Kris Russell: Trap or Opportunity?


One of the larger individual decisions that the Edmonton Oilers have to make in the next few months is whether or not to sign Kris Russell to a contract extension. He is the team’s most prominent player bound for unrestricted free agency and handles key minutes on the blue line.

Before the Oilers make a decision on Russell one way or the other, a particular fact which should not escape their attention: Kris Russell’s reputation this season hinges on a single hot month.

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Russell - October

  • Oilers with Russell by Fenwick% in October: 47.4%
  • Oilers with Russell by Goals% in October: 72.7%
  • Oilers without Russell by Fenwick% in October: 50.0%
  • Oilers without Russell by Goals% in October: 52.6%

(Above numbers via Corsica)

The skirmishes over the value of shot metrics like Corsi and Fenwick are extremely valuable. Every time there’s a debate, it’s a chance to test whether those numbers are still predictive, and a chance to add to collective hockey knowledge. Analytics types will get things wrong, and need pushback to figure out what does and doesn’t have value. Skeptics and proponents of new metrics need to be able to test their own numbers and see if their approach is better.

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For a casual fan or for someone who long ago decided how they viewed the sport and isn’t interested in new information, it can be excruciating. Even for people with a real interest into digging into what is and isn’t predictive in hockey, it can be tedious. And the rhetoric surrounding a player who finds himself the latest lab rat in the experiment can get a little crazy.

Russell is one of the latest players to fall under the lens, and as a result a lot of people are sick of hearing about him. Still, he’s worth looking at because of the varying claims and counterclaims that his fantastic October produced.

November 1 – Present

Russell - November

  • Oilers with Russell by Fenwick% since October: 47.8%
  • Oilers with Russell by Goals% since October: 45.0%
  • Oilers without Russell by Fenwick% since October: 52.0%
  • Oilers without Russell by Goals% since October: 56.7%

Russell has been a little unlucky in the months since Halloween, with a goal percentage that trails his shot metrics. This is especially true since the Oilers outperform their shot metrics as a team, mostly thanks to the superb goaltending provided by Cam Talbot. Given enough time, I’d expect Russell’s on-ice goal numbers to trend up.

The point here seems inescapable. In October, Russell looked great, regardless of what Corsi or Fenwick said. Since October, those shot numbers have stayed steady, and he’s regressed hard so that his performance reflects them and has for months now.

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Since October 31, no regular Oilers defenceman has worse shot metrics than Russell. Since October 31, only the little-used Eric Gryba has worse on-ice goal numbers than Russell. Edmonton gets out-shot and out-scored when he’s on the ice, and the only thing obscuring it is the fact that his first month was so great.

From an Oilers’ perspective, what’s the right play here? It’s to hope that some other team lets Russell’s October streak and the legitimate things that he does well blind them to his warts. Find that team, and make a trade.

When Russell signed, I described him as a solid third-pair defenceman with legitimate special teams abilities. That’s still true, but it isn’t something Edmonton particularly needs. With eight healthy defencemen and three legitimate options on the farm, the Oilers could move Russell for a bunch of assets (which, ideally, they would then re-invest) and not be any worse off.

Russell had a great October, and looked like more than he actually is. The months since prove that was a mirage. The question now is whether the Oilers will take advantage of the confusion generated by that hot run, or allow themselves to be fooled by it. 


Pray For Playoffs Party 

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As you probably expected, the Pray for Playoffs party will be happening at the Pint Downtown on Friday, February 24th, with doors opening at 4pm and the hockey game starting at 5pm. Aside from making sure we’re all well hydrated, we’ve got the usual swag bags planned along with raffles, giveaways, and more. I encourage you to start coughing now so that your boss won’t be suspicious when you call in sick. 

As always, it wouldn’t be a Nation party without trying to raise as much money as possible for our charity partner, Sport Central. If you’re unfamiliar with their work, Sport Central is a local organization dedicated to making resources available to assist kids in sports in the Edmonton area as well as central and northern Alberta.

Your $20 ticket gets you:

  • A Pray for Playoffs Party t-shirt
  • A $20 Pint GC
  • $10 worth of Oodle Noodle GCs
  • A lottery ticket for our door prizes
  • Access to the exclusive Pray for Playoffs NationGear launch
  • You’ll be in attendance for the re-launch of NationBeer! Yes, we have our own beer now. Not only that, we’ll buy a beer for the first 100 people to show up with their ticket as a thank you for your support. 

As always, all proceeds from ticket sales will be donated directly to Sport Central so bring your friends, get involved, and help us support a community in need. You can get your tickets here before they sell out.

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This is a party that’s been 10 years in the making and you’re going to want to be a part of it.


  • Oilerboy1112

    The problem with trading Russell is that, him and Sekera are the only veteran defence-man (not including Gryba since he doesn’t play much) the Oilers have.

    • Adam Larsson has 332 NHL games under his belt and is in his sixth season in the league. He’s a young veteran, but I’d count him.

      The other thing is there’s no reason you can’t take the return from Russell and use it somewhere else. In the Oilers’ shoes, if I could get value back for Russell and Davidson I’d take a serious run at Shattenkirk, even as just a rental.

      • eeagain

        If PC can get a deal for a rental Shattenkirk and not give up a 1st round pick or top prospect (I still consider Nurse a prospect as his top end is still to be defined)then he has to do it. If such as thing were possible and Russel is part of the deal you do it in a heart beat. But this is all speculation.

        But if the Blues see that they must get some value for Shattenkirk, they should be talking to teams in the northeast that can sign him long term. They would get much better value there.

      • camdog

        Bruce Garrioch – Feb 18, 2017 The price for Shattenkirk is “a high-end prospect, a first-round pick and another piece. Teams don’t want to pay that for a rental and the Blues are willing to do a sign and trade.”

        Let’s stop stop kidding around – the Blues are not trading Shattenkirk to another team they are competing against in the Western Conference playoff race.

        • That’s an interesting interpretation, given that the Blues gave permission to the Oilers to talk long-term extension with Shattenkirk last summer.

          It would be really weird if they were open to letting the Oilers grab him long-term but had a massive aversion to letting them use him as a rental.

      • Oilerboy1112

        Ok, yeah Larsson is a veteran, but the problem is he only has 5 playoff games, while Russell has 36. Sekera only has 8, Benning, Klefbom, Davidson, and Nurse have 0. I doubt Blues trade us Shattenkirk since the Oilers, and the Blues are in the same conference, and Shattenkirk wants to go close to NY. It’ll be better to trade Russell at the draft

    • eeagain

      Assuming there are no injuries the Oil’s D core would include:


      Dmen are more prone to injuries and rarely is any group 100% healthy. That’s one of the main reasons playoff teams are on the hunt for D depth this time of year. Even if one accepts Willis’ pessimistic evaluation of Russel, I don’t see why the Oil would trade away Russel during a playoff run.

  • Cheesums

    I hope it’s gets traded too. But sadly don’t see it happening with the way the team seems to love him.

    I just don’t see how he fits on the team beyond this year. Especially for this price he would cost.

  • Keepyourstickontheice

    If we could get a return in the same ballpark as what Russell netted last year, I say move him. If you can reinvest the picks acquired in acquiring something we do need, that much the better.

  • fisherprice

    I’ll go by my old standby in regards to Kris Russell: fine third pairing defenceman who is a pretty decent penalty killer. He was a decent stop gap this year. I don’t think they should re-sign him because that role can be filled better and more cheaply with what the Oilers already have.

  • camdog

    Russell plays every game as if it is a playoff game.
    There are few d-man that can play like this, maybe Chara and Pronger could, but that’s about it. His play isn’t sustainable over an 82 game season never mind playoffs.

    This injury/break, considering he comes back healthy is actually good news for the Oilers and Russell, he needed a break. A healthy Russell is a welcome addition to any roster in the league. When’s he’s beat down, he’s not nearly as effective.

    • Mike Krushelnyski

      I’d argue that Nurse plays that style of game, and is a physically much more gifted player than Russell. Experience aside, you can’t really justify including Russell in the lineup at Nurse’s expense.

      If Chiarelli can get 3/4 of a very serviceable season out of Russell for $3M AAV, and flip him at the deadline for a 2nd rounder, that would be an incredibly tidy bit of business.

        • Mike Krushelnyski

          Fair enough, but Davidson has moved to the right side to play with Nurse and I don’t think you’re losing a lot there. And like JW said earlier, maybe if you move Russell and Davidson out for decent assets you can get a little crazy and go for a bonafide RH difference maker like Shattenkirk.

  • freelancer

    Right now I would be happy for the team to keep him as a veteran third pairing guy and then happily let him walk after this season. Nothing wrong with having some depth right now.

  • ComeAtMeDog

    McLennan just praised him , Willis just dumps on him …. I’m confused .

    We believe NHL coach or stats nerd ? How’s Arizona doing with their stats nerd GM ?

    I guess it depends on the return . But he is Nhl d man . And by my eye seems to be decent ..

    • TsuDhoNimh

      What’s the coach supposed to say?

      Also, how is Colorado doing this year with a former player running the show and not a stats nerd? I can cherry pick to suit my opinion too.

      • OnDaWagon

        Carolina is another one with a former player.
        Snow-balls on Long Island…even though they are making strides with Weight..

        But…you give me a lights out goalie(Price, last year), and I would look good.

        Some ex-players have what it takes to build a competitive team, some(most) don’t. That also applies to the GMs and coaches who never played in the NHL. Some good, some terrible. ROLL THE DICE

    • Rock11

      So, So sick of the name calling. Also pretty tired of the Arizona GM being given somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 months to turn a perennial loser into a cup champion or else be labelled an abject failure.

      Not sure if his style will work or not but how ’bout we give him a couple of years to actually acquire the kinds of players that fit his model before we come to a conclusion.

      Would that be OK you neandrathal, mouth breathing, moron. Hey maybe you’re right. Anonymous internet name calling is fun. Wheeeee!!!

      • ComeAtMeDog

        Stats nerd is not name calling there hero !!!

        I’m just wondering who we should put more faith in . Stats guys or NHL coach .

        Sorry mr sensitive . Nobody play with you in the playground ?

        • Rock11

          Of course it is. I’m not saying it’s egregious but of course it’s name calling. You could have said analytically inclined or data driven but instead you went to the cheap jab.

          My bigger point though was that AZ’s GM has been on the job for one off-season. I would think following the Oilers would lend itself to realizing dragging a team from the bottom takes more than 6 months. Using that Arizona line was an uninformed poke at a data driven approach that hasn’t yet had the chance to succeed or fail. Of course AZ could always replace him with an old school former player who likes to see things as being visually better. We might have a guy like that hanging around they can have for cheap.

    • pkam

      The Oilers played 7 games in February, 2 with Russell and 5 without. The Oilers lost both games with Russell (to the Preds and Canes), and won 4 of the 5 games without Russell.

      • camdog

        Russell was bad in those 2 games – looked like he was playing through an injury that eventually took him out of the line up. In his previous 5 games before that he was one of the better d-man on the team.

        • pkam

          I am just responding to the comment made by Max Powers that Oilers win with Russell.

          I just want to point out the fact that Oilers can lose with Russell and can win without Russell. Nothing more, nothing less.

      • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

        They were 2-5 in November when they lost him and that coincided with the worst losing streak of the season. One of those victories was via shootout.

        In February they struggled in both games against the hawks (but got lucky in one) and beat a backup for other wins.

        Overall the oilers are 6-6 (by my count) without him and the oil clearly struggle on d when he’s not around.

        By eye they seem like a better team with him to me as well.

  • Mike Krushelnyski wrote:

    If Chiarelli can get 3/4 of a very serviceable season out of Russell for $3M AAV and flip him at the deadline for a 2nd rounder, that would be an incredibly tidy bit of business.

    Exactly. That would be some crafty GM-ing.

  • Natejax97

    Kris Russell is a good veteran HNL defenseman. He is a somewhat local kid. He has grit, blocks shots, and makes his D partner better.

    He is a 4/5 on a good team, which the oilers are.

    I do not think these attributes can be overlooked. Edmonton has grown substantially on defense this year, and like it or not, Russell has been a big part of that.

    If we can get this guy at the right contract (term and dollars) then I would be all for bringing him back for a few years while Nurse and Benning just get better and better in their roles.

  • Bills Bills

    Okay so is it the same people that are saying resign “off the glass Gryba” but trade Russel before the deadline? I’m confused by your logic or lack there of.

    Keep Russel for the playoffs and let him walk unless he’s going to sign a very friendly deal. The Oilers are generating some young depth. If they are going to make a trade for another d man, it should be for a top pairing right shot and if they can’t do that it is just shuffling deck chairs.

  • slats432

    Based on the article, Russell is bad based on poor shot metrics (Not on ice for enough shots), and GF/GA while on ice.

    I always start wondering if deployment is why this metric shows him as a poor option. Defensive Dman playing against good offensive players should have generally poorer shot metrics and less goals when they are on the ice? No?


  • pkam

    Russell and Gryba are players that are replaceable.

    I will rather wait and see if he is available for cheap again early next season.

    If we can trade him or Davidson for a 2nd rounder, I will trade him and keep Davidson.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Kris Russell has been a very valuable Oiler this year – he has done an admiral job playing his off side.

    With that being said, I just don’t see how re-signing him makes any sense.

    1) The rumored terms had term and a significant cap hit. He has four points this year and is truly a defensive d-man who actually has warts in his defensive game. He’d be fine as 3rd pairing d-man with PK time – a $2M/year type of contract.

    2) Assuming that Klef, Sekera and Nurse (and maybe Davidson and maybe Reinhart) would be playing ahead of him on the left side, wouldn’t we want to try and get an actual right show D with some offensive ability to go along with Larsson, Benning and Gryba (as 7D)?

    I like the player, I really do, however, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

  • Mr.Ulanov

    I’ve said before if the return is right its worth moving him. I have a feeling he won’t resign unless overpaid and will be looking for that from some team and it best not be us.

  • OriginalPouzar

    As much as it doesn’t make sense to me to re-sign him, I also do not want to move him at the deadline for a draft pick.

    For the first time in a decade (save 2013), we aren’t sellers at the deadline.

    Defensive depth will be key for the stretch drive and the playoffs.

    I’m fine losing this asset for nothing – we didn’t give up anything to acquire him.

    A second round pick would be nice but it would likely be in the 50-60 range and I’d rather keep the player for the stretch drive and the playoffs.

  • Wintoon

    If PC can get a player, prospect or picks for Russell then he should do so. His job is to manage assets and that would be terrific.

    Russell has filled a need this year but he is not irreplaceable.

  • hockey1099

    Smart NHL teams always trade legit NHL defenceman at the deadline. It’s the best way to make the playoffs. If you have to much depth on defence it can weigh you down and encourage guys to get injured because they know someone is there to fill their role. If the Oilers trade Russell and Davidson I guarantee you we win the cup.

  • oilerjed

    It depends on if what Chia is saying in front of the mic is what he is planning with the door closed. If there is no plan to bring in a few vets to make a push and and the plan is to let the team play it out for experience sake, then the only logical thing to do is cash Russel for whatever you can get. Benning has shown that he is close to being equal to Russel so we don’t lose much there other than depth, which is important.

    Pouzar had mentioned earlier that the Oilers are not in the sellers bracket this year, I would contend that the seller/buyer thing is greyer than it used to be. Regardless of position in the standings there is still the long term plan to look after and asset management to consider.

    Russel was never part of the long term plan, only a placeholder until the young’ins got up to speed, now they are. Flip the switch and push Benning up the chart and start planning for 5 years from now.

  • Anton CP

    I strongly doubt that Chiarelli will trade Russell away unless he has another deal already in working to replace Russell by the deadline. I also strongly doubt that Chiarelli will overpay Russell once the season is over. Chiarelli normally has a good track record when it comes to evaluating D men so I’m not too worried about what will happen to Russell.

  • russ99a

    The analytics community loses a large portion of their credibility when talking about defensemen only in terms of the offense they produce.

    Would be nice if those who overrely on CF% also use HDSCA to see the whole picture,

  • jonnyquixote

    Keep him unless there’s an offer too good to refuse, but then let him walk in the off-season.

    Not because he’s bad or falling apart. This player seems to defy the metrics at least somewhat and I think he’s an on- and off-ice reason the Oilers have improved so noticeably. But the Oilers have a glut of LHD, many developing resources who need ice-time, and a real need to invest elsewhere the $3-4 million Russell will demand on a long-term deal.

    If we’re adding a player to Klefbom/Larsson/Sekera/Nurse/Benning/Davidson/Gryba/Reinhart/Osterle next year, it should probably be a defenseman who brings more offense than Russell.

  • Harry2

    Willis. This is why you write and do not manage.

    Let me ask you. What is EDM’s W/L record with and without Russell?

    Type that into your calculator and get back to me.