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Photo Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Past Signings show Oilers should part with Kris Russell

Edmonton will have to make a decision on Kris Russel in the coming weeks. The 30-year-old defenseman will become an unrestricted free agent and try to get a long-term contract after failing to do so last summer, but the Oilers should refrain from making any such deal.

Russell was rumoured to be seeking upwards of five years and $5 million per year last July but ended up settling for a one-year $3.1 million deal with Edmonton in September. Peter Chiarelli has said he wants to have Russell back but has to sign Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl first.

Andrej Sekera’s injury complicates things further. The Oilers will be without one of their top two left-handed defensemen for as much as half of the season, which leaves a lot of minutes to be filled.

Signing Russell might be attractive for Edmonton. He played a lot of minutes, seems willing to re-sign, and the team had success with him. But Kris Russell is not Andrej Sekera and the Oilers should look elsewhere to replace those minutes despite Todd McLellan’s reliance on Russell last season.

Edmonton should hold off on signing Russell because they’ve signed this type of player before, and it doesn’t go well.

Ladislav Smid

Smid was a longtime Oiler who eventually worked his way up to play over 20-minutes a game from 2010-2013. Smid was extended for four years and $14 million ($3.5 million per year) before reaching unrestricted free agency by then general manager Steve Tambellini.

Smid would play 17 games next season before being traded to Calgary for prospects.

Both Russell and Smid occupied the same left-handed defensive defensemen territory. Russell is much smaller, but a better skater, although Smid was three years younger at the time of his extension.

Injuries played a factor, but Smid quickly went from playing 20-minutes a night in Edmonton to a bottom of the roster player in Calgary, and eventually out of the league.

Andrew Ference

Ference was effectively Smid’s replacement. The Oilers opted for the 34-year-old blueliner, signing him to a four-year deal worth $3.25 million per year.

Ference was coming off a season as Boston’s number four defensemen the year they lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals. Ference played a similar role in Boston that Russell did in Edmonton: loads of minutes at even strength and regular time on the penalty kill. They were both left-handed defensive specialists who didn’t provide much offense, although Russell played the right side as a left-handed shot.

Ference will end his Oilers’ career playing six games in the final two years of his contract. A four-year deal takes Russell to the same age Ference was at the start of his Oiler career, but it’s worth noting Russell has 119 fewer games played than Ference had at the time he signed his contract.

Nikita Nikitin

The Oilers were desperate for defensive help and overpaid Nikita Nikitin for two years at $4.5 million per year. The signing was questionable from the beginning, but the 28-year-old was only one season removed from playing 21-minutes a game for Columbus.

Nikitin was a disaster. The big defenseman couldn’t play reliable minutes for Edmonton, and would eventually find himself demoted to the minors before the last year of his contract.

The Nikitin signing shows what happens when the Oilers are desperate for help on defense. They once again sought a defenseman who played more of a shutdown game, although Nikitin’s role had diminished in Columbus and was healthy scratched in the playoffs before reaching free agency, which should have been a warning sign to Edmonton.

Mark Fayne

With the lack of veteran right-handed options on the roster, the Oilers signed Fayne for four years at $3.65 million per year the same summer as the Nikitin signing.

The longtime partner for Andy Greene posted solid advanced stats for New Jersey, although brought very little in terms of offense. The 26-year-old recently played a top-four role in the Stanley Cup Final for New Jersey in 2012, but couldn’t be trusted to play reliable minutes for an Edmonton team desperate for defense only a few years later.

Fayne would find his way to the minors in the second year of his contract, similar to Nikitin. Fayne is likely starting there again next season. The Oilers will save $1 million with him in the AHL unless he’s traded or bought out.

Kris Russell  

After McLellan didn’t see much in Fayne, Chiarelli signed Russell to a one-year deal worth $3.1 million.

McLellan trusted Russell. He played the bulk of the season on the right side of Andrej Sekera, logging big minutes 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill.

Russell is a defensemen whose talent is tilted towards the defensive side, similar to the past Edmonton signees. He scored 13 points and isn’t likely to see much power play time with Oscar Klefbom and Matt Benning as better options.

Problems arise if Russell wants multiple years at more money, and it sure seems like he does. Russell will be older than all of the defensemen mentioned, save for Ference, at the time of their signings. Sekera’s injury might make it seem like a Russell signing is necessary, but as the Nikitin signing shows, bad things happen when you make moves out of desperation.

On a one year deal the Oilers were able to grab a stopgap that meant Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning weren’t played too high in the lineup, but extending Russell carries significant risk.

Edmonton has previously invested a lot in late twenties defensive defensemen, but should resist doing it again here. The Oilers might feel Russell is a better player currently than those mentioned here, although the reception to Smid’s signing was universally positive at the time, recent history shows they should aim higher for defensive help, or risk having a big cap-hit for a declining player on the books during the team’s important years.

  • DougWeightProblem

    This. Especially this: “recent history shows they should aim higher for defensive help, or risk having a big cap-hit for a declining player on the books during the team’s important years.”

      • DougWeightProblem

        Pursue trades, be patient in free agency, develop. It means don’t get desperate and accept an “easy” solution or go for the “name”. Free agents rarely work out.

        • jultz=2cups?

          Pursue trades–who you trading off the roster for a dman better than rusty? Be patient and develop– basically saying take a step back because without Reggie, Larsson is pretty much the only dman on the roster with more than actual 2 years NHL experience. Free agents rarely work out– ummmm, Rusty was pretty good last year. Sekaras was a free agent. Lucic was a free agent. Just a few free agents off the top of my head that helped move the oilers from the basement to the 2nd round of the playoffs. I will be extremely shocked if chiarelli doesn’t sign rusty. Team would definitely struggle out of the gate without reg and rusty. I guess oiler fans are longing for the dod and the days of icing an ahl caliber defence.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      exactly. i have always felt that if the Oilers want to fork over big bucks and term for another d-man then it should be someone who’s better than Russell.

  • Bills Bills

    Meh, as long as PC doesn’t attach a big number to it, sign him for 3 or 4. I can’t see him making more than Klefbom or Larsson though. So if the number is 3.5 then get it done for 3 or 3.3 for 4 then do it. The difference between Russell and all those players except for Smid is they were all free agent signings of players that were supposed to come here and replicate what they did somewhere else. We know how he fits in with TMac and their system and it worked.

    • ubermiguel

      Exactly, it all depends on price and term. All the listed players (except Smid) got too much for too long. Smid was a different situation, he got unlucky with injuries, if he was healthy I’d love to have him back as a 5/6 option. I remember many nights he seemed like the only guy on the Oilers that gave a damn.

      • Marshall Law

        Signing players based on the “give a damn” factor as opposed to actual effectiveness is exactly how you wind up stuck with players like Ference and Smid on long term contracts. Both cared a lot but were not at all able to play D at the NHL level as those deals progressed.

        • ubermiguel

          Didn’t think I’d have to mention but Smid could still play at an NHL level, and he gave a damn; that’s a nice combination. Problem was he was playing too many minutes a night due to management incompetence and got injured. Ference was 34 when he signed, Smid was 27. Smid’s decline was due to injury, Ference’s was due to age. Big differences.

  • Frooples

    I don’t have a strong opinion on Russell, but it’s worth pointing out that there are important differences here between Russell and comparables you list. The big one is that he’s played a year for us, so we know what he does in our system. With the exception of Smid, all the others were coming from another team, so we were taking a risk on them being able to fit with our team. Not only that, but Ference and Fayne were coming from decent teams, so was it entirely their fault they sucked when they came to Edmonton, which was *not* a decent team?

    I think people are right to be worried about a super long-term or expensive Russell signing, so maybe it doesn’t happen. But I don’t think need to worry that he’s going to be a Nikitin.

      • WhoreableGuy

        He’s saying we have seen Russell for a full year and saw what he brought to the table to the Oilers organization in both Regular Season and in the Playoffs. Most of these examples were just bad signings from players that were on other teams maybe aside from the Smid extension.

        Just look at Russell specifically and see what would be fair to keep him without overpaying. Not looking at players like Nikitin and Ference and saying “history shows…”

  • oilerjed

    @Christian

    One thing in common with all of these players except for Russel. Klowe/MacT.
    I wonder how long the list would be of bad signings between these two?
    Maybe for the sake of fair comparison you could add a list of similar Dmen signed by Chia in the last 5 years. I’m assuming that he had better results.

  • camdog

    Signing any UFA d-man to a big contract long term is a bad plan. The Sekera contract looked good when it was signed, but right now it could be the worst on the team. Before the playoffs started I was chatting with a bud and I mentioned that the Oilers defense going into the playoffs would be good until Sekera get’s hurt. It wasn’t a surprise when he went down and it’ll happen again before his stint with the Oilers are over. He’s at that age and size (same as Russell) where d-man start to burn out.

    • Marshall Law

      I get your point (about age and size), but Sekera’s arguably been their best D man since he signed that deal (aside from Klefbom this season), so I’m not sure how he would be considered a bad contract, let alone the worst on the team. He props up every partner he plays with. The injury sucks, but a lot of players get hurt in the playoffs. Look at the laundry list of injuries each team is publicizing after they get eliminated.

    • NoBuBlackOPS

      I don’t get how you view sekeras contract as the worst on the team. He was probably are most reliable Dman outside of klefbom last year. He played well with pretty much everyone he was paired with. If you view sekera as the worst contract on the oilers. I’d like to know what you think of paying someone 3.65mil a year to play in the minors like we did with fayne last year?

  • Oiler Al

    Would you trade Oilers current defense for Penquins defense that is currently in the SC playoff?[sans Letang]
    McLellans oldtime … stay at home… defense is killing this team. Thats why Oilers are always needing high end D-men.

    • Hemmercules

      Making it to the second round in the playoffs (should have been third, stupid refs!) is killing the team?? All NHL teams need high end Dmen, getting them is another story.

    • Derian Hatcher

      IMO Pens defense (as a whole, not speaking individually) cannot find an open man consistently and connot move the puck fast enough. They are challenged to consistenly break up a cycle . I would not trade Pens D for Oilers D. Would you?

      • Hemmercules

        I probably wouldn’t, at least not without Letang in there. The Pens D definitely isn’t their strength. Lots of scoring and great goaltending seems to be getting it done for them. If the Oilers were scoring at the same rate as the Pens or Nashville have this playoffs they might be playing the Pens right now.

        • Oiler Al

          @ Hemmercules and Hatcher…….Thats the point I am trying to make! I wouldnt trade Oilers for Pens D men,
          always focusing on our defense…. The problem is the 7 guys up front. [ EX. Mcdavid and Dri] No heart and no work makes for a poor game.Look at how hard [ on the puck] Pens and the Preds., play the game.
          Oilers do fly bys and stick swinging .Sullivan wont allow that kind of play!

  • Hemmercules

    Chia is well aware of the upcoming cap situations they have to deal with and their defensive depth. I think Russel will be back but it will be 3 years max and not a lot more than he made last year. I think the Oilers need him but they aren’t in a position to give him the moon. Obviously if a better option comes a long you jump on it, right now I dont see a ton of better options unless a trade unfolds.

    We’re talking Chiarelli here too, not Mact/Lowe/Tambellini.

    Nikitin 4.5 mil after getting scratched in the playoffs!? WTF were they thinking?? 34 year old Ference on a 4 year deal. Gross.

    Russel fan or not, I feel he’s better than that list of bums. With Sekera out and Reinhart likely gone I think they have to get something done with Russel.

    • NoBuBlackOPS

      I’m not a big Russell fan but with sekara hurt for potentially half the season he makes sense. But only sign him after we know what happens in the expansion draft if reinhart is still an oiler after expansion. It makes Russell less of a priority. Ideally Russell signs for 2 years 3mil per year. If we loose reinhart in expansion sign Russell for at most 3 years but no more than 3-3.5mil per year. That being said 3.5 per year for Russell feels like an over pay but I could live with it knowing we got some promising young D in the pipeline.When his 3 years are up I expect Bear Jones or Paigin to be ready for NHL duty.

      • Hemmercules

        Russel could probably get at least 3.5/year for 3 years on the open market this summer so I don’t see Chia getting him for less than that. I think his value has risen enough that he can snag a 3 year deal out of somebody anyway even for a little less cash. Also, at 30 years old I can’t see Russel looking at signing any short term contracts like one or two years unless he has to. That all being said, he was a last minute signing last summer so I don’t know if a ton of teams are high on him. No sure what the UFA crop for DMen is this summer?

  • Derian Hatcher

    Interesting discussion…A few years ago I was sitting with a friend who was scout watching a midget tryout evaluation and he asked my what I thought of a particular player. I watched him in drills and scrimmages and told the scout that I thought he was a decent player, his feet were a bit slow, and he had trouble handling the puck at times. My friend then asked me to watch him again and write down every good or postive thing this player did or INTENDED to do (ie, tried to make the right play but it wasn’t executed properly). My list of positive things was longer than I thought is would be. My friend said that it’s human nature to see the warts in things…my second list gave me a new perspective. Russel does a lot of good things.

  • Rusty

    I trust PC. Whatever he does typically pans out. If he resigns him, fine. I ll reserve judgement until the season starts. My thoughts are though if you resign russell , its to allow younger players with pedigree (nurse, benning) time to develop and eventually surpass him. With that in mind giving russell money and term, to eventually have him on your third pair is not ideal. i see a 2 year deal for Russell and i wouldn’t want anything higher than what he currently makes. He played fine last year but not so well he deserves a raise over his current salary. And he definitely doesn’t deserve more than klef or larsson. He earned his money. Nothing more.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    So this article says what… that Russel shouldn’t be signed by Chiarelli because in the past MacTavish and KLowe have made horrible decisions on signing defensemen?…

    What the hell does the one have to do with the other?

    Keep the contract modest, short-term and simple and resigning Russel won’t hurt the Oilers. He helped the team last year and would again this year. Stats nerds be damned…

  • TKB2677

    I am curious. Did Russell do something to all his haters as some point? Maybe beat up some of the haters as a kid, steal a girlfriend, cut in line in front of a hater too much, be the guy who takes that last beer at the party before they got one? I don’t think I have seen a player before be so polarizing. Is he a perfect dman? Far from it. Does he have his good things he does and the bad things he does? Absolutely. On one side you have the hockey people. I am talking the current and former players, GM’s, scouts. That all say good things about Russell. They talk about him as a guy in the room, they talk about all the good things he does on the ice, what he can bring to the team on and off the ice. They recognize he isn’t perfect but they know that put in a certain role and asked to do certain things, he brings value to the team and he can help you win.

    Then on the opposite side are what I call the non hockey people. The people who follow hockey, who maybe do stats, who think they know more than the average fan (which is debatable). But these people have nothing but negative to say about him and all they use is stats. They make sure to only emphasis the bad stats and down play any good ones. They are quick to discredit anyone or anything that makes him look valuable. Stats CAN be manipulated just so people know and based on how many people do them and how not one person seems to spit out the exact same number when measuring the same thing. You even see stats people fight about the right way to do them, they argue about what stats are actually important and what aren’t. So there doesn’t seem to be a consensus. I am not saying all their stats are wrong but why is it that the majority of these people that do these stats have never played the game at an overly high level as in pros, they have never coached, they have never been involved in management and aren’t even employed by team to do them? It seems to me that everyone who makes big money to do hockey professionally are on one side and all the other stat people who crush this guy and do these articles and stats on the side are on the other side?

    I am not a Russell hater or lover. I see him as a serviceable NHL dman who is a 4-5 dman on a lot of teams. He has his good things he does and his bad things, just like many, many NHL players. He was brought in to help bring some depth to the Oilers defense. He came in and did a pretty decent job and gave the Oilers solid minutes. Again, he had his good moments and bad moments, just like many, many NHL players but overall, he did a decent job of the Oilers and helped them. I look at the Oilers defense before this past season. It was a tire fire. They were lucky to dress 3 NHL caliber dmen on any given night. They lost and lost and lost because of it. Then I see the Oilers defense this season. Every night, they dressed 6 NHL dmen. The defense wasn’t a championship caliber defense but it was good enough to get than to 103 pts. When an injury happened, they were able to put in a guy that could actually play at the NHL level rather than be forced to play an AHLer and pray he can survive. I look at all the really good teams and they have a good top 6 defense core but they seem to have 2 or 3 other guys who when someone goes down, they just slide them in and keep going.

    So I don’t understand the hate for a Russell. Do I want to the Oilers to sign him to a long term, big money contract? Hell no. He came off a 1 yr, 3.1 mill deal and given what he brought to the Oilers, I have a hard time believing anyone who says it wasn’t a good signing. I know Chia has said he wants to sign him. I don’t blame him. But I also don’t think he is stupid. I don’t see him being willing to give Russell a long term deal. I don’t see him being willing to give him any more than what Klefbom or Larsson make. So if Russell is willing to sign a 2 at the most 3 yr deal at something in the 3’s. I don’t see what is the harm in that. Heaven forbid you have actual NHL depth which allows young dmen to actually DEVELOPED in the minors like they need too rather than rush them. Or have young dmen like a Nurse or Benning come along slowly at the NHL level rather than ram them into prime time then be shocked when they don’t dominate.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Anything more than a 2 year deal around 3.5 per, would be an overpayment. Trade for a 2nd pair dman might be the way to go, or hope like hell Nurse and Benning up their game.

    • NoBuBlackOPS

      So you want us to give up assets for a player that we can’t protect in expansion under the 7-3-1 than loose that player to LV in the expansion draft. Cause we have to protect sekara in expansion cause of his no move clause the other two would be klefbom and Larson under the 7-3-1. Or do we go the 8 skaters route after making the trade with MIN and protect the same 3 on D plus the guy we trade for. And than what 4 forward do we protect drai nudge ebs and maroon or lucic and than loose one of the valuable forwards we could protect under the 7-3-1. Seems like a complete waste of assets making a trade before expansion to have to go the 8-1 route only to loose a more valuable forward that we could protect.

  • D'oh-ilers

    All I care about is wins. Whoever helps the team win the most that is available at the best price point is the guy I want in the line-up. If that turns out to be Russell, so be it.

    • TKB2677

      I 100% agree. For years we all complained about the defense, they finally ice a somewhat competitive NHL defense and people want to shred the guys on it. If the Oilers can find a better, cheaper Russell, then by all means go get him. Good luck in finding him but if they exist, hell yeah bring him in. If not, get the best guys you can get. The last thing I want is to roll the dice on some AHLer and hope and pray they survive when injuries happen. The Oilers tried that for years. It didn’t work.

  • madjam

    Chia wants him back , and I doubt he will get less on the open market than the 3.1M he made last year after a good season here . He’ll probably get a 10% increase and be in neighbourhood of 3.4-3.5 M/year for up to a 3 year contract .

  • MotoDave118

    Trade Ebs to NYI for Hamonic and give vegas our 1st (22nd) pick for them to take Pouliot and either a second or a third coming back our way. This would free up a lot of cap room to go out and sign a stop gap winger until JP is ready to take the 1st line role or another option can be found. We would still have the option of using Drai on the top line again and Nuge as our 2C. This could also be worked with Trouba from the Jets or (long shot) Faulk out of Carolina.

    • Hemmercules

      Tough call. Is Hamonic really that great? His last two season haven’t been outstanding by any means but I guess Eberles haven’t been either. Wish Hamonic was a little more offensive but I can’t say I have watched his overall game, it seems he wasn’t very good this past season in any area (injured, low points, brutal plus/minus). Maybe a change of scenery would be good for both guys and the Oil could shed a couple mil. Losing Eberle relies so much on replacing that 50-60 points though and free agency is a fools game most of the time. Need to find another trade to bring in a RW.

      I think I would push harder for Vegas to take a bit later of a pick to take Poo and keep the 22nd. I can’t remember if the Oil even have 2nd or 3rd rounders this summer?? Or just keep the picks and take their chances on who Vegas plucks. If they already have Hamonic then not as worried about losing Reinhart.

      • MotoDave118

        Hamonic has a value cap at just under 4, has term left, can play top 4 minutes and special teams. As far as the booster for Vegas to take Pouliot we could offer next year’s second because we don’t have a 2nd this year. If we give up our first this year maybe we take back a second from Vegas for next year’s draft.

  • Bagged Almond Milk

    This is the Season for a Cup run in E Town! The next 4 years, Chia must do as he sees fit, to bring a Cup to the People of Rogers place. He’s in a good spot now….. In Chia Pete we trust.

  • the reasonable person

    I’m getting real sick of these sort of articles. Sekera’s out half the year. If we don’t sign Russell, we’re out 2 of our top 4 on D. Is everyone okay with another 2015-16? What’s the alternative to NOT signing Russell, enlighten me… And signing Russell would be comparable to signing Nikita or Ference? Wha?

  • RJ

    This article reminds me of Sesame Street: one of these things is not like the other.

    Watch how well Nashville’s defence move the puck from their zone. Controlled zone exits is a critical part of the way the game is played now.

    It’s this kind of stat that separates Russell from the others mentioned above. Fayne used to treat the puck like a live grenade. Russell knows how to move the puck.

    The issue is determining the market value of a Russell. Doesn’t put up a ton of points, able defensively, can skate and move the puck. Let’s call it $Xm. Is there anyone on the trade or free agent market that can provide similar qualities for less than >$Xm? If there is, and the Oilers can sign him, then ditch Russell. If there isn’t, sign Russell up short-term.

  • Poloismz

    Wow. Comparing Kris Russell to Smid? you just lost any hope of convincing anyone that you know the NHL and it’s players. Obviously PC is not going to sign him unless the money makes sense for both parties, so thats it, that is the whole point of whether or not he comes back. Anything else is just moot at this point.

  • Russell is fine at three years if the AAV is under $4M. He just turned 30 May 2. Somebody will moan about it, of course, because moaners gonna moan.
    — Russell will be a year younger at the end of the three-year deal than Ference was at the start of his contract. Ference would have been fine as a useful second-pairing guy from age 30-33 as well, but he was used up by the time the Oilers signed him.
    — Nikitin thanked the Oilers for his deal by showing up out of shape. Gross overpay brought on by former CBJ GM Scott Howson pitching him. Any indication Russell comes in anything but top shape? No.
    — “Injuries played a factor but . . .” A factor? Laddy Smid was never the same after that neck injury. It’s not an aside. It’s the reason he declined.

    What happened with Ference, Nikitin and Smid sheds no light, none, on Russell’s situation. Likewise, choosing to pick out three or four examples of signings that worked out well wouldn’t make signing Russell a good idea. Each case must be taken on its own merits.

  • OilCan2

    He signed late in the summer last year. If a better player is available in the summer jump on it. Let’s sit tight until August.

    We may have Reinhart moving up and Nurse & Benning both look legit to improve.

    I also like the angle of grabbing an unprotectable (from Vegas) D from someone for a bit of larceny.

    • the reasonable person

      How does getting an unprotectable D from another team help us though? Then we would have the same problem. If I’m missing some way we could actually pull this off successfully please let me know, maybe I don’t fully understand how the expansion draft works.