Last summer, the Flyers focused on gathering blueline reinforcements for the worst defense of the 2020-2021 season. They did just that, bringing in Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Ellis, and Keith Yandle.
The moves have not panned out overall; Ellis played only a handful of games before being shut down, and Yandle is amongst the league’s worst in +/- rating.
Ristolainen, on the other hand, has been a rare bright spot for the struggling Flyers, logging healthy minutes and bringing considerable physicality to the top-four defensemen. Thanks to his freshly-inked 5-year, $5.1 million AAV contract, though, Ristolainen will be closely scrutinized by the Flyers’ faithful.
The problem with Ristolainen’s contract is not the length; he will not turn 28 until the beginning of next season. The contract’s value is not outrageous, either. Ristolainen was slightly overpaid but could have plausibly made this much on the open market.
Where the real issue lies is in precedent; the Flyers have trotted out a veritable parade of failed defensive acquisitions for the past decade.
Luke Schenn was a name in Toronto when he came to Philadelphia in exchange for James van Riemsdyk. While “JVR” enjoyed the prime of his career with the Leafs, Schenn made it abundantly clear his slow skating would doom him to the third pairing indefinitely. Next, Andrew MacDonald, like Ristolainen, was traded for during a contract year. The team threw an absurd $30 million at the mediocre defenseman, who spent stints in the AHL before finding a place beside Ivan Provorov.
Last offseason, the Orange and Black brought in Ryan Ellis, a big name with a big contract. Ellis has not gotten his feet off the ground in Philadelphia, playing in just 4 games. His lack of play has been reflected in the Philadelphia Flyers’ odds, which can be seen at SportsBettingDime.com.
All this is to say that when the Flyers take a big swing at a defenseman, they tend to miss. Ristolainen is a solid NHL player. The number Risto will make begs serious questions nonetheless.
Are the Flyers investing in an improvement from the 500+ game veteran or covering their butts after trading a hefty draft haul for an RFA?
If Ristolainen is only returning to spare the organization’s blushes, fan perception of the extension will quickly sour.
Here’s hoping the deal turns out to give the Flyers an affordable top pair guy, not another blueline albatross.
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