After another disappointing finish in the 2018-19 season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Buffalo Sabres' defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen would be traded at some point during the offseason. However, after a summer in which he wasn't moved and with the Sabres atop of the standings in the National Hockey League thanks to an 8-1-1 start, it appears that the 24-year-old blueliner is going to stick around for a while.
While having Ristolainen back in the long-term plans is a positive, it still doesn't solve the issue with the Sabres' defensive corps, in fact, it adds to it. Buffalo simply has too many National Hockey Legue defensemen on their roster.
20-year-old Henri Jokiharju has proven he's NHL-ready through the first 10 games this season and has solidified his spot among the starting six defenseman. Along with Jokiharju and Ristolainen, newcomer Colin Miller, alternate captain Jake McCabe, and franchise cornerstone Rasmus Dahlin are expected to be in the lineup every night, barring any injuries.
Brandon Montour is expected to return from a hand injury in the coming weeks, and will certainly be an every day starter once he's fully healthy. Lawrence Pilut also recently returned from a shoulder injury and has skated in three games with the Rochester Americans as of Thursday. Buffalo may not be in too big of a hurry to bring Pilut back up from the Amaerican Hockey League, but he's still a young player who is assumed to be in the fold moving forward.
Zach Bogosian, who just recently started skating for the first time in six months after recovering from offseason hip surgery, is also expected to be in the mix and play at some point this season.
That leaves Marco Scandella as the odd man out of the group.
The 29-year-old's solid play through the first 10 games this season has been refreshing, especially after having, what some would call, a dreadful 2018-19 campaign. Regardless, Scandella is in the last year of his contract, which holds an annual cap hit of $4 million, and will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1, 2020, making him a prime candidate to be traded before the deadline on February 24.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman mentioned the idea of trading Scandella on his "31 Thoughts" blog on Wednesday, adding that Ristolainen's happiness in Buffalo now makes the Montreal native more expendable. Friedman made his weekly appearance with The Instigators on WGR on Thursday to talk more about the Sabres and a possible Scandella trade.
Here's some of what he had to say:
"The reason there's interest in him is because he's played very well. He came from Minnesota, he was a guy who was seen as a good NHL defenseman, and like a lot of players in Buffalo the last couple of years, it wasn't going as well. But, he's played really well at the start of this year."
"[The Sabres] are going to have to clear up cap space when Montour comes back, and eventually when Bogosian comes back. Everybody was talking about Ristolainen at the beginning. The ask for Ristolainen was very high. I think there's a recognition that [Scandella] could go somewhere else and thrive, and the Sabres want to ensure that doesn't happen. Or if it does, they look good. He's an [unrestricted free agent] at the end of the year. I don't know if [the Sabres] are going to be able to sign him. He absolutely could go to a place where he could get an opportunity to play very well and showcase himself. I don't necessarily think it's something the Sabres are going to want to do. But I think it's something they may have to do."
"We've talked about Anaheim, but he is kind of the wrong side [shot] for them. They're looking for a [right-shot defenseman], as opposed to a lefty. That could be a little bit of a problem. The one team that is definitely looking for a left-shot [defenseman], but I don't know if [the Sabres] would want to help them, would be Montreal."
You can listen to the entire interview below: