It was announced this morning that the Edmonton Oilers have come to terms with Kris Russell on a new four-year contract worth $16 million dollars.
The contract renewal that may light our comments section on fire just went through as the Oilers have re-signed shot blocking warlord, Kris Russell, to a four-year deal with a limited no-trade clause on the final two years. While analytics folks, fans, and MSM argue about the value Kris Russell brings to the team, the Oilers clearly felt like that they are better with Russell in the mix than without and they paid a premium to retain him. This new deal shows just how wide of a divide there is amongst believers of analytics and the reality of what actually happens in an NHL boardroom and it’s a gap that doesn’t seem to be narrowing.
Whether you’re into stats or not, we can all agree that Kris Russell is the kind of player that will put his body on the line for his team and those are the kind of intangibles that Peter Chiarelli obviously values. It’s also been reported that Russell’s teammates adore him and there is something to be said about having good chemistry in the locker room. Is being a good team guy that’s willing to sacrifice the body worth all of that cake? After being a late signing last October, Russell obviously did enough to make himself indispensable in the eyes of the organization and earned the largest contract of his NHL career as a result.
Now he’s coming off a good season, in a summer where there aren’t a lot of other defensive options in free agency and in which the expansion draft guarantees that some teams will have money to burn and open spots on their blue lines. It’s his last, best chance to make serious cash.
In 2016-17, Kris Russell played 68 regular season games, registering one goal and 12 assists for 13 points. In 13 playoff games, Russell collected four assists to go along with 20+ minutes of ice.
Without getting into a pissing contest about fancy stats and eyeball tests, there are some concerns about this deal that I’m going to try to break down fairly. The first is that it looks like the Oilers defence won’t be changing all that much from last season. The Oilers certainly don’t have the worst defensive core in the NHL but is it Stanley Cup worthy? If the Oilers are to improve, they’re going to need players like Nurse and Benning to make tangible strides forward which is a nice thought on paper but scarier in practice. Now, let’s say Nurse/Benning DOES make a big step (HUZZAH!) then that means Kris Russell will get knocked down to the third pairing when Sekera returns and the Oilers will then have a $4 million guy as a 5/6 which is not ideal in this McDavid world we live in.
Another concern worth mentioning is that Kris Russell plays a flavour of hockey that is extremely tough on the body and is unlikely to be sustainable as he gets older. In his NHL career, Russell has never played a full season and has missed 10 or more games in eight of the 10 seasons he’s played and that’s worrying for a guy with a sizeable contract regardless of who it is. When you add in the fact that Russell also has a limited no-trade clause on the last half of his deal which will limit the Oilers ability to move on if they so choose. Does it really make sense to be giving out NMC to guys that could potentially be passed on the depth chart as early as next year?
At the end of the day, if the Oilers win hockey games then nobody is really going to care about how much Kris Russell gets paid. From an analytics standpoint, the worry comes mostly from the data that shows Russell was being propped up by Andrej Sekera and without him on the roster until at least January it will be interesting to see how Russell fares. Personally, I’ll hope for the best and pray to McDavid that Russell can shake the negative data that has followed him throughout his career. If not, we might be arguing about another Andrew Ference situation in a couple years time.
What say you, Nation?