December 03 2016 10:00AM
As we discussed yesterday, Kris Russell is dragging down almost every player on the team when they share the same ice as him. This is why it’s alarming, for me, to see and hear people like Drew Remenda, Jack Michaels, and most recently Jim Matheson praise Russell so profusely and in some cases openly discuss signing him to an extension. The Edmonton Oilers, in any sane and rational world, should be figuring out how to move Russell away from the team.
This is part 2 of the case against Kris Russell. You can see the first part here where we went into more detail about the Risk/Reward benefits of Russell. Cole's Notes version is that the Oilers struggle greatly to move the puck up the ice when number 4 is out there and that even affects Connor McDavid. As we get closer to January, the possibility of a Russell extension becomes more real and this is a terrifying prospect.
If the most senior and plugged in members of the media who cover the team are writing or speaking about extending Russell then we can start to worry that they are telegraphing moves about to happen. The Oilers can’t sign Russell to an extension until after January 1st, but that doesn’t mean the parties haven’t been speaking off the record and are coming up with plans for an extension. Before the Hall for Larsson trade, Bob Stauffer on his OilersNow radio show floated the Larsson name days in advance. Sometimes you learn things that you cannot, for one reason or another, report on and instead talk about “What Ifs” and “Maybes”. It happens all the time in sports coverage.
So forgive my distress at the constant praise of Russell despite his poor play. I am very sure the Oilers are on a path that leads to signing a poor defender to a long term deal. Here’s what Matheson had to write about it.
Russell is an unrestricted free-agent July 1. Teams can’t sign their own UFAs until after Jan. 1, 2017, but shouldn’t the Oilers do that considering how valuable Russell’s become? He’s only 29; they don’t want him walking away July 1, do they?
No player has stabilized the Oilers more than Russell.
So what if the Oilers offer him four years and $16-million, the same ballpark salary Klefbom and Larsson are getting, and they get a verbal OK, a gentleman’s agreement with Russell that he likes it? They keep the contract details hidden away.
No. Nope. NOOOOPPPPPEEE.
No player has stabilized the Oilers more than Russell? This is madness. Madness. Russell has been caved in by every metric available and almost every player performs better without him than with him. This is just what we’ve managed to record through 25 games so far. The illusion that he has stabilized the defense is a product of a fantastic on-ice save percentage, something he has almost no control over at all and that he hasn't experienced in the past.
Not only should the Oilers be trying to get away from this player, there should be no team in the NHL that is willing to pay him MORE than what he makes right now and for longer than he’s signed right now. If Russell is to return then he should be signed after free agency, just like this year, and for less money than he’s currently contracted to.
This is not a player 29 other teams were trying to sign. He went all of the off-season without getting a contract. He was signed with days to go before the season began. His last two teams took a hard pass on bringing him back, even after the Stars gave up assets to get him. Mix in the fact that he is turning 30 soon and there is absolutely no reason to give this player multiple years.
However, the real reason why the Oilers shouldn’t sign Kris Russell to an extension is because he doesn’t fill the needs that the Oiler defense has. Edmonton doesn’t need another left handed defender with limited offense. Russell hasn’t been able to displace Sekera or Klefbom from the power play. He doesn’t move the puck up the ice very well (or at least very frequently). He's on pace for roughly 15 points. And,he doesn't fix the handedness problem Edmonton has in its top four.
The reason the Oilers need to avoid a Russell extension is because they need to get better in the exact role/position that he occupies right now. The Oilers need to enhance their 2nd pairing and they need more right handed shots. They need a QB for the power play or at least someone who is a danger from the point. Players who can fill those roles do not come cheaply.
The Edmonton Oilers need to use every penny available to enhance their defense and they need to do it next year. This team is trending in the right direction for the first time in years, but we need to be careful of assigning credit for that to Russell when it's surely due to McDavid and Talbot. Choosing to settle for what the blueline is now would be a bizarre choice.
Why wait for next year? Why not now?
The expansion draft is a problem for the Oilers. Edmonton wants to get better, but better now means exposing good players to the draft and losing someone difficult to replace to Las Vegas. Given the team’s current strengths the 7-3-1 protection list makes the most sense. Edmonton is forward heavy and they can protect a good number of talented players because of their age/experience. Should the Oilers sign Russell to an extension before the expansion draft, then one of Klefbom or Larsson or Russell himself would have to be exposed OR possibly a Maroon will have to be exposed if the team switches to the 4-4-1 list. It’s not ideal at all.
The other issue with spending money on Russell is that it will be a lot of money directed to a non-impact player when the Oilers will be looking to pay Draisaitl, McDavid, Nurse, and shortly after them Puljujarvi. I'm not sure how Russell could possibly fit into the long-term plans of the team. Either they will continue to look for serviceable 4-5 defenders at low prices or they need to commit more money to a big-ticket player.
Either way, paying somewhere near the $4 million range over multiple years to a middle of the order defender who objectively hurts the team is not something the team can afford to do.
The facts are plain when it comes to Russell. The Risk/Reward benefits for the player do not add up at all in Edmonton’s favour. Almost every Oiler performs worse the second Russell steps on the ice. His performance is being masked by factors outside of his control. The team needs every penny possible to upgrade the defense and pay for the coming years of Draisaitl and McDavid. And, we have years of data to support that what we’re seeing through 25 games in 2016-2017 is exactly what we should expect in the future.
Russell isn’t a stabilizing force. He is actually a destabilizing force that has otherwise bright hockey people fooled. That’s the calling card of his NHL career. On the ice, he has been hemmed into his own zone more than anyone else on the defense. Off the ice, an extension would be a grenade thrown at the expansion process and at the stability of the roster post-McDavid's second contract.
Extend at your own peril.