Rasmus Ristolainen understands that he could be one of the first players to go if the Buffalo Sabres make changes during the offseason.
"I really enjoyed working with [coach] Ralph [Krueger], and our team took some strides, but I feel like it wasn't enough," the defenseman said Thursday. "When you put so much hard work [in] every summer, you work hard in every practice, it makes it even more frustrating because we weren't even close again.
"I want to win, if it's in Buffalo or somewhere else, and I feel like when a team doesn't get to the goal that is [Stanley Cup] Playoffs, I think you need to make some changes. If changes will happen, I know I'm one of the first ones probably who is going to get traded. It's part of the business and I'm ready, whatever happens. I have really enjoyed my time in Buffalo. It's home for me."
Ristolainen is no stranger to trade speculation. The 25-year-old was mentioned in trade rumors after the 2018-19 season. The Sabres traded for two other right-shot defensemen, Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights and Henri Jokiharju from the Chicago Blackhawks.
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With the Sabres needing help at forward, he's often been mentioned as having the kind of value that could bring the best return.
Ristolainen had 33 points (six goals, 27 assists) in 69 games this season, which was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He averaged a Sabres-best 22:48 of ice time per game, led them with 203 hits, and his 82 blocked shots were second to defenseman Jake McCabe (90). Ristolainen's minus-2 rating was the best of his NHL career.
"I can't control [trade rumors], so I don't really think about them," he said. "It's hockey and people are talking, say their opinion. I don't care about that. I can't win by myself or I can't lose by myself. It's a team sport, so I just try to prepare myself for every game and for every season that I can, do my best. The other guys are doing the same thing. It's hard when you put all the work [in] and still you don't get results."
The No. 8 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Ristolainen has two seasons remaining on the six-year, $32.4 million contract ($5.4 million average annual value) he signed Oct. 11, 2016.
Buffalo finished 13th in the Eastern Conference with a .493 points percentage (30-31-8) and will not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs after not making the Eastern Conference Qualifying Round as part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, which was announced Tuesday and has a 24-team format. It's the ninth straight season the Sabres will not make the playoffs, the longest active streak in the NHL.
In Ristolainen's seven seasons with the Sabres, they have not finished higher than 23rd in the NHL standings. Buffalo has finished last three times.
Ristolainen praised Krueger for helping to change the culture inside the locker room this season, the coach's first with the Sabres, and said he is probably one of the best coaches he's had. Krueger is the fifth coach Ristolainen has played for in the NHL (Phil Housley, Dan Bylsma, Ted Nolan, Ron Rolston).
"The system he brought ... he was the coach we needed here in Buffalo," Ristolainen said. "I wish he would've come here a few years ago. I really enjoy working with him. We have good young people on our team. They're fun to interact [with] every day and work with them. So, I mean, Buffalo has a bright future. But we've been saying [there is a] bright future for seven years now, when I've been here, and not sure when [it is]. I'm still a young player. I hope we can start winning here soon and experience that part of the hockey too."