The Case Against Kris Russell Part 2

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.

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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 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

  • GK1980

    I see the case with not resigning russel. He is a “reactive” defencemen. That’s why he is on his stomach more than he should be and why he blocks so many shots.

    I’m on the fence. He does look like a keeper but why was no one willing to sign him this off season? I hope the oilers really do their homework on the guy before giving him his retirement money.

  • Hadley

    Henderson, what is your goal? To hope to one day say “I told you so”? Or are you hoping some NHL gms are trolling these boards looking for the new, hot, breakthrough analytics guy to hire? I wouldn’t hold your breath for either of these to happen. I feel bad for people that have to sit and watch a game with you. Talk about a fun sponge

  • 15w40

    Kris Russell is the anti-christ & Yakupov is the messiah.

    With both the truth is somewhere in the middle. The Oilers have more success with Russell in the line up and Yakupov sits in the press box more than he plays.

    I would be curious if anyone would or has run an “Analytics League”

    Set up a model for all of the regular season games and playoffs and see how close it mimics real life. I understand it would be a huge undertaking but it would show how accurate using strictly analytics would be to predicting outcomes.

    Small sample sizes would all normalize and players that should “regress to the mean” would be allowed enough time to do so.

    Statistics can be used to frame the argument for whatever side you want to support.

    Time for some new material for this particular “voice of the nation” – same reason I unfollowed on twitter. Russell – bad, Yakupov – good. Just like a old LP with a scratch.

  • West

    I never had much interest in advanced stats until the Russel bashing started so I looked up what Corsi is and it seems to be a very speculative stat at best. I mean giving a player a plus in the Corsi column for getting a shot blocked or missing the net seems weak to me. It used to be that defenders who blocked shot or positioned themselves to make hitting the net with a shot hard were valued. Allowing a shot from sixty feet out? That’s a Corsi negative. The other thing I have heard mentioned lately is easy zone entries. This seems very subjective to me. Who gets to decide what easy means? Is it like hits where some buildings give them out like candy? I am sure advanced stats have some use, but to say that they can prove a player is good,bad or ugly seems like a reach. If every player played in exactly the same way, the advanced stats might mean everything, but since every player is an individual and some may be successful playing the game “incorrectly”, how about you turn down rhetoric a bit.

    • Gravis82

      a certain percentage of times, that shot that the player had a hand in generating would not be blocked and would not miss the net. That percentage would be different for different shots, but we cant measure that. So we just measure the shot itself, and collect enough data to be able to say that, yes, shooting is required for scoring because granted we know players are shooting to score, not shooting for shootings sake to increase corsi.

      The act of participating in generating a shot, is REQUIRED for scoring which is REQUIRED for winning.

      You need to think in terms of risk and probabilities, instead of absolutes. Because all things in life, as in hockey, are products of a balance of risks, randomness, probabilities, hard work, skill.

      Focusing on the last two will restrict your world view.

      I am not actually arguing here about the actual numbers presented, what matters is how the numbers are assessed. Once you are confident you are at least assessing them correctly, only then can you draw any valid conclusions from them.

      And yes, some corsi negative shots will be meaningless, but for every meaningless corsi negative shot there are other corsi positive shots. So counting a corsi negative shot is always balanced out. Why is this? Because players that make it to the NHL, make it there because they can generate scoring changes at some level. So we can assume that a proportion of every players shots will be good ones, even though we dont exactly know which ones they were.

  • Pizzy

    As a long time reader of this site,this may be the worst article I have read about a current a oiler. This a good example of the use of stats to make a case. Where you ask anyone that watches the game, can tell you Russell is a good defenseman. When I was in Calgary for the 2nd game of the year against the oilers, the fans gave him a standing ovation. Now i see why! Lost a lot of respect Matt.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Well, to be fair, a vast number of Calgary fans are idiots, by definition of they’re being Calgary fans–it’s a near tautology. So I’d be careful that argument.

      They also boo McDavid.

  • D-rek

    I’ve been trying to understand how the stats can possibly paint such a different picture than most of our eyeballs…I have liked the addition of Russell so far this season.

    I think the problem is that some of these advanced stats don’t factor in that sometimes shot attempts against aren’t necessarily a bad thing. You aren’t going to have the puck the whole game, but if you can play defensively in a way that may allow more shots attempts against, but keeps most of them to non-dangerous shots from the outside or shots that get blocked, that should not be looked upon negatively. Bad shots, blocked shots – those are good for the defense.

    A defenseman’s job isn’t necessarily to limit shots (or attempts) against, but actual scoring chances (and goals!) against. For me personally, the main stat I look at for a defenseman is scoring chances against. From part I of this series, Russell in that category is actually not so bad:

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

    So maybe he allows a lot of shots to be directed towards the net, but if they are non-dangerous shots, or he blocks them, isn’t that just fine?

    The stats do certainly show though that he is not contributing offensively, basically not at all. But his job was to come in and help stabilize an atrocious defense, and he has done that by limiting scoring chances against.

    As for an extension…I understand the thinking that he is another lefty, without much offense, and he just doesn’t fit the Oilers needs. However, he has played his off side and done a pretty decent job at it in my opinion (defensively anyway). So if they can’t find a solid second pair, right handed, offensive guy, I’d be quite happy for them to re-sign #4.

  • smiliegirl15

    Drew Remenda is not an authority on hockey. I don’t know how that man has a job. What I see is Russell getting the puck out of his zone, passing it up to the forwards, them turning it over and the other team bringing it back into the Oilers end. How is that Russell’s fault?
    As for forecasting future goals, why not take a kick at the weather too? It’s just as predictable.

  • @Hallsy4

    The first part of this article really bothered me. This one, not so bad. I agree with you 100% that they shouldn’t give Russell 4×4. That’s too much time and money, and I think most people agree with that. If you combined these 2 articles from the start, and taken out like 5 of the most anti-Russell sentences, there wouldn’t have been near the backlash (or clicks, however). I’d be fine with them signing Russell in the offseason, 1 or maybe 2 years max, but with the team now, he helps in the short term, IMO. Weird how the fancy stats show him so negatively when he looks good. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle…. he’s not as good as he looks and not as bad as fancy stats say.