With Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov in the fold and Jimmy Vesey available to be signed only by the Sabres until Aug. 15, what's the biggest priority Buffalo has at this point? A new deal for Rasmus Ristolainen.
While General Manager Tim Murray said in April he might broach a bridge deal with the 21-year-old, he made it clear today that's not the direction talks are going. The market has set up Ristolainen for the first long-term contract of his career and the Sabres are willing to follow that trend.
"Both sides probably know where we're traveling to as far as a number," Murray said early this evening. "They tell us that he really wants to be here and certainly, we want him to be here. It's not going to be an easy thing to hammer out and it's not going to be cheap. But with young, good players, you tie them up and keep going."
Ristolainen is not in the ballpark of the eight-year, big-buck extensions signed today by Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman and Florida's Aaron Ekblad. But he could certainly slot in more in line with the six-year, $32.4 million deal Columbus gave Seth Jones on Thursday.
"His comparables are his comparables so you have to pay a price certainly," Murray said. "I hope there's no problems. I don't see any problems. He's going to get well paid and we're going to happy to do that. Hopefully we continue down the road to a long-term deal."
At age 21, Ristolainen played all 82 games for the Sabres last season and set career highs in goals, assists and points (9-32-41). He did have a minus-21 rating and struggled at times in the second half, but continued maturity and the likelihood his partner this season will be newly acquired Dmitry Kulikov rather than Josh Gorges would seem make Ristolainen poised for an even bigger season at 22.
Here's a look at recent deals on defense:
Victor Hedman, TB, 8 years, $63M ($7.85M AAV)
Aaron Ekblad, FLA, 8 years, $60M ($7.5)
Seth Jones, CBJ, 6 years, $32.4M ($5.4)
Alex Goligoski, ARZ, 5 years, $27.374M ($5.475)
Torey Krug, BOS, 4 years, $21.5M ($5.25)
Olli Maatta, PIT, 6 years, $24.5M ($4.083,333)
Sami Vatanen, ANA, 4 years, $19.5M ($4.875)