Photo Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Oilers sign Kris Russell to a four-year contract

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.

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So why now? Jonathan Willis likely had the answer in his season review of Russell from back in May:

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.

Edmonton Oilers acquire Andreas Athanasiou from Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Sam Gagner, picks
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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.

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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?

GDB Game Notes: Wild @ Oilers

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?

  • vetinari

    What the hell is wrong with you people b!tching about Chiarelli??? I watched 10 years of stupidity and in just over two seasons on the job, Chiarelli has transformed this franchise into an actual, tough-as-nails, playoff team and potential contender. Screw Taylor Hall. And while I am at it: screw Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov. If bringing in and paying guys like Kassian, Russell, Larsson and Strome means playoff hockey, do it. People are complaining like the money is coming out of their own pocket. The Russell deal covers us for the next few years while other players come up through the ranks and with it front loaded, the guy can be traded, buried or bought out– just like any other player.

    • Derian Hatcher

      Excellent post. What is wrong with these people is a lot of them think they are smarter than an NHL GM because they played Midget AA hockey with (insert well-known player here), clearly could have made the show if not for (insert excuse here)

      Clearly, Chiarelli has proven he knows what he is doing. If you know more, send in your extensive hockey resume and when you are hired, make better decisions than Chiarelli does. That is all.

    • Big Nuggets

      Do you guys really give Chiarrelli the credit for turning this team around? McD and Drai had nothing to do with Chia, same goes for Klef. In my opinion Talbot was our MVP, Chia made that deal although there is a lot of speculation that some of the old guys were involved in setting that trade up. Chiarrelli deserves credit for finally bringing in some size and sorting out the defense. But he had the luxury of being able to trade an elite forward for a defensemen without sinking the offense. I doubt Chiarelli would have come to Edmonton if he wasnt walking in to a good situation already. I dont want to take away from the good moves he has made but this narrative that Chiarelli came along and saved the franchise, Im not buying it.

  • bazmagoo

    We know what we have in Sekera, Russell, and Gryba : but Klefbom, Larsson, Nurse, and Benning all still haven’t reached their potential. Our defence will be better next year.

  • Shameless Plugger

    Hall for Larson was a bad deal. Singing Lucic was bad deal(at the end of the contract) signing Russell is bad deal. Yet somehow the Oilers improved by 33 pts. and almost made the conference finals. I’ll trust the hockey people when it comes to hockey decisions. This isn’t Lowe and Mac-T running the show anymore.

    • Rock11

      So sick of that childish logic. 33 points is almost exclusively the result of healthy years from 97, 93, Oscar, and improved play and consistency from Talbot. I’d be willing to bet that if the Oilers had done nothing last summer but signed a guy like Demers that the point total would have increased by nearly the same amount. Lets not forget what an extra 40 games from Mcdavid can do for a team.

      • Danglishish

        Childish logic? Stating facts = childish logic?

        Meanwhile you’re response is “I just know that things would have been even better if we didn’t do the things that we did before we turned into a good team. I JUST KNOW IT!!!”

        Have a look in the mirror junior.

        • Rock11

          ignoring McDavid’s health in the improvement of the team just to try and make a point is absolutely childish. It is like a 4 year old who thinks pulling his dad’s finger is actually causing him to fart. Yes one happened before the other but it does not mean one caused the other.

  • nuge2drai

    Russel contract is front loaded.

    He gets 11 of the 16 million in the first two seasons. He will be a 4 mil cap hit buy only take 2.5 mil in salary his final two seasons.

    That will make him tradeable if need be in a couple seasons.

    Russell makes the team harder to play against. He is reliable and has much more offensive upside than we witness last year

    Living in Calgary I watched him for 3 seasons here… I envied the flames for having a heart and soul player like Russel. Reminded me of days when I watched Jason Smith patrol the copper n blue.

    Great signing. Our playoff calibre defense is solidified for the next five years. Cost effective and we still have about 21 mil in cap space(before bonuses). Masterful job by Chia.

    • CMG30

      4m/y cap hit even if his actual $$$ declines. Make him tough to move even before factoring in whatever form of NMC. For a player who’s 30+ and his best years behind him… really? All these people who think Russell makes this team hard to play against, give your head a shake. Russell in no way makes the team harder to play against. When he’s on the ice, his side is where opponents always try to attack since they already know he’s the weak link. Not to mention we just went through an expansion draft and with Seattle and possibly Quebec pushing hard for a team, there’s a very real chance that in a few years we may be forced to waste a protection slot on this guy due to his NMC.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    I like this deal generally… My worry is that it will be one year too long and the NMC makes me kindof twitch. But I’m happy Russel is sticking around.

    Chiarelli didn’t use all the cap space freed up by Eberle’s move… he used $900K of it here. By my count that still leaves $2.6M to play with. Those arguing that Russell should have been signed for the same amount as last year have their head in the sand I guess.

    I’m willing to trust the players and coach’s opinion about what Russel brings to the ice over the whining of the stars community.

  • ColoradOIL

    I know i’m going to take alot of flak for this, but what i saw from him last season was an eye opener. I went from barely knowing of him to becoming one of his biggest fans. The way he blocks shots with perfect timing is greatly needed on any roster. He is tough and gritty which seems to be missing in today’s hockey. I like the deal but only time will prove that I am correct or a complete tard. One final thought, I am certain Cam loves to have a defenseman like Russel in front of him.

  • Rock11

    Generally I’ve been a fan of Chiarelli but when he gets fired, and he will get fired, this will be the lead item in that press release. You simply can’t tie up that kind of money over that long of term in a cap world on a mediocre(at best) player. He fully admitted at his season ending presser that the D corps wasnt good enough to win and no appears not only intent on bringing back the same group but giving them all healthy raises. Lunacy.

    • Danglishish

      Chiarelli takes Oilers from laughing stock to 2nd most likely to win the Stanley Cup (according to Vegas) in 2 years work. He gets us a franchise goalie in the top 10 in the league, Sekera, Maroon, Benning, Kassian, Caggiula, (maybe) Foo, and oversees our best draft in a decade.

      But he signed Russell, so he’ll be fired.

      Sounds rational. Carry on.

      • Keepyourstickontheice

        Vegas odds are mainly determined on where the money flows. Just because Vegas set the odds low doesn’t mean we have a yellow brick road to the SCF.

        • Danglishish

          Exactly. It means that those who are in the business of betting on winners chose the Oilers as 2nd most likely. Not homer fans. Not local media. The guys that are actually risking skin are betting on the Oilers.

          My point is that the NOBODY bet on the Oilers until the last 2 years. Chia has made a number of moves to make that happen. Saying he’ll be fired for one move that only a certain segment of the fan base hates is laughable.

          • crabman

            Of coarse he won’t get fired for one move. I chimed in because every gm does get fired. He wull get fired and odds are it will be in the next 5 years. Nature of the business. This obe deal might not matter in the whole scheme of things. But if giving aging players with diminishing skills longterm contracts becomes a trend ( see Lucic). It will be a problem going forward. I do like thecway it is structured to make it easier to trade to a “real” money budget team but the modified nmc could complicate things. I jyst hooe we don’t lose another dman in the future bevause of this signing.

      • btrain

        My biggest concern with Chia is that he comes out looking like the desperate party in many of his dealings, Russell being the latest. I hope it won’t but his luck may run out here soon if he keeps taking these risks. Even he couldnt have predicted Talbot, an obvious target, to fill in the #1 role so well. He also couldn’t have predicted that all of Maroon, Larsson, Kassian, Benning, Gryba as a 7 and even Russell would all work out as well as they have. So does he deserve credit, of course, is there reason for some concern that he has been a bit fortunate so far, absolutely.

      • Clayton

        Yes…that is all on Chiarelli. Didn’t have anything to do with winning a draft lottery and getting a generational player like Connor. Take Connor off this team and they are not likely a playoff team.

        • Not a First Tier Fan

          That’s like saying that if you take an engine out of a car it won’t drive anywhere. No duh. The car is built around the engine just as Chiarelli is building the team around Connor. If McDavid wasn’t there Chiarelli would be building a completely different team.

      • crabman

        @ Danglishish, every GM gets fired. Brought a cup to Boston and had some other good years. Still got fired. Reasons were a combo of overpaying vets putting the team in cap hell, and ai’m sure badly losing the Seguin deal didn’t help his situation. Not saying this signing will be looked.on like that but if we lose a good young dman because no cap room and more signings like this cap strap the team in the next few years this could be looked at as the beginning of his end.

  • Keepyourstickontheice

    BOOOOOOO. I hate the cap hit, contract length and I despise that we gave out another No trade clause. I’m getting Andrew Ference flashbacks.

      • therealjchrist

        I don’t understand this view. Unless he completely regresses to useless like Ference did then he’s a tradable asset after 2 years rather than a UFA that we walk away from for nothing.

        • camdog

          When he has the drop off and it is coming, he will be Andrew Ference bad. Same type of player, same size and coming into the same age bracket. He’s still a bit younger than Ference, was so the Oilers might be alright. But when he looses that step he won’t be able to get back into the play and he won’t be an NHL player.

          • oilerjed

            How can you be so sure that Rusell’s play will fall off so dramatically? Nothing points to that and a 34 year old d man making 2.5 may be an extremely valuable contract on the 3rd pairing

          • camdog

            Russell isn’t good enough to sustain a loss in foot speed. He’s a smaller guy that gives it his all. There will be a drop, just don’t know when it will be. Last season I was adamant that Hendricks was a horrible idea for captain, because I knew he was about to lose step, which he did. He was 35 when it happened. Russell might make it through the life of the contract before he drops off, but I don’t believe he will.

    • tkfisher

      You’re not alone there. It’s obvious the team would prefer a one or two year, and Russell was going for a four or five year. I would have loved a two year, could have stomached a three, but four makes me cringe. Fayne and Ference flashbacks. I like Russell as a player but the last two years could cost us big time when it counts… unless of course he comes down a skin condition when the time comes.

  • bazmagoo

    It wasn’t our defence that lost the Anaheim series, it was the lack of offence at critical moments (cough*eberle*cough)

    For those hating on this contract you are entitled to your opinion by I will say this. Russell is the type of player you need in the playoffs. When a player has copious amounts of adrenaline running through his veins in a game seven and sees Kris throwing his body on the line EVERY shift, that is extremely motivating. You don’t win cups without guys like Russell on your team, in my opinion. Plus this allows Nurse and Benning to continue their development curve without any added pressure. Maybe a bit of an overpay, but sure beats seeing him in Calgary red next season!

  • toprightcorner

    Looking at it logically:

    Oilers were kinda stuck because of Sekera’s injury. They needed a 2nd pair RD that can handle tough minutes and there was not really any UFA options. Chairelli likely felt a trade was unlikely and with the pressure to follow up last years successful season signing the guy you know and trust is the best option.

    I would bet that Russel probably could have gotten more money on the market since the defensemen available were very few.

    At least the 4th year is only a $2.5 mill actual dollars, making the contract much easier to trade to a bottom feeder.

    The Oilers have a high quality top 4 with a cap hit of under $18 mill. That is unheard of and really helps them with flexibility up front.

    I am fine with the $4 mill cap hit but would have preferred 3 years. The 4th year is tradeable because of actual dollars.

    Russel is the type of dman you want in the playoffs.

    If Sekera wasn’t hurt, Chairelli would have had more options to bring someone else in to take that spot but with basically having no second pairing to start the season, this decision was familiar and safe.

    I also think they spoke to Talbot and he probably feels confident with Russel in front of him blocking shots.

    If Talbot liked him and wanted him back, thats good enough for me and should be good enough for everyone.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      You hit the nail on the head. Chances are, Russell would have gotten an even-bigger deal out on the open market on July 1.

      The “hometown discount,” was the front-loading and the limited no-movement clause. I doubt if those would have been on the table on July 1 and I bet the term would have been a bit longer (five years?).

      Plus, yeah, he’s a movable guy. Plenty of GMs will trade for character defencemen who block shots. But if he plays well, why trade him? In a year or two, he might well have an “A” on his jersey.

      • crabman

        Every gm passed on him last year snd he made almost $1M less and with only a 1 year commitment. He is the same player this year except a year older, costs more with a longterm contract. We may find someone to take him if this doesn’t work out but it isn’t like gms will be lining up. Look at both Pouliot and Fayne. Both NHL calibre players when signed to longterm contracts. Both non tradeable wastes of cap room now.

        • Big Nuggets

          well the main difference between Russel and Faine/Pouliot is that Russel is coming off the most impressive stretch of hockey of his career. His stock might drop like a rock if his play drops off but right now it looks like it will be a moveable contract, when the time comes.

          • crabman

            @ big nugget, Fayne was sill NJ top line RD and 1 year removed from the cup final. And Pouliot was coming off his best season and a productive playoffs where he went to the cup finals as well.

      • Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89

        Why is front loading a hometown discount?
        (I really don’t know, I’m asking how does it effect a player)
        Is it because of taxation reasons ?

        • Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89

          I obviously know front loading helps when it comes to trading the contract later so teams have less actual dollars paid and all that

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Benning is 62 games into his NHL career and Nurse is 115 games into his. Russell is a good stop gap for them. They should be able to take over Russell’s spot in 2-3 years and then we’ll have solid depth with Russell on the 3rd pair when injuries happen.

    It’s a little more expensive than i was hoping and 1 year longer than i’d like but it’s not the end of the world like some people are suggesting.


    2 years too long IMO. If they were going to sign him for 4 years it should have been a 12 million deal max. This is one the Oil are going to regret in 3 years or sooner when Russell breaks an ankle while blocking a shot. But dear Gord, I hope he proves me wrong.