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.

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.

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.

  • Just a Fan

    I read both articles and tried to be objective but I think your bias is showing. You maintain that the facts are clear but you are not talking about facts. You are talking about numbers or more specifically advances statistics that attempt to model the real world. When the model does not match reality you adjust the model not declare reality wrong.

    I agree there is no way I extend him before the expansion draft but This applies to all UFAs and not just Russell. If on July first he is the best UFA available, I am interested.

      • Just a Fan

        Im glad it’s not my call but advanced stats are just one tool. You have pro scouts watching games, you have players in your room who might have opinion, you have traditional stats, you have advanced stats and you have Matt hate blogs.

        For the record, I was against the signing last summer because of the flames stench. He is winning me over.

  • fasteddy

    Henderson you’ve officially confirmed that my eyes deceive me; I would swear this guy is a good dman from watching him. By my eye I haven’t seen a dman in years that retrieves the puck and relieves d-zone pressure better than this guy. Obviously the numbers say otherwise, but I’d have never thought it. I will bring up one thing though; if we are to believe some people who toss out these statements like “add a right shot d and our problems are solved”, why do they never have a response for why there are many excellent dmen on bad teams, both right and left?

    • Sorensenator

      I agree, apparently my eyes have decieved me when I see Russel consistently get the puck out of the zone, making the 1st pass to the forwards, blocking shots, and shutting down forwards when they enter the zone. But I guess there are these underlying numbers called advanced stats that prove everyone wrong.

      Remember Tyler Dellow? lol

      • Gravis82

        Prove to me how you have invalidated Tyler Dellows work with the oilers. I implore you. First, to know what it was for starters, then assess validity, then observe if they actually listed to him. They could have been listening and that why we sucked, or they could have been ignoring him, and thats why we sucked. Who know. You have no idea, no one does.

        This place has gone mad

        • WSO

          lol Tyler had PLENTY of opportunity to prove his worth. Stop being a fan boy. The guy was a prick both at the rink, and away from it, and the fact his attitude often got in the way of any sort of positive ‘performance’ he possibly could have contributed with speaks volume about how completely relying on the ‘stats’ analysis is a flawed model. Math nerds are a valuable offering to clubs I agree….but they will never be as valuable as hockey professionals that have lived and experienced what its like to be on the ice. The day the fancy stats gurus realize they aren’t as influential as they seem to think they are, and willingly accept that the ‘eye test’ does in fact hold tremendous weight when it comes to evaluating players, and ultimately CHOOSE to work hand in hand with ‘eye test’ professionals, is the day an NHL club truly succeeds utilizing said stats analysis

          • Gravis82

            I have no opinion on dellow. I have no idea if his work was quality or not. He could have been a hack. Who knows

            my point is just because you think dellow was crap, it shouldn’t bias you opinion of everyone else who uses the same method.

          • Admiral Ackbar

            What sublime conjecture as he joins the pitchfork mob accusing Matt of the same obtuseness. Homegrown hypocrisy at its best.

            Advanced stats are currently flawed in that they lack a large enough data pool to have sufficient strength to be a quality predictor of success. The only stat with enough data is Corsi and even those P-values are high with wide confidence intervals – yes, most of you don’t like math but this is a math argument against the current brand of analytics.

            Advanced stats in hockey are in its infancy because trials (shots) has such diversity in its quality that can’t easily be reduced to a number. Baseball on the other hand is beautiful in how all trials (pitches) are equal.

            Kris Russell is an OK hockey player. I’d use him as a good 5-6 option. It’s obvious that he leaves a wide gap against his opposition and allows easy entry. He also cleans up his own zone well. That puts the Oilers in a worse position than simply preventing the zone entry by closing gaps before or at the blue-line (Klef does this masterfully).

            Russell is a stop-gap, a band-aid at best. He’s not as good as Brandon Davidson (who’s cheaper). If he can be signed for less in the identical scenario next year, worth a thought.

          • Sorensenator

            You accuse me of conjecture then go on to say he’s a soft defender when it comes to shutting down opposition entering the zone. Is it his +9 plus minus that leads you to this conclusion? Do you even watch the games bro? Or just star wars?

          • Who cares about zone entries if the guy can control the zone once the team has entered. He knows what he’s good at. The oilers outscore the opposition when he’s on the ice, and they win more than they lose when he’s in the lineup. What has that got to do with zone entry?

          • Gravis82

            Perhaps Dellow was a fool? Or perhaps Eakins was a fool and was not listening to him? we dont know.

            Perhaps both were awesome, but the team sucked. Perhaps we actually had a good team and they ruined it? So many variables to consider, that its meaningless.

            Just because Eakins and Dellow were advocates of advanced statistics, doesnt mean they were good at it. It also doesnt mean that others cant be much better at it.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    Do teams still need to expose a certain amount of cash in the expansion draft? A one year extension might not be a bad idea. Expose him and meet your quota. He’ll be insurance or a body who goes while protecting another body.

  • Looch#27

    I feel you’re completely jaded on this player Matt and only see him through math which is to bad for you. When he was out of the line up Oil suffered terribly and as soon as he’s back things start going the right way that isn’t a coincidence. Guy competes hard makes great first pass and can skate. As mentioned by others leads the team in +/- while also bring grit. Not sure I give him a four year deal but I’d sign him for another year if he’s still around in free agency again. Math nerds shouldn’t and don’t run hockey teams and that’s a good thing

  • CDNinATL

    Even Bob Stauffer yesterday said that he wouldn’t extend him come Jan. 1 but considering what was available, he really was the only veteran available then.

    Anyone know what happened to Nurse?? I saw that tweet and was like WHAAAA????

  • Coach My PP

    I’m surprised Gregor is not on here getting angry and insulting people while making a case for Kris. Or does Russel not donate or pay him to do so.?

  • tileguy

    Wait a minute, didn’t your fancy stats show he was the 7th best Dman yesterday and now you print this,

    “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.”

    Now he is middle of the order??? I think that is what all us eyeballers have been saying.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    I’m still not convinced that Kris Russell, when used properly, isn’t a useful player. One that defies the advanced stats that we currently have.

    He passes the eye test. The coach trusts him. Respected reporters praise him. Those are not definitive, but neither are analytics. I know you tried to explain in Part 1. I did not find it convincing enough.

    Also, he’s obviously not THE perfect solution. The Oilers are aware of that. I mean, look when he was signed. But SOME solution is better than NO solution. The Oilers are better off with Russell in the lineup than with a Griffin Reinhart. Remember that the Oilers (and many other teams) have been looking for a defenseman for over a year now. They’re hard to find. They had to give up Hall just to get Larsson. I doubt it’s going to get easier this season and this summer.

    I do agree that they shouldn’t expose Davidson in favour of Russell though. Davidson is cheaper and potentially better (if healthy).

  • RJ

    I think this argument applies to many players on this team.

    Russell isn’t a guy the Oilers should be sinking a lot of money or term into. Outside of Drai and McDavid on ELCs, there are not a ton of value contracts.

    Good thing Griffin Reinhart is tearing up the AHL and will take that spot next season (Oh wait…he’s not a RHD, and he has 0 points this season.)

  • TruthHurts98

    The Oilers needed an upgrade this year and it only cost 3 million. There is an intangible that Russell has: more heart than most other players. If that could rub off on Pouliot and Ebs the Oilers would be scary good. I don’t know if PC will sign him to an extension and neither do you. He has made a few moves that none of the ‘media insiders’ saw coming. If Russell is a stop gap until the PP RHD comes then so be it. They could do worse. Against Arizona he did get pushed around a bit but so did the whole team. Fact is the Oilers are bloody awful without him in the line up. Maybe do a write up on Eberle. The reason he’s the scape goat is simple: he’s getting paid 6 million to have 10% of the heart and passion for the game as Russell. He’s put up 80 points before so playing with Connor he could hit that level or better. But he gets a pass. If he was getting paid 2-3 million per year and played 3rd line not many people would care. My .02

  • passelin

    Article made me think – would you rather protect Brandon Davidson or Pat Maroon in the expansion draft?

    Cheers for protect Davidson and Trash for protect Maroon.

    • MacT's Neglected Helmet

      Tough call. The boring and correct answer is that we’re going to have to wait and see how Davidson plays after returning from injury. If he’s as good as he was last year, I say protect him.

      Yes, that means you protect 4D and expose an extra forward (Maroon/Pouliot). Yes, that means you now have 4LD: Klefbom-Sekera-Nurse-Davidson (nevermind Russell). But top-4 dmen are so, so, so valuable.

    • FISTO Siltanen

      I’d convert Davidson to a winger for the rest of the season when he gets back and protect him and Maroon. Leave someone else exposed. Then move Davidson back to defence next year.

      Chiarelli can contact me about a position.

  • Explicit

    I don’t think I would sign him for 4 years, but I like his game. The guy is a plus 8. Third highest on the team. He’s on the ice for more goals for than goals against. That’s kind of an important stat isn’t it?

  • knee deep in it

    with the injury to nurse, russel will be playing his normal side with a solid partner, larsson. If he is ever going to succeed, the next few games will be the time

  • kormega

    Russell and Sekera (whom he’ve dragged down heavily, right, ’cause they play together) have the best +/- in the team along with CMD.

    Maybe his future for Oilers is questionable, but sh*tting on the man right now makes no sense to me.

  • knee deep in it

    if we ever get a completely healthy defence, then it will be time to trade Russel. Until then, keep pumping his tires unless he starts costing us games.

    I wonder what the going rate for a 2nd pairing dman is at the trade deadline, probably a 2nd. That would be a big win for the oilers

  • Will

    This, way more than the previous article, makes sense. The combination of the expansion and other contract concerns are indeed a good reason why the team should not offer an extension on Jan 1st. I am also leery about that money and term considering how they acquired him this year.and you’re correct on that he is taking up the spot they need to upgrade at. But who the heck is that guy? Right shooting point producing d men are not easy gets.

  • BabyNugeMonitor

    Spot on. Need a RHD for the 2nd pairing, not another lefty. Let Russell play out this contract, do not waste cap space or a keeper piece into the expansion draft.