Sabres' Ristolainen doesn't know if he'll be part of the changes

April 17, 2019 - 12:06 pm
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Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - The Sabres were in first place on Nov. 28 and it all came crashing down. It was a loss to Tampa Bay that started it all and now the Lightning have come crashing down too after being swept by Columbus in the first round of the playoffs. It seems like Rasmus Ristolainen is at a crossroads in his Sabres career. He never thought he’d be home already after the 10-game winning streak, “The way it started it’s hard to imagine you end up where we are right now.”

Ristolainen will be 25 just after next season starts. He was the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and has been used as a number one defenseman by every Sabres coach that has stepped behind the bench.

There have been times where he has absolutely looked the part, but there have been more times where he’s just looked confused and out of sorts. I asked Ristolainen if he needed a change of scenery or if he wanted to stay and be part of the solution. He never said yes and he never said no, “I’ve been here six years and it’s a similar situation every year, so it’s tough.

“It gets tougher every year, you want it more and more and it’s still not there.”

The Sabres had talks to move Ristolainen before the trade deadline and Ristolainen’s play got even worse from that point forward. The defenseman said, “Honestly, I know changes will happen, but I haven’t been thinking about the future, it’s too early to say what’s going to happen.

“These six years have been the most difficult mentally and being a young guy who lives by himself, it’s been tough times, but I feel it’s going to grow me as a person and a player.

“Winning in this league is hard. You don’t just get it, you have to earn it, but I’ve always done everything the hard way in my life and nothing comes easy.”

One thing Ristolainen was sincere about were his feelings about this city, “Buffalo is home for me, it feels like home. I love everything in Buffalo, the city, the people.”

Ristolainen didn’t want to get into why this team is consistently bad. He said it’s not his job to figure it out, “I don’t think it’s one or two reasons and if there were, it would be easy to solve those and thank god I’m not the GM or management, so I don’t need to think through all those things.”

After every season Ristolainen watches teammates get traded because the team underachieved. He said, “It’s tough to see people leaving, but when you don’t reach your goals, changes can happen and should happen.”

Ristolainen was not in agreement with some of his teammates because he doesn’t feel there’s enough accountability on this team. He said, “We need to hold each other more accountable. I think winning it’s tough and maybe I would like to see sometimes in practice or in the room maybe mother (blanking) each other a little bit, I mean everybody wants it but be harder on each other.”

There isn’t anybody in that locker-room that keeps his body in as good of shape as Ristolainen. He is the team’s strongest player and can play as many minutes as you throw at him. He said his work in the gym will not change, “Maybe it’s mental stuff, it’s not about my shape or conditioning, it’s the on-ice stuff. I haven’t really skated much early in the summer, maybe I have to think about doing more on-ice stuff, mental stuff.”

I think what hurts Ristolainen’s consistency is he doesn’t have a high hockey IQ. There are too many times in a game he’s out of position or reacts the wrong way to a situation. He’s had six years in Buffalo to try to get it right and it hasn’t happened enough.

He could get traded and find the right situation where he could play better, but I don’t feel it’s going to happen here. He’s had four head coaches and he hasn’t cut down on the mistakes. He has been around for too much losing and I think it’s time for a change.

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