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Tampa Bay Lightning Trade Deadline: Avoid Rasmus Ristolainen

The Tampa Bay Lightning trade deadline will be interesting to watch this season. Over the last several seasons, they’ve been active with deals. It started with Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. More recently, it has been Tanner Jeannot and Michael Eyssimont. This season, there is a question of what the Lightning should do; buy or sell? Here at Last Word, Kyle Pereira and Jack Pallotta will start a series where they look at some potential trades.  Let’s say they buy, who do they get? What do they give up? Today, we look at defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Disclaimer: The players featured in these articles aren’t always linked to the Lightning but have been made available in some capacity this season. These pieces are observing whether Tampa should target them and what the cost would be if they did. 

Tampa Bay Lightning Trade Deadline: Rasmus Ristolainen

One of several players involved in the Buffalo Sabres trade rumors for years, Ristolainen finally found a new home in Philadelphia. The former 8th overall pick of the 2013 NHL entry draft showed promise in his youth. Despite playing on horrible Buffalo teams, Ristolainen eclipsed the 40-point mark in four straight seasons from 2016-19. His performance with limited weapons sparked trade interest around the NHL. After all, who wouldn’t want a physical, 6’4″ defenceman who can rack up points on the score sheet?

Before being traded, Ristolainen’s production tailed off for the next two seasons. In his last season with Buffalo, Ristolainen recorded only 18 points in 49 games. The asking price for Ristolainen was always steep, but with his production tailing off, nobody was interested in acquiring him. That all changed when the Flyers traded away the 14th overall pick in 2021, a 2023 second-round pick, and Robert Hagg for Ristolainen. After three below-average seasons with the Flyers, Ristolainen is back in the trade market. Furthermore, Ristolainen remains linked to the Tampa Bay Lightning in trade rumors. The Lightning must avoid Ristolainen at all costs, but let’s understand why and analyze him as a potential trade target.

Ristolainen Scouting Report

With over 700 games of NHL experience, Ristolainen has 52 goals and 233 assists for 285 points. His career-best production came during the 2016-17 season, where Ristolainen recorded six goals and 39 assists for 45 points in 79 games. With the Flyers this season, Ristolainen has one goal and three assists for four points in 31 games. His projected totals are affected due to injuries. In his days with Buffalo, Ristolainen averaged roughly 25 minutes of ice time per game. However, in Philadelphia, he averages only 19 minutes of ice time per game. This drop-off in time on ice may factor into Ristolainen’s decrease in production.

Ristolainen is a giant on the back end who skates well for his size. Moreover, he has an absolute bullet of a shot from the blue line in the offensive zone. Ristolainen will hit anything that moves. He plays a very physical style of play. In John Tortorella’s system, Ristolainen has become a stay-at-home defender. Compared to his days in Buffalo, Ristolainen was an offensive defenceman. The 29-year-old defenceman has popped up in Tampa Bay in trade rumors. Let’s analyze his strengths and weaknesses to understand why Ristolainen is not an optimal trade deadline target.

Ristolainen’s Strengths

The best attribute of Ristolainen is his defensive play this season. However, is that due to him maturing or playing in John Tortorella’s system? With Tortorella in 2022-23, Ristolainen allowed expected goals at a rate seven percent better than the league average this season, according to HockeyViz. In his best season with Buffalo in 2016-17, Ristolainen surrendered expected goals at a rate seven percent worse than the league average. His play style has completely flipped based on his role and system. In 2024, with Ristolainen on the ice, the Flyers allow expected goals at a rate nine percent better than the league average this season.

While Risotlainen is posting superb defensive results, he is deployed in the Flyers’ bottom pair and facing weak forward competition. The Lightning will certainly not maximize Ristolainen’s defensive results. Despite his inflated results, Ristolainen has a rocket for a shot and remains out of the penalty box. However, what are the potential risks of acquiring Ristolainen?

Ristolainen’s Weaknesses

Ristolainen has numerous flaws in his game. His defensive zone puck retrievals are inefficient. Microstats via All Three Zones prove this claim further. Ristolainen ranked in the 1st percentile of failed zone exits per hour amongst defencemen in 2023. Moreover, he placed in the 5th percentile of successful zone exit percentage. When Ristolainen heads back to retrieve pucks, he’s turning the puck over. The Lightning have had their fair share of defensive zone turnovers this season, and Ristolainen will not resolve this issue.

Despite the Lightning gaining $8.5 million in cap space with Mikhail Sergachev‘s season-ending injury, why spend assets on a right-handed defenceman with term on his deal? Ristolainen has three years left at $5.1 million per season, a severe overpayment for his services. Tampa Bay has Erik Cernak signed for a similar price and plays identically to Ristolainen. Not to mention, Ristolainen is a physical defender, which means his body will start to deteriorate quickly. With the right side signed into next season, the Lightning do not need to create a log jam by acquiring Ristolainen at the trade deadline.

What It Would (Likely) Take To Acquire Ristolainen

While Ristolainen is not an ideal trade target, the absence of Sergachev is hard to ignore. Let’s say the Lightning were to offer Daniel Briere a trade for Ristolainen. What is a comparable trade from the past to build the framework for a mock? The best and most realistic comparable came during the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. The Nashville Predators acquired Jeremy Lauzon in exchange for a 2022 second-round pick. Lauzon is a grizzled defender who doesn’t provide much offensive upside. Similar to Ristolainen, he offers solid defensive upside in the proper structure. Due to his experience and history, we believe the price tag for Ristolainen would be slightly higher. Below is the framework for a potential trade.

Tampa Bay acquires: Rasmus Ristolainen (D)

Philadelphia acquires: 2025 second-round pick, Alex Barré-Boulet (F)

How Both Sides Benefit From the Trade

To be clear, any scenario in which Tampa Bay acquires Ristolainen is a loss. With his cap hit, play style, and statistics, the Lightning can spend their money elsewhere at the deadline. The only real benefit for Tampa Bay here is finding another defenceman to replace Sergachev. However, the organizational depth of the Lightning has filled the vacant hole. For Philadelphia, they get $5 million off their books and gain a decent draft choice for the future. While Barré-Boulet and Toroterlla might not be best buddies, the Flyers can always flip him. After all, the Flyers have some electric forwards in Travis Konecny and Owen Tippett, so why not throw Barré-Boulet in the mix?

Tampa Bay Lightning Trade Deadline: In Or Out On Ristolainen

Ristolainen is a physical and gritty defenceman that many NHL General Managers tend to take an interest in. He is a solid skater for his frame and has decent puck skills. His inflated defensive results are due to his system, role, and competition. Ristolainen is by no means system-proof. In other words, his impact changes based on his environment. This idea only adds more risk in acquiring Ristolainen. We aren’t sure which version of Ristolainen the Lightning will acquire. Moreover, Ristolainen will not be worth over $5 million for the remainder of his deal.

The Lightning also do not need any more right-handed defencemen. Darren Raddysh and Nicklaus Perbix are diamonds in the rough signed to cost-effective deals. Pushing them out of the lineup for an older, more expensive Ristolainen is poor asset management. After analyzing Ristolainen and his analytical results, there appear to be no benefits in a potential trade for the Lightning. We argue that a Ristolainen trade would make the roster worse. Ultimately, there are better targets on the back end, and secondary scoring is more of a concern.

Advanced percentiles via AllThreeZones (paid subscription required)

Raw stats via NaturalStatTrick & EvolvingHockey

Lightning tracked stats via Last Word (Kyle Pereira and Jack Pallotta)

Main Photo: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports


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