The defensive woes plaguing the Toronto Maple Leafs this season are real and well documented. Not only has the team's defensive play struggled but the injuries to the blueline have been constant. This has caused the Leafs to be linked to many names throughout the year and especially as the deadline approaches.
Some names are intriguing, like Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin from General Manager Brad Treliving’s former team, the Calgary Flames. Earlier in the season before being dealt to the Vancouver Canucks, the Toronto Maple Leafs were also linked to Nikita Zadorov.
However, some have suggested that the Leafs could also be linked to none other than right-shot defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen.
If this is the case, they should hang up the phones immediately.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Should NOT Trade for Rasmus Ristolainen
Ristolainen, formerly of the Buffalo Sabres, endured many tough seasons throughout the 2010’s with the lacklustre Sabres.
There, he was utilized as a number one defenseman and struggled mightily. From 2014-15 until 2020-21, he ranks 13th in time on ice (TOI) at 5-on-5 amongst defenders, averaging 23:53 minutes a night in all-situations. Over that same span, only 59 defencemen played 7500 or more minutes and he ranks dead last in expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and corsi against per 60 (CA/60). He also ranks fifth worst in goals against per 60 (GA/60).
After being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in July 2021, he has seen a consistent decline in ice-time every year since. He went from 21:26 his first season to now 16:44 this season. This has lead to an improvement in his performance, aside from his production. In his current minutes, he is on pace for the lowest point totals of his career since his rookie year in 2013-14 where he played only 34 games.
As I stated before, he has improved his play since joining the flyers. However, it should be taken with a massive grain of salt given that his play has improved as his ice-time and usage has decreased. He is mostly playing bottom-pair minutes this season, meaning he is mainly going up against opposing teams depth lines. Unsurprisingly, this is the first season in his career where he possesses an xGF% above 50%.
Of course, it’s not an issue that he was simply miscast as a top-pair defender and now that he is getting proper usage he is performing well. The main issue with Ristolainen being talked about as a trade candidate is his contract. He is currently in the second year of a 5 year contract, carrying an AAV of $5.1 million. Meaning, if the Leafs acquire him this season, he will be under contract for three more years after this season.
The only way that acquiring Ristolainen makes sense is if the Leafs are able to convince Danny Briere to retain 50% and then convince a third team to retain an additional 50%, making his caphit a much more stomach-able $1.275 million. Even then, his deal would be a major risk given his near decade of poor results and lacklustre performance.
I think it’s safe to say that Brad Treliving and Co. Should go back to the drawing board on this one.