The Buffalo Sabres announced they've traded defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenseman Robert Hagg, the No. 14 overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft on Friday night and a second-round pick in the 2023 draft.
It's a stunning trade based on Ristolainen's long-term struggles to handle a top-pair role in Buffalo.
The No. 8 pick in the 2013 draft was thrust into a key spot in the Sabres lineup as a 19-year-old, and he hasn't proved capable of that level of responsibility across eight seasons.
Micah Blake McCurdy of HockeyViz provided a statistical breakdown of the Finn's career, which shows a negative impact both offensively and defensively:
It's worth noting Ristolainen, who's scored 245 points (46 goals and 199 assists) in 542 games, was miscast as a No. 1 defenseman from the start by Buffalo. It's possible he'd be more valuable lower in the lineup in five-on-five situations while being featured as a power-play quarterback.
Yet the exorbitant price paid by the Flyers suggests they're planning to use him as a high-volume part of their defense corps. That's a risky decision based on his past results and his $5.4 million cap hit for the 2021-22 season.
Meanwhile, Hagg, 26, has also struggled across four-plus NHL seasons, as highlighted by JFresh of EP Rinkside:
The Swede is under a more team-friendly contract for next season ($1.6 million cap hit) and should take on a less prominent role within the Sabres defense than Ristolainen, though.
The main part of the deal for Buffalo is the draft picks, led by the 14th pick Friday that will actually be No. 13 because the Arizona Coyotes have forfeited the No. 11 selection. The Sabres also own the first overall pick, with Michigan defenseman Owen Power being the presumptive top choice.
It's part of the latest rebuilding effort by the Sabres, who own the NHL's longest playoff drought at 10 seasons. The next highest is the Detroit Red Wings at five years.
Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart are among the other notable players who may be moved by Buffalo either leading up to the draft or throughout the remainder of the offseason.
The Ristolainen trade is the first concrete sign that the team's lineup will look a lot different by the time the new season kicks off in October.