For starters, the Flyers shouldn't be in any rush to move any of their players right now. It's only December and plenty could change between now and the early March trade deadline. Not many deals will get done before then, at least not significant ones. While the Flyers will have some interest around the league, there isn't a hurry to make anything happen.
There are players on this roster that will be traded by the March deadline. Sean Walker, who could play himself into a deal with Philadelphia, is already gaining interest as an option for multiple teams. Nick Seeler is expected to receive interest as he did a season prior. Marc Staal is another who should likely be moved. There is another defender who has begun to garner interest as well. And that is Rasmus Ristolainen.
"I do think Toronto has taken a look at Philadelphia’s Rasmus Ristolainen, who has three seasons remaining on a five-year, $25.5-million contract," Elliotte Friedman reported recently. "But, I don’t believe the Flyers are eager to give him away, and there’s no rush for them to do anything while their group is playing well. That’s not to say it couldn’t be something down the road, but when the team is competing hard, getting good results, and generally doing what is being asked of them — why throw a stink bomb into your dressing room?"
The Maple Leafs have recently lost John Klingberg for the season due to a hip injury. He will have surgery later this month. Timothy Liljegren was moved to LTIR in November after suffering a lower-body injury. And Mark Giordano is out with a broken finger. So they're in desperate need of defensive help.
The Leafs were recently in on Nikita Zadorov and Chris Tanev from the Calgary Flames. That was until the Vancouver Canucks came in and acquired the former. The deal also reportedly fell off when it came to what the Leafs would give up for the salary retention of both players.
Ristolainen, now healthy after missing the first 20 games of the season, is tied to Philadelphia until 2027. He saw improvement during his second season in Philadelphia last year. And he has played well in his five games thus far, controlling the play and owning a 59.56 expected goals percentage. Something to note, however, is that his ice time has steadily decreased during his time in Philadelphia. Averaging 21:26 in his first season, he is now down to 15:42.
Since his return, he has been paired with Marc Staal, though that will change against the Coyotes on Thursday night. But in just over 46 minutes together, the two own a whopping 72.08 xGF%. It's a small sample size, and the team has been scored on once with them on the ice. The Flyers do control most of the play with those two, though. But again, this is in third pair minutes.
At this moment, the Leafs have just under 1.5M in cap space to work with. Ristolainen has a 5.1M hit. The math doesn't work out for them. If the two sides were to make the deal happen now, the Flyers would have to take the same amount of money in return.
The Flyers have slightly less cap space available, so the swap would have to be almost dollar for dollar. There aren't many players on the Leafs' roster that could make this work player for player. TJ Brodie could be an option since he has a 5M cap hit and will be a UFA after the season. Tyler Bertuzzi could also work as he makes 5.5M and is also a free agent at year's end. The Flyers may ask for slight retention to make him fit, though. Of course, more players could be involved to make the money work, but it's hard to see it making sense for either side.
Deals of this magnitude hardly get done this early due to the factors above. Teams will bank more cap space as the deadline gets closer. So unless the Leafs are desperate and willing to get creative, making a trade for Ristolainen makes no sense right now. And for the role that the Leafs need to fill, a trade for the Flyers' defender in general could make even less sense.
The same is true for the Flyers, maybe even more so. Getting Ristolainen's cap hit off the books would be a nice bonus for them. However, they're playing well and have a locker room that has meshed well. No one expected them to be playing this well, let alone in a playoff position. As Friedman mentions, why break that up when things are going well?
The Flyers, as Danny Briere has said numerous times, are actively listening on just about every player on their roster. But they won't make a deal simply to make a deal. If it's something that can help them now and in the future, they will consider it.
For right now, a trade involving Rasmus Ristolainen doesn't appear to be on the table for the Flyers.