Sportsnet asked if the Toronto Maple Leafs should make a trade for Rasmus Ristolainen, so we consider the case for and against the Buffalo Sabres’ defenceman.
As the Toronto Maple Leafs continue preparations for their matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets — whenever this may be — their blue line is considered to be the weakest link on the team. This has been the case all season and as a result, they are often linked to various potential targets to improve the defence.
The Sportsnet columnist answered yes, referencing Ristolainen’s ability to log big minutes and play effectively on the penalty kill among his reasons. He also noted the right-shot defenceman does not have trade protection built into his contract and is the type of player who general manager Kyle Dubas should prioritize.
Regardless of Fox’s opinion, we decided to delve a little deeper into this potential trade scenario. Here is the case for and against attempting to make a move for Ristolainen:
Why the Toronto Maple Leafs should trade for Ristolainen
There is no denying Ristolainen has a lot of the attributes you look for in an ideal blue liner. He has the size and the mobility, along with a certain degree of physicality. (Although he could still do more to improve this aspect of his game.)
In addition, the 25-year-old provides good offence, even though he finished this season with his lowest points total since the 2014-15 campaign. (This would still be the case even if you prorated his 33 points over the course of a full 82-game regular season.)
Whether you’re a fan of the plus/minus rating or not, it’s also still worth noting he finished this season with a career-best -2 rating. This becomes even more impressive when you consider factors such as the Buffalo Sabres having the NHL’s seventh-worst goal difference in 2019-20.
As Fox has already mentioned, the Turku, Finland native is capable of logging big minutes for a team. Interestingly he has seen his average ice time per game drop since a career high 26:30 in 2017-18, but if anything this just means he will be slightly fresher, with less wear and tear on his body.
Regardless, Ristolainen is also remarkably durable, as evidenced by only missing 20 of a possible 479 regular season games in six seasons. As a final note, the general consensus is he still has some upside which can be tapped into.
Why the Toronto Maple Leafs shouldn’t trade for Ristolainen
Upside is always an intriguing word when it comes to a hockey player, or indeed any professional athlete. At some point, that untapped potential can turn into wasted talent which wasn’t fulfilled.
This leads to the question of if Ristolainen is still on the upward curve or has he already plateaued, i.e. will not improve any further? Despite his relatively young age, he has now played seven seasons at the NHL level.
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The easy argument in favour of the 2013 eighth overall draft pick is that he has been playing for the Sabres. Some Buffalo fans may perceive this as a cheap shot at their team, but this is still an organisation that has the longest active playoff drought in the NHL.
While the talent and potential is clearly there, Ristolainen is just not consistent enough yet and there are areas of his game which still need to improve. Chief among these is his defensive zone coverage, which is pretty important when you’re playing on the blue line.
One other aspect which could influence any potential trade scenario, is the Finland international’s contract situation. He still has two years remaining on his current deal, which carries a cap hit of $5.4 million per season.
Most Leafs fans are already well aware of their team’s cap situation. And this is before the salary cap potentially gets impacted negatively by the financial fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Interestingly, while Ristolainen says he has enjoyed his time in Buffalo, he predicts he will be one of the first players moved if the Sabres intend to revamp the team. As reported late last month by Lance Lysowski of The Buffalo News, he said:
"“If changes will happen, I know I’m one of the first ones probably who is going to get traded. It’s part of the business and I’m ready, whatever happens.”"
Regardless, the overall feeling is that the Leafs will not make a trade for Ristolainen. He may well end up getting moved, but it won’t be to Southern Ontario.
What would you do in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ position? Would you attempt to make a trade for Ristolainen or not, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.