Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is breaking convention by attending an NHL training camp despite not having a contract as a restricted free agent. Ristolainen was been practicing with the Buffalo Sabres as a “good will” gesture while waiting for a new deal, his agent Mike Liut told the Buffalo News.
But, according to Sabres GM Tim Murray, Ristolainen’s actions aren’t likely to have their desired outcome. Murray told the Associated Press that Ristolainen’s decision to attend training camp will have little to no bearing on contract talks. Murray also indicated the two sides aren’t particularly close on a new pact.
“Unless you ask him that when he got here that he got all lovey-dovey and wants to play for what we want to pay him,” Murray said.
The 21-year-old blueliner is coming off an appearance for Finland at the World Cup of Hockey. He was held without a point in three losses. Liut said his client wants to continue his preparations for the season.
“Everyone knows how dedicated he is to his training, and he wanted to continue to build on the gains he made this summer,” agent Mike Liut said in an email to the Buffalo News. “He skipped the World Championship so he would have a full 16-week training session leading up to the World Cup, so he’s more prepared than ever and wants to keep it that way.
“In the end, this made sense to him, at least in the short term.”
The Sabres have three more pre-season games before opening their season by hosting the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 13. Ristolainen can’t play in them without a contract.
For a team trying to return to the playoffs after a five-year absence, not having Ristolainen in the lineup when the season starts would be a big blow. Ristolainen led the club in average ice time (25:16), was tied for second in assists (32) and was fourth in points (41). Last season with his third with the organization after being drafted eighth overall in 2013.
The Sabres finished seventh in the Atlantic Division and 23rd overall in the NHL with 81 points (35-36-11). However, their 2.62 goals-against average was tied for 15th. While some of Ristolainen’s advanced statistics weren’t favorable such as his -7.3 Relative Corsi rating (shot attempt differential when on the ice as opposed to when off of it), he only started 44.1 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. All stats per behindthenet.ca.
"It’s great that he wants to (be here),” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma told the Buffalo News. “The contract negotiation is between Tim and the agent and obviously Rasmus is involved, but he wants to be back on the ice with his teammates, and that’s a good thing."
Ristolainen is among seven prominent players in need of new contracts from their teams. None of the others are attending training camps.
Anaheim Ducks center Rickard Rakell missed the World Cup for Sweden after having surgery to fix issues related to his appendectomy last spring. His Ducks and Swedish teammate Hampus Lindholm is also a restricted free agent and is training in Sweden.
Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary/North America), Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg/North America), Tobias Rieder (Arizona/Europe) and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay/Russia) were all seen at the World Cup despite their contract statuses – or lack thereof.