Yesterday afternoon, the Buffalo Sabres acquired Right-Hand Defenseman (RHD) Henri Jokiharju from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Right-Winger (RW) Alexander Nylander. The Buffalo Sabres now have four NHL-ready RHD on their roster to fill three spots in their lineup on opening night. This includes the newly acquired Jokiharju, along with incumbents Brandon Montour, Colin Miller, and Rasmus Ristolainen. Additionally, the Sabres also have Zach Bogosian on the injury list, the oft-injured RHD expected to miss the start of the season while recovering from hip surgery. Recently rumours have swirled that Buffalo could trade the 24-year-old Ristolainen to address positional needs.
Buffalo’s primary positional need is between the pipes (Check out this excellent article by fellow Overtime Heroics writer James Maloney). The goaltending depth chart consists of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark. Unless something changes dramatically between now and opening night, neither of them are NHL-quality starting goaltenders. Let’s have a look at five teams that could be a fit for Ristolainen. It should come as no surprise that the majority of these scenarios involve the Sabres receiving a goaltender in return.
Buffalo’s gonna trade Ristolainen for something obscene. If they get better goaltending, which isn’t a high bar to get over, they’re gonna mess around and make the playoffs.
— Steve "Dangle" Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) July 9, 2019
When 29-year-old starting goaltender Antti Raanta went down with an injury last season, few would have expected the Coyotes to remain in the playoff race. However, with just a week left in the season, there they were, fighting tooth and nail with several Western Conference teams for the final wild-card spot. In the end, they came up short; the Colorado Avalanche eventually snagging the final spot. A silver lining in the cloud of disappointment for Arizona was the emergence of Darcy Kuemper between the pipes.
The 29-year-old netminder ended the season with a 27-20-8 record, .925 Save Percentage (SV%), and 2.33 Goals Against Average (GAA). With Kuemper’s breakout season, the Coyotes may be comfortable moving one of their goaltenders in exchange for Ristolainen’s services. Cap Friendly shows the Coyotes as having a mere $178,099 in cap space. Marian Hossa will be moved to Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), which will clear some room, but in order to accommodate Ristolainen’s $5,400,000 cap hit they may need to move Raanta ($4,250,000) instead of Kuemper ($1,850,000).
His name is Antti Raanta. Right now we're anti-Raanta. pic.twitter.com/KFsnw5IPn0
— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) February 14, 2018
When the Avalanche dealt Tyson Barrie to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen, it opened up space on the right-side of defence. Blue-chip prospect Cale Makar is expected to grow into a top-four, and possible top-pairing role in the near future, but the Avalanche would do well to insulate him. Acquiring Ristolainen would do just that. An additional incentive to acquire Ristolainen is that 31-year-old Erik Johnson is currently the only RHD on the roster with more than 10 games of NHL experience.
Unfortunately, the Colorado Avalanche do not have a surplus of NHL talent at the goaltending position. Phillip Grubauer is the only goaltender with any real experience between the pipes. And he’s not likely to be moved. However, one player that the Sabres should have interest in is the supremely talented, yet thus far disappointing Tyson Jost. When considering their performance the last couple of seasons, “supremely talented, yet thus far disappointing” could also be the Sabres motto on their crest. A new start could be just what’s needed to get the best out of Jost, and mutually beneficial for both sides. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see good friends Nazem Kadri and Rasmus Ristolainen on the same team?
— We Are Leafs Nation (@LeafsNation1967) April 4, 2017
Los Angeles Kings
Last season 27-year-old goaltender Jack Campbell posted a .928 SV% and 2.30 GAA despite playing for a team that would eventually finish second-last in the league. 33-year-old Jonathan Quick did not do so well, posting a .888 SV% and 3.38 GAA. Those numbers are as ugly as my holiday beard. However, Quick is still regarded as a premier starting goaltender league-wide. He is a two-time Vezina Trophy nominee, William M. Jennings Trophy winner, two-time Stanley Cup Champion, Conn Smythe winner, and Olympic Silver medallist.
In an effort to explain the disparity between the two goaltenders statistically, general manager (GM) Rob Blake said the following in an interview with Josh Cooper of The Athletic: “As far as goaltending, Jonathan Quick, when he’s healthy and he’s ready to play and the games are meaningful, he’s the best there is. It’s really difficult to play when the games aren’t meaningful and I put him in that spot. That’s a tough spot for me to put him in.”
Quick is signed for another four years at a $5,800,000 cap hit. If last years performance was a harbinger of father time taking effect, that contract will be an anchor quickly. If, however, last year’s performance was an anomaly, the Sabres could find themselves with the goaltender they need to contend. Still, the Kings would likely need to either retain a portion of Quick’s salary or add a player, pick/prospect to balance the deal.
Get your grilled cheese sandwiches ready Buffalo.
— The Offensive Zone (@Offensive_Zone) July 3, 2019
In Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro, the Canucks have two of the most promising goaltending prospects of all NHL teams. Jacob Markstrom’s days as a starting goaltender in Vancouver will soon be over. With Markstrom due to become a UFA at the conclusion of the upcoming season, Vancouver could be willing to include Markstrom in a trade with Buffalo to recoup an asset, instead of losing him for nothing at the end of the season.
Just before the Ducks goal, a great save by Jacob Markstrom with Jakob Silfverberg alone in front. pic.twitter.com/Las4vvv5zZ
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) November 22, 2018
The Sabres would likely ask the Canucks to include a forward to balance the deal. Tanner Pearson could be a sensible option. The 26-year-old Left Winger’s value has fallen in recent years, but he scored 24 goals just two seasons ago. With the talented Centres in Buffalo, it’s not unreasonable to expect 20+ goals a season, especially if he gets given power-play minutes.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights have an elite starter between the pipes in Marc-Andre Fleury. This doesn’t leave much opportunity in the short-term for Malcolm Subban. Although the 25-year-old is supremely talented, Subban has struggled with consistency. However, if he does manage to put all the tools he has together, he could be a bargain addition and a possible split-starter with another goaltender in Buffalo. Vegas currently has no cap space, so another player would have to go to the Sabres to make it work. If the Sabres retained part of Ristolainen’s salary, they may be able to pry an elite forward away from the Golden Knights in addition to Subban.
Gotta be trickier than that to beat Malcolm Subban in the shootout ❌
This game-winning stop is the NextGen Save of the Month from February! pic.twitter.com/hvmBqe9CEF
— y-Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) March 8, 2019
28-year-old centre Jonathan Marchessault is currently in his prime. He has posted three consecutive 25+ goal seasons and would be a lethal addition to an already potent Sabres power-play. He is just the sort of forward the Sabres would do well to target should they choose to ease Vegas’ salary cap issues by retaining part of Ristolainen’s salary.
GOAL. DeSmith plays the puck right to Jonathan Marchessault, who makes it 4-3 Vegas. pic.twitter.com/EkNmKGlCIo
— Ryan Quigley (@TheRyanQuigley) January 20, 2019
These are just a few possible trade scenarios. Which would you prefer? Feel free to follow and let me know what you think via Twitter @CanStrayan. Discuss this and other articles in the forums at Overtime Heroics. Thanks for reading.