The Edmonton Oilers added a veteran body to their blue line on Friday, signing Kris Russell to a one-year, $3.1 million contract. The addition is relatively low-risk, makes sense from an asset management perspective and will bolster the club’s special teams. At the same time, it exacerbates existing problems the Oilers have at even-strength and adds one more left-shooting defenceman to a roster badly overstocked with them.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 8, 2016
Russell deal may not be announced until tomorrow, but word is it’s a one-year deal at approx $3.1M
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 7, 2016
The contract. $3.1 million is a lot of money for what Kris Russell brings to the Oilers, but it doesn’t matter much unless Edmonton had something else to do with that cash. Barring a Jacob Trouba trade, the Oilers really didn’t have anywhere else to spend their remaining cap space, and there is no long-term risk here. So there’s precious little downside even though the dollars here represent an overpay.
Asset management. Experienced defencemen always seem to have value at the trade deadline. Just last season the Flames dealt Russell, then a pending UFA, to the Dallas Stars in exchange for a second round pick (which would have increased to a first-rounder if the Stars had gone to the third round of the playoffs), young defender Jyrki Jokipakaa and fringe prospect Brett Pollock. If, as seems likely, the Oilers’ playoff absence extends for yet another campaign, Edmonton should be able to get some kind of trade return on the last few months of Russell’s one-year deal.
Special teams. Russell is known for his work on special teams. He averaged just under 2:00 per game on Calgary’s penalty kill last season and will certainly reprise that role in Edmonton. He also ranks 42nd among NHL defenceman over the last three seasons in terms of 5-on-4 points/hour, which puts him all of two spots ahead of Andrej Sekera. He is arguably now the best power play defenceman on the Oilers, though he remains best-suited to a second unit role.
Even strength. It’s fair to ask to what degree Russell’s five-on-five problems stem from being asked to do too much with the Flames. Prior to joining Calgary, he played primarily in a sheltered third-pairing role and had really solid on-ice shot metrics. After joining Calgary he played tougher opponents and spent more time in the defensive zone. Over a three-year period the Flames were out-shot by 14 attempts per hour when he was on the ice, and every single one of his regular defensive partners had significantly better numbers when paired with someone else. It takes a lot to turn Mark Giordano into a 44% Corsi defenceman and TJ Brodie into a 43% Corsi defenceman, but Russell managed – helped no doubt by the fact that those pairings were both lefty/lefty pairs.
Left-shooting defencemen. There’s a good chance that five of Edmonton’s six starting defenceman in Game 1 shoot left (Russell, Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, Brandon Davidson, Darnell Nurse). This matters a lot. Peter Chiarelli specifically described defencemen playing their correct side of the ice as a “very significant” reason for acquiring Adam Larsson. Sekera, a veteran who has played a ton of minutes on his off-side and will likely be asked to do so again this year, really suffers when asked to switch. As we detailed this summer, there’s a five-shot attempt/hour decline for his team when he plays on his wrong side. That’s a little less than the impact on most defencemen, which a recent study found is usually in the range of 6-7 shot attempts per hour.
Assuming that the top-six is as above, two of Edmonton’s three pairings are going to be lefty/lefty combinations, which is going to make it harder to both protect the puck, make routine passes and especially to launch the attack out of the defensive zone.
It’s hard to come down hard on this signing, which is both low-risk and makes sense from an asset management perspective. But it’s almost equally hard to say that the $3.1 million spent on Russell makes the Oilers any likelier to reach the postseason than they were before his signing. Russell could really have excelled in a third-pair/special teams role with a right-shooting partner, and Edmonton doesn’t seem to have the luxury of putting him in a position where he can succeed.
THE SEASON OPENER PARTY
After a long summer of arguing and waiting, the NHL season is right around the corner and that means it’s time for us to throw another party. We wanted a second take on last year’s season and decided that we would celebrate the start of the second year of Connor’s reign over Oil Country. Thanks to our friends at AMA Travel, Cornerstone Insurance, the Pint, Oodle Noodle, and United Cycle we’ve got a big night planned for you complete with raffles, swag bags, and two trips (valued at $5000 each) for two to the outdoor game in Winnipeg courtesy of AMA Travel.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Where: The Pint Downtown
- When: Friday, October 14th at 5pm
- Why: Because we’ve got a hankerin’ for some partyin’
- How: Tickets are available here
RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS
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