Speculation Spectacular is a new weekly look at rumours and speculation around the Leafs. It will appear here on Wednesdays.
Hitting pause on the season and starting up hockey again in July has had an unexpected negative consequence for Leafs fans, and that is that Cody Ceci is remaining a Leaf far longer than anyone expected. The reasoning why he’s a Leaf is one that we can accept, but as soon as he will be departing replacing him with an equally bad, if not worse defenseman seems pretty damned unappealing. That brings us to this Sportsnet article titled: Should Toronto trade for Rasmus Ristolainen?
The weekly mailbag post questions if the Leafs should pursue David Savard or Rasmus Ristolainen. We’ll get to why David Savard is a maybe in a bit, but let’s start with the very obvious bad idea, and that is trading for Ristolainen.
Luke Fox answers:
“In my mind, both right-shot defencemen fit the type of player Kyle Dubas should prioritize in acquiring. Bonus: Both Savard and Ristolainen play for teams that rate among the bottom third in offence, and any significant deal will require the Leafs to trade from their wealth of talent up front.
Each logs more than 20 minutes a night and is integral to his team’s penalty-killing efforts, a needs-improvement category on Toronto’s report card. Both are accustomed to being deployed in defend-first situations, starting the majority of their shifts in their own end, and bring a little edge to their game.
Neither has trade protection built into his contract.
While Ristolainen, 25, is younger with more offensive upside, he’s also a more expensive commitment ($5.4-million cap hit through 2022) than Savard ($4.25-million cap hit through 2021).”
Fox goes on to explain that Savard is a core member of the Jackets team and they are quite fond of him. It would take a significant return to move on from him. On the other hand the Sabres would likely be pushing Ristolainen out the door. Gee, I wonder why?
Let’s start with that cap hit on Ristolainen as a deterrent. Even if Ristolainen wasn’t very bad, that contract would make him the second highest paid Leafs defenseman behind Jake Muzzin, so that ain’t cheap. At that money he should at least be the best Rasmus on the team.
The offensive upside mistakes being on the ice a lot for offensive upside, and in fact, Ristolainen has a 1.88 xGF/60 and 46.61 CF/60 at 5v5, making him the worst in both categories out of the Sabres defense that played more than 400 minutes. The majority of Ristolainen’s points come on the powerplay, which begs a very important question, “WTF WAS HE DOING ON THE POWERPLAY?”
Any defensive upside seems to equate time on ice with defensive ability. Again, Ristolainen had more shots attempted against the Sabres when he was on the ice compared to any other Sabres defenseman who played over 400 minutes. Additionally Ristolainen has had a negative Corsi For and Expected Goals differential every single year he’s been in the league. He’s been in the league seven years. Before giving him the same excuse thrown on Cody Ceci that “he’s played on some really bad teams” it’s important to remember it didn’t work out by putting Ceci on a good team, and only when Ceci was moved to the third pairing and sheltered did he become a usable defensemen. Spending $5.4M/yr for three years on a third pairing defender doesn’t have a lot of appeal.
So why do people keep on pushing Ristolainen?
Well, he checks a lot of lazy boxes. He shoots right, that’s a need for the Leafs. He’s 6’4, and big equals good. Every other Leafs defenseman not named Muzzin is a teacup poodle. Ristolainen is a pitbull, or so your worst uncle says.
There’s also a draft pedigree aspect to this. Ristolainen getting picked 8th overall means that he has unlimited chances to prove he’s good and even though he’ll be 26 at the start of the 2020-21 season, he’s considered to have untapped upside.
Now back to Savard…
Savard has some previous years on his resume that show encouraging trends, and even this year where is shot attempt numbers aren’t ideal, he’s done a solid job of defending high danger chances…
At 20 minutes a game he’s still playing a lot of the tough minutes minus the powerplay that Ristolainen was getting.
There is just concern in pursuing Savard as well, given that he’s going to cost more in trade, still costs you $4.25M, he’s a free agent after next season, and will be 30 by the start of the 2020-21 season.
The long answer to the easy question here seems to be that neither Savard or Ristolainen make sense for the Leafs, but Ristolainen is the one that requires a 200 point font bold all caps response of “HELLS NO!!!”