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)

tmi

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.


  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Also worth knowing: is Russell’s side (right side) attacked more with Russell on the ice than with other pairings? I’m wondering if this is consistent across all pairs of D, potentially because of weaker R-side forwards. Do Benning and Larsson face more attacks on their (right) side, or are things more balanced, attack-wise, with their pairings?

    Put differently, this may not be a Russell thing, uniquely.

  • The NHL game is changing for defensemen and Russell fits the bill of a agile puck moving defensemen without being soft.

    If we are going to lose Davidson to VGK does it not make sense to at least make Russell an offer that fits within the long term plans for the club? 4x4M perhaps? Now that the Oil are 1st in the division with McDavid playing top of the league you would think any offer would be given careful consideration.

    Still hoping we land a right shooting stud D-man at the deadline and make a run this year.

  • Muddy

    Can you put a corsi on calmness? Every game I watch this guy play he never panics. He must be a very calming force on the bench and you can see it his game. He moves the puck out of danger and can actually make passes tape to tape.

    Listen he isn’t Scott Niedermayer and nor will he ever be but we need to fill a spot at that 3-4 until Bear or Jones can step in. This is a logical choice for a guy you’ll not overpay for who seems to give the Oilers some insurance on the backend. Their win/loss ratio with him in the line up and without also speaks highly of his character with his teammates.

  • Druds

    Unfortunately Matt you have such horrible biases for a supposed stats guy…when you love a guy, they can do no wrong but when you hate a guy you look into every cranny to find the dirt.

    eg. guys you Love… Marincin who you sung the praises for as if he were the next first line pairing…well on an incredibly terrible Leaf defence he is third pairing but we dont hear a word from you on that and then of course there is pancake Penner who you screamed bloody murder when he was dumped but of course he slid into mediocrity despite your attempts to buff his image.

    But the most important part is who replaces him? Davidson would be great but he seems to be made clay and breaks too easily…who exactly takes his spot?

  • Curry is Messy Eh?

    If we have 6 defencemen… and stock Grybas and Rheinharts in the closet for when we have an injury..There is no room for an expensive Russell. Oilers are going to want to move Nurse up(top 4) year by year for minutes and with that money. Bomber and Larson are going to be in your top four, Sekera bottom 4. So…hopefully we keep Davidson ….bottom 4, and Benning matures and stays bottom 4. Russell is good today, but if we sign him (he will want 2 – 4 years)we have no room for Chia to make a deal, unless we trade someone else. The Larson and Bomber contracts are AMAZING $ contracts. Nurse will stay cheaper because of Connor. So for Chia to have the wiggle room to make a deal for a R shooting PP unicorn, signing Russell is dubious maximus.

  • @Hallsy4

    It would be interesting to hear what ex teammates or D partners would say about Russell, if they answered 100% honestly. I don’t know if it would be good or bad, but it would be interesting.

  • Danglishish

    Let’s just boil this down, shall we?

    1. Advanced stats have value, but they are by no means conclusive on a player’s value or ability. Their predictive value – particularly when a player changes teams/systems – is limited. See, for example, Mark Fayne.

    2. Advanced stats have flaws, even those that are most subscribed to (Corsi, Fenwick). Those flaws include that they typically assign blame/praise to every player on the ice for any given event, even if that player does not contribute to said play. They also do not recognize quality, only quantity.

    3. The only stat that ultimately matters is wins and losses. Nobody raises the Stanley Cup for having the best Dangerous Fenwick. Advanced stats people often forget this.

    We traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larssen, and the advanced stats people lost their minds (and continue to do so). WE NEVER FINISHED HIGHER THAN 24th in the league with Hall, and are currently on pace for ~ 90 points and a playoff birth without him, and the advanced stats people don’t care. “Hall pushed the river” is what they say. Okay. Pushed it right to the front of the draft order?

    With respect to Russel, we’re a better team with him. Proof is in the pudding (otherwise known as the win/loss record). If your advanced stats don’t like him, I don’t care. We’re better. That’s all I care about. Sign him to a 2nd or 3rd pairing salary, and let’s keep winning, shall we?

    • fisherprice

      The New Jersey Devils are 9-3-4 with Taylor Hall in the lineup and 1-4-2 with him out.

      Weird. It seems like rating an individual on a team record is a really bad way to evaluate a player.

      • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

        Perhaps the point is not that Hall isn’t a high quality player, I don’t think rational person would say he isn’t a high quality player. There are a few irrational people who think “water bottlegate” meant something.

        But, the Oilers are a better team with Larssen than with Hall. Certainly having the best player in the world emerging to lead the offence has made a huge difference. But that is what makes the Hall/Larssen trade make sense. The Oil are are scoring at pace much better than ever in the Hall years (this is not a knock on Hall). Having the defenceman Larssen is more important than the winger Hall.

        This trade may be helping both teams, i.e. bother teams are ‘winners’.

      • Danglishish

        Damnit! If only I had made a point about the predictive value of fancy stats when a player changes teams and systems… oh wait

        Weird it’s almost like you can’t read.

    • RJ

      Russell and Larsson haven’t been that spectacular. Having the NHL leader in points makes a much bigger difference.

      He’s everything a #1OV was supposed to be but Hall, Nuge and Yak never were.

      • Gravis82

        Anyone who uses advanced stats will be the first to admit to 1-3.

        Its how you apply the information, knowing the limitations, still in a productive way, that can make them successful.

        Because if you don’t, someone else will.

        There is not a single statistic on this planet that doesn’t have a flaw. There is also not a single person on this planet who’s observations are perfect.

        Im sorry this information didn’t match up with what you are observing, but it is possible that you are wrong. Have you considered that? That maybe you are the one that’s wrong and not the stats?

        And note, that I said considered. Have you taken the information presented here and at least considered for a few moments the possibility that it could be correct?

    • RJ

      Russell and Larsson haven’t been that spectacular. Having the NHL leader in points makes a much bigger difference.

      He’s everything a #1OV was supposed to be but Hall, Nuge and Yak never were.

      • freelancer

        And this is where I have a tough time with the analytics. While I can see a list of numbers that say Fayne is a better possession D man, I see Fayne and the number of times he and Sekera were hemmed in their own end or the number of plays that died on his stick.

      • Cain

        What is the WOWY number on this player?

        I asked Willis the same question when he wrote this article last week and he wouldn’t answer.

        I can only assume the WOWY is an inconvenient truth.Although it is a stat you guys like to use in other arguments…

          • Gravis82

            The appropriate comparison for the NHL, would be the NHL combine. I fail to see a single similarity at all in your comparison.

            Are you seriously saying that statistics showing that there is no correlation between NFL combine performance NFL full time employment, is a better model to rely on for predicting who is a good NHL player, instead of counting shots against in the NHL game where they player in question is actually playing?

          • L

            If you follow NFL you’ll see you can win 12 games and lose 0 in NCAA but run a 40 dash in 5+ seconds at the combine. Then be one of the last draft picks or work at t mobile instead. Tom brady

          • L

            The only time I ever heard was Sam Bennett not being able to do a pull up in a combine. Cause of injury of course. But look how high he was drafted. Athletes are much bigger and faster in NFL. The scouts care to much about athletic ability which is why so many bottom picks turn into stars. Look at all the actual top players draft pick place. All I’m saying is guys like Henderson and Willis have the same stupid mindest that actually is wrong 70% of the time. Now don’t say manning. Look at Carr, Demarcus Russel, leaf, charles(from lions) and on and on and on

          • Gravis82

            You know much more about the NFL than me. That is clear.

            I do agree that nhl/NFL combine stats are a horrible predictor of success. A personal trainer could do better.

            I get the connection you are making actually, combine stats are not predictive of success, which is causing you to also be wary of these stats. OK fair.

            But I think in this scenario the stats Willis/Henderson are quoting are closer to the action in the actual game, and are closer to a true representation of what is going on, compared to stats from the combine….which is miles away from the game and measure things that are not related being be a good player.

            Thanks for actually providig a rationale for your opinion. And I do agree, combine stats are useless. I would just encourage you to maybe read up on how these hockey stats are collect, and why those that know them like the back of their hand think they they are useful. You can draw your own conclusions from that exercise, but I think you will find that these are miles better than those used in the combine example you posted.

  • CMG30

    Always enjoy reading your stuff Arch. Though, I have a hard time getting through the articles. All I want to do is jump to the comment section to watch the meltdown!

  • Chainsawz

    Considering the authors horrendous hot takes vs intelligent opinions (HHTVIO) is -3.57%, he is easily the worst blogger on this site. A site that includes a bag of milk as a contributor. Let that sink in.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    The Oilers have 23 points in 18 games with Russell playing (.639 pts%), and 5 points in 7 games (.417 pts%) when he didn’t play.

    Over 82 games that’s a 104pt season v. a 68pt season.

    I’ll take Russell for $3M, Alex.

  • Mo Playoffs Mo Problems

    He plays against tough competition and the Oilers get outshot when he’s on the ice.

    Is he perfect? Definitely not. We can for sure do better at RD than Russell and I think Chia should be wary of signing him at the wrong term/number.

    Gotta ask: any chance his on ice SV% is elevated due to his shot blocking prowess takes away the bottom half of the net? Would that help Talbot anticipate where the puck may be coming in?

    I remember something about that when the Rangers went deep in the playoffs and were blocking everything and one of the storylines was the shot blocking made Lundqvist’s job easier.

  • belair

    Russell the worst defender? Whew. That’s an interesting one. Out of pure curiosity, how do those advanced stats treat Matthew Benning who we all know has been on the receiving end of many fire drill shifts in the defensive zone?

  • Mangiant

    95% of this article is meaningless word puke garbage trying to convince us you’re right. Any potentially valid data you have provided is overshadowed by your obvious hate for this particular individual.

    Your fancy-stat bigotry has reached a new high. Perhaps your issue is with those whose opinions differ from yours, and this has little to do with Russell himself?

    The fact that ON is allowing an article to be published with this very headline is unprofessional, and quite frankly, insulting.

  • A Little Less Concerned

    I would argue that he should be a bottom or “maybe” second pairing D with lots of PK. It’s not rocket science to see that he gives up the blue, but he does it to get the lane and or shot blocking position. And he is good at both of those.

    That has value. If a goalie can count on a guy either taking the man consistently OR blocking a shot consistently, it has value.

    5v5 it’s not that great. Teams feed on defenders backing off and they work to open those lanes, but in a 5v4 situation his style and ability to do that is great.

    The problem isn’t Russel, the problem is the depth isn’t quite there to keep him in a specialized role on the bottom pairing.

  • Harry2

    What I justvread in a nutshell is that Henderson thinks he is smarter and would make a better GM than the Stanley Cup winning Peter Chiarelli.

    Dont quit your day job.

  • @Hallsy4

    Did Jean Shorts really get fired? What did he do? Pick on the Intern? Is he even real or is he an alter ego for Bagged Milk? I feel like I’m taking Crazy Pills here. I request all dirty laundry to be aired publicly.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Gravis82 wrote:

    How is matt biased against the player. His opinion is based on the numbers.

    “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” — Mark Twain (popularized this)

    • Gravis82

      Therefore all statistics must be meaningless. Right. That makes sense. Lets make a decision based on a random quote by an 18th century writer, that happened to become popular.

      All statistics are an approximation of reality. There isnt a single number out there that is 100% valid. Same for people. There is not a single observation, or a single person who is not also biased.

      Are you saying that none of these statistics are even remotely valid? If yes, tell me how. How do you know that?

      • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        I’m almost certain that Twain lived in the 20th century and never lived in the 18th century, but that’s just another couple of numbers. Nothing to be concerned about.

        More to the point, you asked “how could he be biased?” and followed that with the implicit suggestion that if his argument is based on “the numbers” that his argument is devoid of bias.

        Well, that’s not how numbers work.

        I nowhere suggest that “all statistics are meaningless,” and that’s a ridiculous inference from my statement. I only suggest that the meaning of statistics or “the numbers” may not be universally agreed upon or consistently interpreted. Even the question of who’s the greatest hockey player of all time becomes problematic when one reduces an argument to statistics. Gretzky’s league was different than Orr’s (many more weaker teams), and both were different than Howe’s or Richard’s, etc. Statistics, whatever they can mean, don’t remove bias. And in fact, they can be used to manipulate meaning and introduce bias (I say “can” not must). That’s not saying that they’re meaningless, rather that they can be meaningful but they can be manipulated as well.
        For example: what’s the Oilers’ pt% with Russell playing and without? How meaningful a stat is that on a scale of 0-100?

        • Gravis82

          Seriously, your very first point in this argument is to attempt to discredit me because I didn’t know Mark Twains date of birth off the top of my head. It makes no difference to my argument. The fact that that was your first point you made against me, which was only made to distract from my actual argument and discredit me for reasons which are not relevant, says something about your motivations in this discussion.

          For that reason, I am not engaging.

          • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            Hence I use the phrase . . . “More to the point,”

            You’re not engaging because I never said or implied that statistics were meaningless, only that they don’t necessarily have a shared or agreed upon meaning or value and thus can be used to promote bias, intently or otherwise.

            More to the point, you question about how the piece could be biased because it uses “the numbers” is inherently naive or misguided.

            No need to engage. Everyone gets this.

            By the way, you’re the one who mentioned the date of the writer, not me. Should it matter when something was said if it’s germane to the discussion? Oddly statistics have been in use since about the 5th c. BC but really only came to be used by planners and politicians in the 18th and 19th century. Twain may have been sensitive to the bias in their use as his paraphrase suggests.

  • deferoiler

    I used to love Matt Hendersons articles, all his gameday articles on Hockeybuzz and his work here on the nation. But now all I see is a lost blogger who only uses numbers to back up his arguments. Analytics should be used to back up what you see not the other way around.