The Buffalo Sabres made three key additions to their newly-revamped defense on the right side within the last six months.
Brandon Montour was acquired in February, while Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju were added more recently. Montour and Miller are both capable of starting as top 4 defensemen, with Jokiharju slotting in at the bottom pairing for now. Jokiharju absolutely has the potential to become a regular top 4, or even top 2, defensemen, however, he is still young and bottom-pairing minutes would likely be ideal for his development.
Beyond the thee players mentioned above, the Sabres also have Will Borgen, Casey Nelson, and Zach Bogosian (who is currently on the mend,) that all play the right side.
The question that remains is where does this leave Rasmus Ristolainen?
He has consistently been viewed as the Sabres No.1 defensemen. However with the new acquisitions as well as the addition of elite defensemen in Rasmus Dahlin, that no longer looks to be the case. Ristolainen still, of course, has value, and because of this and the log jam on the right side, he seems to be the most likely candidate to be moved.
The Sabres would benefit greatly from a proven 2nd line center, and while we all hope Casey Mittelstadt takes a big step this year and can play that position, it wouldn’t hurt to give him another year or two to develop his game as a 3rd line offensive threat.
Here are a few returns that would be worth getting in returns for Ristolainen:
Adam Henrique (ANA)
Adam Henrique is a proven 2nd line center capable of putting up a decent number of points as well as playing with pace and driving possession. Both players are under contract of similar AAV for multiple years, however, with Ristolainen being younger and the value of a potential top 4 or top pairing RHD the Ducks would have to throw in decent picks or a solid prospect to make this work.
Carrying a cap hit of 5.825 million Henrique would actually save the Ducks a little over $400K. This is the type of player that plays with pride and grit, he always seems to have his motor running and has shown to be a proven penalty killer as well.
With Henrique being 29 years of age, what you see is what you get. When his contract is due to expire, Casey Mittelstadt should be comfortable stepping into the 2nd line center role with more experience under his belt. Henrique put up 42 points last year averaging only 16:27 of ice time per game on a quite bad Anaheim Ducks team. With an increase in ice time plus better wingers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him eclipse the 50-point mark on a regular basis.
Alley-oop time for @AdamHenrique! pic.twitter.com/jUFOcUpTTf
— NHL (@NHL) December 19, 2017
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a 1st overall pick, however, has never lived up to the hype of that selection. With both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisiatl as centers above him on the depth chart, the Oilers may look to solve a need on defense while giving up a valuable asset.
This could be a trade that has the potential to be beneficial for both teams. RNH carries a cap hit of $6M, and the Oilers would save $600K by moving him for Ristolainen.
Not known for his physical play, RNH can beat you with his intelligence and speed. This past season he put up 69 points, playing roughly 20 minutes per game with limited talent on his line (especially when McDavid & Draisiatl were paired together).
Nugent-Hopkins would be a legitimate 2nd line center for years to come as he is just hitting his prime, and could absolutely benefit from a change of scenery.
Zack Kassian to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the back of the net for a shorty. pic.twitter.com/Gc84Y7LyMZ
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 16, 2017
Jonathan Drouin (MON)
Jonathan Drouin is an exceptional skater with the ability to crank up the speed of the game and is also a solid possession driver. With Drouin being more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, he would benefit the Sabres with his quick transition game and passing ability.
The Canadiens could be interested in this move as their team, outside of Shea Weber, needs to add some more bite and really haven’t done anything of significance this off-season aside from drafting Cole Caulfield.
The cap hits between the two players are almost identical and while it’s not always common to trade within the same division a deal surrounding these two players could absolutely be made possible. With a cap hit of $5.5M, it would almost be a wash with Ristolainen’s cap hit of 5.4 million.
Drouin managed to gather 53 points on a Canadiens team that is not exactly an offensive powerhouse while averaging less than 17 minutes of ice time per game. This would be a major splash that may be the type of move the Canadiens are looking to make, especially as their team has been in the thick of rumors lately.
Jonathan Drouin is a bad, BAAAAAAAD man 🔥🔥🔥 #TBLvsCOL pic.twitter.com/pEGzEU3QCK
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) February 20, 2017
There are, of course, many options to explore when looking to trade a player of Ristolainen’s caliber and perceived value. Names such as Tyler Johnson may also come up, however, I wanted to give a few examples that came to mind as a fit for Jason Botterill’s plan for the team.
It’s important to keep in mind that Botterill wants to get the maximum value out of trading Ristolainen and that is what helps to make a good GM. Botterill has already improved the team significantly this off-season, and even if moving Ristolainen seems inevitable at this point, he will want to make sure the return for the Sabres is worth giving up a young cap controlled defenseman with potential that scores roughly 40 points per season.
We don’t want a repeat of the ROR deal, and this is Botterill’s chance to make a blockbuster trade that will not less us Sabres fan wanting more in return.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts as well as any trade proposals you may want to suggest. Thanks for reading & Go Sabres!