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Rasmus Ristolainen Reportedly Sidelined for Several Weeks With Upper-Body Injury

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Anthony Di Marco of The Fourth Period dropped a rather large nugget of information earlier Wednesday in regards to the status of defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. The hulking Finn was originally believed to be sidelined for the next month or so for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Shortly after his tweet went viral, Flyers GM Daniel Brière announced a slew of updates on several players, including Ristolainen. Owen Tippett and Jamie Drysdale had maintenance days today, Tyson Foerster (lower-body) will be sidelined for another couple of days but it’s expected to not be a long-term issue, and Ristolainen was being checked on with a minor upper-body injury with no immediate timetable available.

All of this culminated with Kevin Kurz of The Athletic confirming that Ristolainen will be sidelined for the next 2-3 weeks as he gets a procedure done to determine his ailment and whether or not he will be out beyond that 2-3 week timeline.

Ristolainen was out of the lineup ahead of their tilt against the Winnipeg Jets last Thursday night due to an illness, then returned on Saturday to face the Seattle Kraken but was made a late scratch against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday. It was initially stated that his absence had nothing to do with the illness and now we have some clarification that he will be out for at least a month with a “significant” injury.

Ristolainen started the season on IR but has played 31 games this year, where he has notched a goal and 3 assists, is a minus-6, has averaged 16:41 TOI, has 45 blocks to 57 hits, and has only accrued 8 PIM. His overall game has gotten substantially better since John Tortorella’s arrival, which further explains why several contending teams have expressed interest and inquired about his availability ahead of the trade deadline.

The issue with Ristolainen being sidelined indefinitely is that not only does that affect his trade status, but that can also play a significant role in what the Flyers now do with Sean Walker. It’s been an interesting season for the 29-year-old defenseman, who has rejuvenated his career after suffering through multiple injuries in 2021-22. Walker had a great start to the 2023-24 season and was essentially the third-best rearguard behind only Travis Sanheim and Cam York.

The tug-of-war began on whether or not the Flyers would keep Walker beyond this season, considering the fact that he was playing on an expiring contract and the club is undergoing a rebuild. The acquisition of Drysdale definitely changed the tone and with a sudden log-jam on the backend, Walker became way more expendable.

Taking Ristolainen out of the lineup is going to play a factor moving forward. The Flyers have operated with the 11/7 formation quite often since Drysdale’s acquisition, further allowing them to have Egor Zamula and Nick Seeler in the lineup rather than one of them sitting in the press box. With Marc Staal still in the picture, the Flyers still have 7 able-bodied defensemen, but does that change their plans regarding Walker with the deadline fast approaching?

The club has shocked the hockey world and remain in playoff position as we enter the midpoint of February. With a 29-19-6 record, the Flyers are third in the division with the 4th-place New Jersey Devils 6 points back and the 2nd-place Carolina Hurricanes only one point ahead – both have 2 games in hand on the Flyers. Making the playoffs is very well possible and not having Ristolainen and Walker in the lineup could be a problem with no NHL-ready defensemen ready to take the mantle in their – perceived – absences.

Ristolainen surprisingly carries a lot of trade cache for someone who was run out of Buffalo and made a black sheep in his first year with the Flyers. It was reported that Brière and company are okay with retaining around $1.5 million of his AAV in any possible deal moving forward, but they want a first round pick for eating salary for 3 more seasons. A deal could be struck during the offseason where it will be far easier for both clubs involved and the receiving team will be able to work with Ristolainen through training camp and the preseason instead of the doldrums of a playoff push.

Alongside Calgary’s Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev, Walker sits near the top of the trade deadline leaderboard and there have been a slew of teams that continuously try to haggle with Brière. The newly minted GM has stated he wants nothing less than a first round pick and with how the market has shifted since the Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm deals, the sellers have most of the leverage. Plus this can only add to his trade value if other teams become desperate and the Flyers refuse to part ways.

There is definitely serious interest between both player and team for an extension so one has to wonder if the Flyers keep Walker around beyond the deadline with Ristolainen sidelined with a mysterious injury. They can extend the former and move latter during the offseason and comfortably role with a top-4 that includes Sanheim, York, Drysdale, and Walker.

It will be interesting to see whether or not this injury does actually change the course of the Flyers’ plans. Their current placement in the standings was probably not expected but with the team humming with just 28 games remaining, Brière and company have a lot of internal conversations to have before the March 8th deadline.

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