VOORHEES, N.J. – The day Rasmus Ristolainen was traded from the mediocre Buffalo Sabres to a rebuilding Flyers franchise, he thought he was going from bad to better.
Six months later, that scenario hasn’t exactly play out the way he expected.
Oh, the Sabres are still bad.
But the Flyers are literally just as awful, with just one point separating them in the standings and a possible playoff spot somewhere over the rainbow.
Philadelphia’s disappointing campaign has little to do with Ristolainen’s play. He’s been everything his career resume would suggest – hard hitting (he’s third in hits among NHL defensemen over the past five seasons), willing to block shots, physically fit to absorb big minutes.
The only question is whether the Flyers paid a little too much in the deal which brought him here. They gave up its first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, plus NHL roster defenseman Robert Hagg and a 2023 second-round pick.
All that for a 26-year-old who can become an unrestricted free agent — he’s in the final year of a contract which pays $5.4 million annually) — at the end of the season.
At the time of the trade, Ristolainen acknowledged perhaps his biggest attribute is getting under an opponent’s skin.
“I would say I’m a player that other teams hate to play against, and I try to be a pain in the ass,’’ he said. “I can do everything, penalty kill, power play. I can pass the puck. I can shoot the puck. I can play any type of role. Hard worker. I like to hit. Just do anything it takes to win.”
After Monday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center, Ristolainen talked about how things have gone this season and what the future holds. To date, he has recorded just two goals/11 points. In four of the past five seasons, he registered 40-plus points.
“I haven’t really thought about it (the future),’’ Ristolainen said. “I can’t control what’s going to happen. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Philly. I like my teammates a lot and the whole staff. It’s been good so far, besides the games, not where we’re at. But I still believe in this group.’’
The 6-foot-4 native of Finland continues to bring a positive attitude to the rink each day.
“I think we had high expectations,’’ he said. “Things didn’t go like we planned. But we can’t feel sorry about ourselves. We still have to work and push. Hopefully we get some guys back from injury soon and we put some wins together.’’
One gets the impression Ristolainen would like to stay, even if the Flyers can’t come up with the cash for a new contract. Right now they are a bit strapped due to salary cap constraints.
“I like the fans, they’re very passionate,’’ he said. “I wish we could play better, get some wins for them. But I think better times are ahead.’’
>Brassard return likely on hold
Because the Flyers only have one game left on their schedule (Winnipeg on Tuesday night) before this weekend’s NHL All-Star break, it looks like the Flyers will hold off on putting center Derick Brassard back on the ice until action resumes on Feb. 9.
Brassard took part in what amounted to a full practice on Monday but there’s no point “rushing him back’’ until he’s fully ready to go. Brassard, who originally went down with a hip injury on Dec. 8, tried a comeback on Jan. 6 but went back on injury reserve immediately after.
“That was by far the most activity he’s had in a long time,’’ interim head coach Mike Yeo said. “He said he was feeling it (fatigue) after practice. That was a pretty intensive practice, a lot of stops and starts. . .battles. As for playing tomorrow, getting through a practice like that is a pretty good indication you’re ready but with that said, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense (to play) when we’ve got a week off there. I think it was a good first step. After the break, he should be ready to go.’’
Morgan Frost missed Monday’s practice due to an undisclosed illesss but is expected to play against the Jets. . .Monday’s practice was open to the public but virtually no one showed up to watch. Some of it could be the pandemic, some of it could be the product on the ice. . .Yeo said new assistant coach John Torchetti, who made his first appearance (he had to clear COVID protocol) on Monday, was excited to be on the ice. “He brings a lot of enthusiasm,’’ Yeo said. “He loves teaching, loves working with the players.’’