that had to do with the fact that the Flyers were hellbent on getting the extension done and focusing their sights on 2022-23 and beyond.

There were rumours churning for weeks that Ristolainen had rejected a 6-year deal worth $6.3 million AAV because he wanted to play for a playoff team and finally experience post-season hockey. There was also belief that his camp wanted him to get traded so that his market value could sky-rocket after teams witnessed his physical style of hockey in the physical arena that is the postseason. He was torn between leaving for a contender at the deadline or staying in Philadelphia. He loves the city and the fans and based on all the rumours it was surprising to see him take a little less money than his previous contract (5x$5.4m AAV).

On the season he only has 2 goals and 11 points in 49 games, which would represent career lows. He has the offensive capabilities considering he had 4 straight 40+ point seasons with the Sabres but the biggest caveat has been his lack of power play time. For most of his years in Buffalo he was stationed on the top unit and in those 4 seasons where he tallied 40+ points, he accumulated 21, 25, 23, and 17 points on the man advantage respectively. The Flyers have recently stationed him as the net front presence on their second unit but for the most part have been utilizing Ivan Provorov and Keith Yandle. Ristolainen is averaging 21:22 minutes a game, has 177 hits, 90 blocks, and is -11 on the season.

He has formed chemistry with his partner, Travis Sanheim, this year giving the Flyers a dependable second pairing. It was a little rocky at the beginning of the season with both players still trying to figure out each other’s games. Sanheim was being used at the net-front presence on the defensive end and Ristolainen was the aggressive puck-carrier. Luckily the roles reversed and the two have been playing their games ever since with Sanheim really thriving since the firing of Alain Vigneault.

The $5.1 million AAV gives the Flyers a little over $8 million in free cap space next summer with Morgan Frost and Wade Allison needing extensions if players like Justin Braun, Claude Giroux, Martin Jones, Keith Yandle, and Derick Brassard are dealt and not returning. Kevin Hayes, Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis, Ivan Provorov, and Ristolainen combine for $31.11 million for the next 3+ years, which accounts for 38% of the cap. Decent to good names but lots of injury concerns and consistency issues amongst that group.

Ristolainen is a player that you either love or dislike depending on your views on analytics. He is an analytical nightmare and the Flyers were warned all throughout the summer about his gaudy numbers in Buffalo. For those who use the eye-test as their barometer, Ristolainen most likely passes because he’s a physical specimen, when he’s on his game he’s extremely noticeable, has the capabilities to carry the puck out of the zone, and has a booming slap-shot whenever utilized. In whatever case, the Flyers now have him locked up for another 5 years and that has drawn the rumour mill abuzz.

Darren Dreger was quick to post about the possibility of a Sanheim deal now that Ristolainen is locked up for big money. Sanheim still has one year left at $4.675 million and has been arguably the best defenseman on the team this year. Odd timing for the rumour considering how much the Flyers are enthralled by his play and by the pairing of Ristolainen and Sanheim. The hope from management is that Ryan Ellis makes his return next year to patrol the top pairing with Ivan Provorov; giving the Flyers what they think is a solid top 4.

For those hoping for a rebuild, this move signals the re-tool that the Flyers have mentioned several times this year. The money may be lower than what was being reported but the 5 years being offered is a lot of term. However, for a team insistent on re-tooling, they can now pop their chest out “proudly” and say they have Ellis, Provorov, and Ristolainen signed long term on defense. The Flyers are seemingly very happy with this extension, they didn’t want to part ways fully aware of the price tag they paid, and they love his physical play.

However, was that enough to warrant an extension instead of trading him for a package that would’ve included a first pick? Only time will tell as we start focusing on the March 21st trade deadline with one less name on the trade board.

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