The Case Against Kris Russell Part 1

Alright. I’ve been overly damned cheery for weeks on this site. I think it’s a pretty much non-stop stream of happiness since the season began, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Oilers are on the verge of doing something incredibly unadvisable: Extending Kris Russell. It makes so little sense for so many reasons, and yet here we are. Let’s have a conversation about this.

This is part 1 of 2 articles that will talk about the prospects of extending Kris Russell. Today the focus is on the player himself and where he fits on the club. Tomorrow the second article will run discussing the various reason why extending Russell is a truly awful idea. 

Let’s start with the cold hard truth. Kris Russell is Edmonton’s worst defender.

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I’ve already lost a segment of readers and I accept that. For some people, saying the obvious is offensive and there are others that just can’t acknowledge the truth. It’s understandable that the statement may seem shocking, although it’s dangerous to come to any other conclusion than the one stated above.

I know that Kris Russell skates really well. I know that he blocks lots of shots and is always willing to sacrifice his body. There are times when he uses those skills and good things happen on the ice as a direct result. It’s fantastic that he can skate with the puck like he did during a 4v4 recently and create an opportunity for the team.

The problem with Russell, and it’s what makes him so thoroughly dangerous to the Oilers, is that the things he does well are really noticeable but what he does poorly often goes by invisibly. For example, he will block two shots in a shift and retrieve the puck in the corner, take some strides, then move the puck out of the zone. The eyes catch all of that really well. What they are not generally trained to see is that Russell’s side was targeted by the attacking team, he gave them unobstructed entry to the zone by giving a 10-foot gap, and after he threw the puck up the ice it was immediately picked up by the attacking team and brought back in again.

This imaginary sequence of events I’ve used as an example happens very frequently with Russell and it’s bearing out in all of the non-traditional stats we can get out hands on. Once you start looking for entries allowed and successful transitions back up to offense, there is one Oiler defender who starts standing out in the least positive way possible: Kris Russell. It’s then impossible to unsee it.

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Every player has a Risk/Reward benefit. Every single one. It’s all about what you create minus what you give up. For a player like Dustin Byfuglien he’s constantly derided for weaknesses in his own zone, but he more than makes up for them with his impact in the offensive zone. Someone like Adam Larsson we recognize has limits in the offensive zone but he’s stronger defensively.

Kris Russell, however, is neither strong offensively nor stellar defensively. This is a bad combination, but it’s actually his impact on offense that should be most alarming. Of course, it’s the WAY in which he chooses to defend that negatively impacts his ability to transition back up to offense. No matter which way you look at it, Kris Russell is a ticking time-bomb for the team.

Edmonton has had seven defensemen play at least 200 minutes 5v5 this season. Here is where Russell ranks of those seven in some key statistical categories.

Corsi For per 60: 7th (50.03 CF/60)

Corsi Against per 60: 7th (56.36 CA/60)

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Corsi For Percentage: 7th (47.0%)

Fenwick For per 60: 7th (38.34 FF/60)

Fenwick Against per 60: 6th (39.87 FA/60) *This should be one of the stats he performs best in because he’s a shot blocker. Fenwick counts only unblocked shot attempts.*

Fenwick For Percentage: 7th (49.0%)

Shots For per 60: 7th (28.18 SF/60)

Shots Against per 60: 3rd (28.37 SA/60) *Good Job!*

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Shots For Percentage: 7th (49.8%)

Scoring Chances For per 60: 7th (18.96 SCF/60)

Scoring Chances Against per 60: 3rd (19.98 SCA/60)

Scoring Chance For Percentage: 5th (48.69%)

Offensive Zone Faceoff Percentage: 4th (33.7%)

Defensive Zone Faceoff percentage: 3rd (32.7%)

On-Ice Shooting Percentage: 2nd (10.2%)

Save Percentage: 2nd (94.59%)

PDO: 2nd (104.8)


So that’s a pretty big wall of information. Here are the key takeaways for me: Russell is last or next to last in every single shot metric we have available. In Scoring Chances against he’s doing an OK job of staying in the middle of the pack, but the team also generates the lowest number of chances for when he’s on the ice. He’s also getting a pretty even distribution of zone starts so I can’t blame his low numbers on bizarre usage.

At the same time as all of that, Kris Russell has a stellar PDO. Our eyes should be in love with Kris Russell and our brains should associate him with success because he is riding a wave of percentages that are covering up his deficiencies. In the four years prior to joining the Oilers, Kris Russell’s on-ice save percentage was 91.74%. I think it’s highly unlikely that at 29 years of age Kris Russel has figured out how to make his goalie jump to 94.59%. The inventor of PDO himself (Brian King) says that the stat was created because the Oilers were extending players with high numbers and dealing away for pennies the ones with low numbers. Teams mistake great PDO for great talent then make awful decisions. 

There are things that no metric can tell you, like how a player is in the dressing room, what kind of character they have, etc. All of those things are inputs. They are tools that the player has available to help him/her get the job done. The metrics help inform us as to how well the job is getting done. In Russell’s case, we have a lot of information that says the team struggles to move the puck in the right direction when he’s on the ice. 

Where does he fit on the blue line? If you had to keep one player moving forward, Russell or _____, how many Oiler defenders do you go through before you keep Russell? He makes it through the entire list for me.

  • McRaj

    What I see is that he ranks as #3 in scoring chances and his on ice save percentage is high. Perhaps that’s because although he allows zone entry and shots, etc, perhaps he is better at limiting the quality of shots. I’d rather have a player allowing 5 shots per game from the outside over a player allowing 2 shots per game from the slot.

  • ziyan94

    What people appreciate about Kris Russell is that he’s actually a capable NHL defender, and it’s about time that we had 6 of those in our lineup every game. Of course Russell has flaws, he’s human (unlike McDavid)

  • ziyan94

    What people appreciate about Kris Russell is that he’s actually a capable NHL defender, and it’s about time that we had 6 of those in our lineup every game. Of course Russell has flaws, he’s human (unlike McDavid)

  • Optos

    Russell’s skating allows him to retrieve pucks a lot faster which enables the oilers to break out quicker with a controlled exit or bank the puck out of the defensive zone faster than we have had in recent years. This is what makes him so important to the oiler’s defensive core. Without him, in the past we’ve seen teams dump the puck in against the Oilers, and our defense would scramble to retrieve the puck and end up reversing it along the boards or be unsuccessful at moving the puck. He is aggressive for his size and blocks shots. Sure his corsi stats are the worst, but the numbers don’t lie. We win more games with him on the back end than without.

  • Jay (not J)

    It’s tough to find a stat that is more important that W/L (I mean, what the hell are they out there for anyway?)As long as they’re winning with him in the lineup and losing with him out, the rest of this is moot.

  • Ready to Win

    “it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Oilers are on the verge of doing something incredibly unadvisable: Extending Kris Russell”

    Out of interest, what are the Oilers doing or saying which makes it clear an extension is coming?

  • @Hallsy4

    And What the Hell Matt, C’mon man. You made some statements in this article that are absolute non-sense. I don’t really even like Russell, but he’s not the worst defender, not by a long shot. I’m not saying sign him long term, or for big dollars, he probably makes too much this year, but he’s an NHL D man who’s helped this team immensely. Whats wrong with a 1 year extension, for fairly cheap. You forgot 1 stat in your list. Wins and Losses. What is the Oilers record with and without Russell?

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Matt Henderson writes:

    Here is where Sekera ranks of those seven in some key statistical categories . . .

    It’s hard to understand how Sekera’s standing serves to support your criticism of Russell.

    I’d be interested to know:

    – Oilers won-loss record or points percentage with Russell in & out of the line up.

    – Oilers GFA and GAA with with Russell in & out of the line up.

    – Sekera’s #’s “in key statistical categories” with & without Russell.

    What I’m trying to get towards answering:

    Do they win more or less often with Russell in the line up?

    Do they score more and allow fewer goals against or the converse? (given that he’s a +8 and 3rd on the team in +/- I’m guessing that they score more and allow fewer goals with Russell on the ice than with anyone else except Sekera or McDavid 5v5)

    Does his D partner play better when he plays with Russell?

  • They paid Schultz 4 million dollars. No, I would not mind Russel on an extension around the 2 million dollar mark. For years the team counted on too many youngsters to play tough minutes above themselves. Even if Russel is getting caved, he’s at least helping shelter the younger guys.

    I would say he’s a better right side option than Gryba or Reinheart as well. So the question is if you take him out, you do you replace him with?

    Darnell Nurse, the future number one guy a few years ago, is thriving with less minutes, coming along this year slowly. You want to get rid of Russel and replace him with… Ethan Bear? Until a better option presents itself or Jim Nill decides he doesn’t want Klinberg all of a sudden, Russel has been the opposite of what the team has had here for years: guys who win the Corsi battle, but lose everything else.

    • fisherprice

      I don’t see Russell suddenly taking a paycut on an extension.

      Also, I don’t know what world you’ve been living in but the Oilers have been getting destroyed in the Corsi battle for like a decade straight now. This is the first season EVER that the Oilers have had a positive team Corsi since they started tracking the stat.

        • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

          I think you nee to check your sources. Wilis presented the following for the Oiler corsi over the last years:

          •2007-08 (MacTavish): 46.2%
          •2008-09 (MacTavish): 46.8%
          •2009-10 (Quinn): 44.8%
          •2010-11 (Renney): 44.6%
          •2011-12 (Renney): 47.3%
          •2012-13 (Krueger): 44.9%
          •2013-14 (Eakins): 43.6%
          •2014-15 (Eakins/Nelson): 47.0%
          •2015-16 (McLellan): 47.7%

          One of you is mistaken.

        • fisherprice

          The Oilers finished with a 44.3% team Corsi in 2013-14 under Eakins, good for 28th in the league. They also finished 29th in shots for. Their Corsi was terrible under Eakins, this is simply a fact, not an arguable point.

  • fisherprice

    Kris Russell’s a mixed bag. I’m fine with having him this year, but I’m not a big fan of extending him. He’s an NHL player, clearly, but continues to be miscast in the top 4 – in Edmonton, in Dallas, and in Calgary. He’s a perfectly fine third pairing, left side D who does some good work on the penalty kill. The problem is everyone wants to play him near or more than 20 minutes a game, in all situations. The other shoe will drop at some point this season. This has happened to Russell everywhere he’s gone, and it would be foolish to think that’s going to suddenly change this season.

    His biggest contribution this year has been eating minutes so players like Darnell Nurse or Matt Benning don’t have to play over their heads and can iron out their kinks as developing players. At the end of the day, even if he’s a top 4 LHD, which many seem to believe, Klefbom and Sekera are already much better in this role than Russell and Nurse will likely be pretty soon. We need an offensive minded top 4 right handed D and Russell, ain’t that, no matter what you think of him.

    • Hrkac Circus

      100% agree with this.

      I don’t understand why it’s so hard for some to take a balanced view of Russell. He’s a risk/reward d-man who has value in a limited role. Hard to argue he hasn’t helped the team this year, also hard to argue you want him out there in a top 4 role on a good team.

  • @Hallsy4

    “What they are not generally trained to see is that Russell’s side was targeted by the attacking team, he gave them unobstructed entry to the zone by giving a 10-foot gap, and after he threw the puck up the ice it was immediately picked up by the attacking team and brought back in again.” Just because you type something, doesn’t make it true. Also, in the context you used this pretend example in, I’m pretty sure people would notice when that happened. This whole article just bothers me.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    Normally I like your stuff Matt but I can’t see it on this one. The Oilers clearly are better at getting the puck out of their own zone with Russell on the ice. Where is the stat for that?

    It’s something the team has really struggled with during the decade of darkness. To have a defender now that not only blocks shots but is able to competently get the biscuit out of their own end is a huge plus.

    For some reason stats aren’t favorable to Russell… Just one of the reasons why I think the science still hasn’t fully developed yet.

    • If they are better at getting the puck out why do they shoot on opposition so much less with Russell and why are opponents taking so many attempts?

      Also WheatNOil at has the defensive tracking information if you’re interested in looking at it. I suggest you do.

      • Not a First Tier Fan

        So I took the bait and looked at Good site. Due to limited time I looked at the write-up for the Chicago game. Against the Leafs and Arizona the whole team sucked so I don’t need stats to tell me that. More – how he played against one of the best teams in the league would be a good indicator I think…

        Anyways, from what I gathered in that website Russell had a pretty good game that night. From my point of view that kind of contradicted your theory…

        Again – usually I like your stuff Matt but I just think you’re off-base on this one..

  • smiliegirl15

    So you said “What they are not generally trained to see is that Russell’s side was targeted by the attacking team; he gave them unobstructed entry to the zone by giving a 10-foot gap, and after he threw the puck up the ice, it was immediately picked up by the attacking team and brought back in again.”. How many times has that resulted in a goal? What is his plus/minus?

    • You are pitting scoring chance, shot, and shot attempt rates against plus/minus because his plus/minus is good. The problem is that we can see that one (disgraced) metric is being governed by shot rates and save percentages. Right now Russell’s PDO is unnaturally high and totally unsustainable. That’s good for Edmonton in the short term because it means goals are staying out of the net. The problem is that every shred of evidence we have says that will come down and he cant prevent that.

      How many goals has it resulted in? Happily, not many! Sadly, we cant expect that to continue.

          • @Hallsy4

            At his pricetag, no I wouldn’t want him on the Oilers. I’d rather have Russell, who’s overpaid, but still much cheaper than Petry. If I could have one or the other, at the same price, I’d still take Russell.

          • I am Batman

            I’m not suggesting, I am saying Jeff Petry sucks. He is soft and has no character whatsoever.

            Don’t even think of throwing stats at me, the Oilers lost a lot of games with Petry, he never stepped up, he was a liability at best.

            Russel has had great defensive plays, great hits, good passing and yes, a few mishaps, but he shows up.

            What’s the Oilers record with Russell?
            Without Russell?

          • fisherprice

            Pretty sure the 1st in their conference team, who play Petry in all situations, in their top 4, are actually pretty happy with him. They even named a poutine after him in Montreal, and if that’s not a sign they love him, I don’t know what is.

          • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            fisherprice wrote:

            the 1st in their conference team, who play Petry in all situations, in their top 4, are actually pretty happy with him. They even named a poutine after him . . .

            If the poutine they named after him sells it’s because of its Price not because its name. After Price’s injury last year, they named a tire fire after the Habs’s D. It wasn’t petry, er . . . pretty.

          • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            Jeff Petry Cap hit: $5.5M

            Who would he replace?

            Andrea Sekera cap hit: $5.5M,

            Adam Larsson cap hit: $4.17M

            Oscar Klefbom cap hit: $4.17M

            Kris Russell cap hit: $3.1M

            Darnells Nurse cap hit: $863K

          • Shameless Plugger

            Advanced stats don’t measure a guys will and determination. Something this team lacks sorely at times. You can crunch all the numbers you want, but what I find most interesting is how the MOST important numbers get left out. Those being wins and losses with and without him in the lineup. Is it just a coincidence the Oilers have a better record with him in the lineup?

          • Gravis82

            advanced stats actually do measure grit. Advanced stats are just a proxy for high danger scoring chances. Not all of the shots will be dangerous, but a certain proportion will be. The more shots you have the more high danger scoring chances you probably have as well, on average.

            Its harder to measure high danger scoring chances cause they can happen at any time in different places depending on location and formation. So we measure overall shots in stead.

            If you have grit, you are very simply more likely to get yourself into a high danger position. If you have skill also, you are golden. Some players rely more on grit, some rely more on skill. Some have a combo. Some have all grit and no skill and they dont last. Some have all skill and no grit and they go back to the KHL. Some have all grit and all skill but no smarts to recognize when they, or their teamate, are in a high danger spot.

            Bottom line, corsi etc is a proxy for dangerous shots, and taking a dangerous shot means you probably have decent grit, or else you wont find yourself in that spot very often.

          • WSO

            ‘Bottom line, corsi etc is a proxy for dangerous shots, and taking a dangerous shot means you probably have decent grit, or else you wont find yourself in that spot very often.’

            Nope, nope nope.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    Also – before you claim that the scoring chances for stat reflects on Russel’s zone clearing ability – take a moment to reflect on all the give-aways or bad plays at the opposition blue-line our forwards make. The Scoring Chances For stat should be reflective of the team – not just the defenseman starting the rush…

  • Cheesums

    I think Russel is playing well, but him and his partner play most of their time with the McDavid line which is pretty damn good at hiding weaknesses.

    Russel is doing a good job as a band-aid for now on the 2nd pairing RHD, but he is just a band-aid and should be replaced in the next year for a more prominent player.

    We are really just excited as a fan base that someone better than Jultz is filling that spot and doing a decent job. But comparing him to previous seasons isn’t a good mindset. We should be looking to improve that second line D – be that in house (Davidson, Benning in a year or two) or from a trade or free agency (Shattenkirk….?) – not offering it to the guy there now who’s doing a decent job. At least not until our hand is forced to do so anyways.

    *proceeds to get crumpled paper thrown at him*

    • @Hallsy4

      I don’t mind this… That’s what he was signed for, a bandaid. and he’s doing fine at it. Like you said, it doesn’t appear there’s a replacement in house right now. If there’s still not in the offseason, why wouldn’t they sign him for another year? If they can improve on him that’s awesome, and that’s what I hope chia is trying to do. Even so, with the options they have right now, an upgrade on the 2nd pairing would move Russell to the 3rd pair. Again, that would be ideal. But, until the young guys get better, which they will, why run him out of town? The way I see it right now, 2 D men, who can play the right side, have to pass him on the depth chart. The young guys aren’t there yet (hopefully soon, but likely not next season), and it takes a tonne (Hall for example) to get a good RHD via trade…. what’s wrong with a bandaide who’s doing a good job while our prospects mature?

      • Cheesums

        All good points and that’s kinda what I was trying to say in my “at least not until our hand is forced” comment. Extending him before the summer is a bad idea in my opinion. He’s definitely not the worst option right now, but committing to him before seeing what else is available as a possible improvement screams problems to me.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    Heh. Didn’t get it posted in time… think about how many times on this very site folks have said the Oilers need to shoot more. explain to me how that would be the defenceman in their own zones fault when he first starts the puck up the ice?

    My point? You’re cherry-picking stats to justify a possibly erroneous opinion.

  • @Hallsy4

    I don’t really buy the statement that opposing teams attack his side either. It’s the NHL, everyone is good. The only way you’d attack one guys side is if he was substantially worse than everyone else. Even then, the play determines which side you enter on more than anything. I’m not even a Russell fan, I used to dislike him because he appeared cocky, but he’s playing as a second pairing D man, on his off side, and he’s plus 8. The teams winning percentage is better with him in the lineup than without. Young guys can play less, more sheltered minutes because of him. A huge problem in the past. He also kills penalties, and is an assett in overtime. A good one IMO because he’s a good skating D man, which gives the coaches way more options than just Sekera or Klef? I dunno, I won’t care when he’s gone, but as of right now there’s no one to replace him and the Oilers are worse without him. If it’s a short extension (1 maaaybe 2), when the cap space is available, an extension makes sense.

  • I am Batman

    What a click bait…

    So the same guy that STILL defends Jeff No-touch Petry as if he was the next coming of Drew Doughty and recognizes publicly that still misses Softy Marincin writes a Several Part “article ” about how bad Russell is…..

    Unreal…. I don’t even have to read this… Russel has been good for the Oilers, he plays with heart and passion despite his size, did you see how he dived to block a shot head first last night that a jet got the puck alone in the slot? Yes! Head first! The shooter decided not to shoot but that was either a goal or a face injury.

    Give your head a shake, we need more Russells in the team, not less.

  • Osmosis_jones

    You know who needs a critical story written about him? Nuge.

    I’m tired of the online love this guy gets. Is he a good player? Yes. Is he worthy of the praise he is given? Absolutely not.

    The love for RNH is driven by Lowetide (who I love) but it’s completely unfair to keep giving this guy props for facing good competition and doing a half decent job. RNH cannot win faceoffs, board battles and lastly produces next to nothing offensively. He’s gotten progressively less productive each year.

    Does he play against tough competition? Of course. But just because we want to match him up that way doesn’t mean other coaches do too. A good NHL coach will put his best players against McDavid 100% of the time.

    If RNH is a defensive whiz, then his stats should match it. Him being 23 years old plays no role. He’s a veteran in this league and there are other players who can play his role for much less. He’s not Datsyuk, P. Bergeron or anyone else. He’s a checking forward who can’t win faceoffs.

    If you bash Eberle for his lack of defense, you can bash RNH for his lack of offence. I wish we could talk about this guy without rose coloured glasses for a change.