Rasmus Ristolainen has spent his first season in Philadelphia playing old-time Flyers hockey and now he gets to do it for five more years.
On Thursday, the team announced it has signed the 27-year-old defenseman to a new five-year, $25.5-million contract extension. Ristolainen was scheduled to become a potential unrestricted free agent this summer before the new deal was reached.
There had been speculation the Flyers might be thinking of trading Ristolainen at or before the March 21 NHL deadline but those rumors have been put to rest.
“Rasmus is an important part of our team and we are very happy to have him on our blue line for the next five years,” said general manager Chuck Fletcher, who had used a first-round and a second-round draft pick (plus defenseman Robert Hagg) to acquire the Finnish native from Buffalo last summer. “He is committed to being a Flyer and brings a consistent physical presence to our team.”
Ristolainen was Buffalo’s first-round (eighth overall) pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. In his first season with the Flyers, he has recorded two goals/13 points in 49 games while logging an average of 21:22 ice time, which ranks third on the team among players who have appeared in at least 10 games.
He leads the team in hits (177), which ranks third among all NHL defensemen, and is tied for eighth among all players. He’s also third on the Flyers in blocked shots with 90.
Over parts of the last six seasons, Ristolainen ranks second among all NHL defensemen with 1,209 hits. In the past nine seasons, he has 48 goals/258 points in 591 regular-season games.
“I’m very happy and I really wanted to stay,” Ristolainen said. “It’s a great feeling to have it done before the deadline. I love this city. I love the fans. They are very passionate. I love my teammates and I want to be here when we turn it around next year.”
Without question, Ristolainen’s style is appreciated by the Flyers’ fan base. His penchant for initiating physical contact makes him a favorite with the Wells Fargo Center faithful.
“I appreciate all the love from fans,’’ Ristolainen said during a midday media Zoom call from Sunrise, Fla. where the Flyers will be playing the Panthers on Thursday night. “I mean everything about the Flyers’ history, the players who played here, just the logo on the jersey and everything around it I really like. I want to keep wearing that jersey, play for the city and the fans.’’
Part of Ristolainen’s success here stems from his partnership with Travis Sanheim on the second defense pairing. The two have developed a pretty good chemistry.
That may have been a factor in his decision to re-sign with Philadelphia.
“I really enjoy playing with him,’’ Ristolainen said. “Hopefully we can play together for a long time. It’s not easy finding a player you can enjoy playing with – see yourself playing with for a long time. So I wanted to stay.’’
While the deal most likely was in the works for a while, it still came down to getting his name on the dotted line.
“It’s good to get it done,’’ he said. “I wanted to stay, they wanted me to stay. So it’s good to be here. I’ve enjoyed my time here. I really believe we can turn it around real quick.’’
After the trade from Buffalo, Ristolainen let it be known he was pleased to be joining a team which was perceived to be a contender. All that changed with the multitude of injuries and illness but he remains optimistic about the hockey future in Philadelphia.
“I believe the pieces we have here and for next year is a pretty good core,’’ he said. “Some changes will happen but I trust the guys I share that locker room with.’’
Some believe Ristolainen could have commanded as much as $6-7 million on the open market but apparently that was not a consideration.
“I was thinking about all the options,’’ he admitted. “Moving from Buffalo to here, it was kind of a hassle. I like it here so I didn’t need to go looking for something else for no reason. It was a pretty easy decision for me.’’