The Edmonton Oilers signed Kris Russell late in free agency, and at a value dollar. Russell has fit nicely into Todd McLellan’s defense this year, and there appears to be interest in signing him long term. What does he bring, and what is it worth in today’s NHL?
During Peter Chiarelli’s media avail discussing the Russell signing (and Nail Yakupov trade, video above) he told us what Kris Russell would bring to the Oilers:
- Peter Chiarelli: ‘Just watching this morning, the skating and puck retrieval, I think it was a need for our defensive unit. I think we’ve made it significantly better this year, and Kris rounds it out, makes it more diverse.’
I think that speed is a key for Edmonton, for Chiarelli and Todd McLellan. The evidence on the ice visually is clear—Russell is miles faster than Mark Fayne, for instance—and the results so far show Russell pitching in some good minutes. If you look at goals-against per 60 minutes at 5×5, Russell shines like a diamond:
As you can see (this is via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com), Russell and partner Andrej Sekera are doing fine work for the Oilers. If you assume that pairing averages 15 minutes a night at even strength, that would mean about 0.44 goals-against per game (1.75/60, which represents four games). That is good.
Is it sustainable? The numbers say no. Russell had a 2.90/60 last season in the metric with Calgary and Dallas, and was 2.31 the previous season with the Flames. A lot of this has to do with usage and deployment (first pair, second pair), but I don’t think we can assume Russell will post this kind of number in 2017-18. Statistics are useful with proper analysis, and I do believe there is danger in giving too much importance to GA/60 at 5×5.
I have found Corsi for 5×5, while also factoring in quality of competition, is the best predictor of future success—along with using the brain God gave us to observe what is happening. Kris Russell is having a strong year in goal suppression, but the Oilers might be paying for luck if they go $4M times 4.
Kris Russell has only five assists this year, and that is a fantastically low total. He is a far more productive player over his career, and that boxcar total (47gp, 0-5-5) has to be a concern for Peter Chiarelli. If he signs Kris Russell to four times four (that number is out there, did Bob mention that number?) what kind of offensive player is he getting? Here is the career breakdown at even strength:
- Kris Russell pre-Edmonton (per 82gp): 4-12-16
- Kris Russell in Edmonton (per 82gp): 0-9-9
Now, luck alone can impact one season enough to skew these totals, but if PC is spending $4 million a year, should we expect more of an offensive element? And Russell has posted strong offensive seasons recently, including 34 points for Calgary in 2014-15.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Any Oilers signing now has to work into the future contracts of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Kris Russell is going to get paid. Will Edmonton be the team paying him? I think the answer right now is maybe.