Buffalo Sabres: Is Rasmus Ristolainen finished in Buffalo?

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 06: Rasmus Ristolainen
NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 06: Rasmus Ristolainen /

Rasmus Ristolainen has only completed two seasons of a six-year contract extension, but one local reporter speculates the Buffalo Sabres may be looking to trade him.

Changes are coming for the Buffalo Sabres. This much is clear after a season in which they made unwanted NHL history, by becoming the first team to finish in 31st place in the standings.

The Sabres aren’t without talent. However, there is no getting around the overall performance of the roster; something is clearly missing.

As such, even players considered at the high-end of the skill chart will potentially be on their way out of Western New York during the Summer. Perhaps the highest profile example of this is Ryan O’Reilly, whose future is as uncertain as ever.

Another possibility is Rasmus Ristolainen. In fact, Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News recently wrote that Ristolainen should keep a good real estate agent’s name handy.

However, is the blue-liner really a main candidate to be moved? The perception has always been that he is a physical and versatile talent, with excellent upside.

Ristolainen is a durable workhorse, who led the team in average ice time for a third successive season. It’s clear Phil Housley relies on him.

The Finland native also led all Sabres’ defensemen in scoring, for a fourth consecutive season. Plus, there is the not so small matter of his contract to consider.

The Sabres felt confident enough in the 2013 eighth overall draft pick, to sign him to a contract extension just ahead of the 2016-17 campaign. The deal was for six years and $32.4 million.

Seeming to further justify the Swords’ belief in Ristolainen, the deal was fully guaranteed. However, it should be noted this contract was agreed under the previous regime.

Essentially, Jason Botterill has no need to feel loyal to the Finland native. If the general manager wants to attempt to move him, it’s within his right and with a clear conscience.

Of course, there is the question of if any team would be prepared to take on a contract, with an annual cap hit of $5.4 million? And what would Botterill be prepared to accept in return?

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Within all this, you still wonder why the Sabres would actually want to part company with Ristolainen? This is still the same durable, all around player with excellent upside and — theoretically at least — a long NHL career ahead of him.

One justification could be that despite logging the most minutes on the team, this makes the 23-year-old more culpable when it comes to the overall results. Certainly, you can’t get around the fact the Sabres allowed the third-most goals in the league during the regular season.

However, it seems unfair to level this against Ristolainen specifically, when considering the team’s defensive play as a whole. In addition, Housley may have felt compelled to play him more, because of the faith he has in him as one of the better blue-liners on the roster.

Another argument against the Finnish international, is the belief he may not be the leader the team is looking for on the blue line. However, he is still young and has a lot to learn; he can still grow into the type of player others want to follow.

Overall, from our perspective, we would give Ristolainen at least one more season to prove his worth with the Buffalo Sabres. Of course, we’re not in charge of such decisions, so it will be interesting to see what transpires in the coming months.

Next: 4 takeaways from Botterill's end of season press conference

How would you summarize Ristolainen’s contributions this season? Do you think it’s time for the Buffalo Sabres to move on from him, or does he deserve more time? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.