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.

GDB 54.0: Playoff Race (7:30pm MT, SNW)
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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?

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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?

  • 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.

    • wiseguy

      We’ve already tried the route of inexperienced, first time GM, who thought he knew better than “conventional wisdom” and took his team to the bottom of the standings and no playoffs. Wasn’t very much fun so no thanks to Chayka…

  • 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.

  • Jay (not J)

    Front loaded deal with a limited nmc in the last 2 seasons doesn’t really sound like something that’s going to be impossible to move on from if need be. If he can keep his level of play anywhere near where it was last season I can’t see why they would want to move on though. Good defenceman. Good thing he’s locked in for a while.

  • CBK

    I am a Kris Russell supporter but there is no way around this contract looking ugly in 2 years, especially if the Oilers can’t trade him before his NTC kicks in.

    This is the result of Russell being lucky to be a free agent in a weak free-agent pool. There aren’t any real top 4 D-men available that jump out at you and with the loss of Sekera for the unknown, Russell had leverage.

    All we can do now is hope that he is effective throughout his term.

  • Shredder

    Better than Schultz…for the same money roughly. Still, if it was $3.5 instead of $4 I would have been much happier…here’s hoping we’ve got the depth back there. Looks like Fayne is a bigger deal than we thought.

  • Hemmercules

    I like Russell. I hate this contract. What else is there to say. Chia is a bit desperate but he went too far on this one. Russel became an instant goat for a lot of fans I’m thinking.

  • 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.

      • 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

      • 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.

  • Tombstone

    The Oilers are going to start the year with
    I don’t know about that.
    Is there still a trade RNH for Faulk or Barrie. COL trades Duchene to NYI and then Barrie for RNH

    • I believe that the Oilers will bring in a RD in the coming days or possibly weeks. A lot of teams are looking for scoring up front right now. And a lot of reshuffling. The only trade-worthy forward the Oilers have is RNH. McDavid, Draisaitl, and Strome can all play center. So can Letestu and Desharnais (if re-signed). I hate to say it, because I like RNH, but filling the right-shot defenseman position is more vital than keeping him. It would put the Oilers over the top and make them a true contender. If they throw in a good draft pick, who knows who they might land?

      • Tombstone

        Let’s see. Next year Benning, Nurse, Drake, Maroon will need new contracts. After that Talbot, Strome and probably JP. If Oilers sign Foo and he does well then there’s that.

    • Klefbom – Larsson
      Russel – (insert RD acquisition here)
      Nurse – Benning/Gryba

      If they can trade for a solid top 4 d-man that can play the PP… the Oilers will be in much better shape than last year. I think that most of us would prefer that RNH stays. But they have to give up something valuable to get what they need. I doubt that they want to part with Puljujarvi, especially since he is still on ELC. So please tell me who else they can give up?

    • Big Nuggets

      I know a lot of you feel that Nuge should be moved for defense because he doesnt score anymore but i really dont think thats the way Tmac or Chia see things. Center depth is obviously important and I think Tmac trusts Nuge. and Chia obviously doesnt care about your opinions after that Russel signing. if you want RNH traded I expect you will be disappointed.

  • 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.

  • GK1980

    Well, I don’t mind this deal. The last 2 years the guys contract is traceable if things don’t work out. First two years are a risk for sure.

    Watching this guy play though he blocks the most shots in the league for a reason. I believe it’s because he is always a step behind and doesn’t close gaps well enough. He is a reactive defencemen not a pro-active guy.

    But overall I don’t mind him as a player, he should be better then fayne.

  • Oiler Al

    Makes sense…… Russell gets paid same as Josi, Muzzin, Fowler,Carlson and more than Ekholm and Hamonic.
    Charelli is not deal maker! Ant fool can give the stuff away.PS.This should make McMellan happy, another stay at home pylon.

  • Jordan88

    Bring Ethan Bear up, I bet that kid plays well in a sheltered role as PP specialist we don’t need that big name FA dman fish everyone wants. If Pittsburgh can win with out an Elite level D-man than we can as well.

    4×4 is a great deal. we have only 19.5 million in our d-core thats MUCH better than most teams.

    Russell was a big reason we made it to the post season, some of his shot blocks won us games.

  • 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.

  • Randaman

    I find it hilarious that 90% of posters on this site seem to think they know more about hockey than an experienced GM. I do not count Tambi or MacT as experienced either.

  • oilerjed

    I will hold off my judgement until I see what sort of terms and dollars other UFA dmen get this summer.

    On first blush, it is a modest raise for a player that played some key minutes for the Oil last year. To be honest any upgrades coming were going to be in the form of Nurse and Benning anyway so I was really holding out much hope for a massive upgrade.
    The Oilers problems this year were not with the defense corp but with the scoring from our 2nd & 3rd lines. If even one of those was consistent we might have been in the western conference final with a good shot at playing for the cup.

    • madjam

      The Oilers GF (goals for) were 243 last year as compared to 199 the previous year . GA (goals against) were 242 as compared to this years 207 . Both offence and defence was far better last season than the year before . Big increase in offence likely due to Connor and Leon , while defence turnaround due in large part to Russell and Larsson .

      • oilerjed

        So you are saying that you agree with me? That the defense wasn’t the problem right?
        The offensive uptick came from Connor, Leon and the D Corp. Who quietly scored more points for the Oil than most in the past 10 years

        PS: the original comment should have read ” I wasn’t holding out any hope for a massive upgrade”

  • Joy S. Lee

    As stated, Russell brings “intangibles that Peter Chiarelli obviously values.” In other words, he’s a veteran team player with character. The other part, “It’s also been reported that Russell’s teammates adore him…” So, he’s a glue guy that bonds a team together. Looked to me like the Oilers bonded extremely well last season, as compared to the last ten.

    The Oilers have four young, developing defenseman that will likely be their core for years to come in Larsson, Klefbom, Nurse and Benning. All are NHL’ers as of this past season, but still learning on the job. It makes a lot of sense to have the qualities inherent in Russell – mentioned above – to spur that same type of development among the four young blueliners… doesn’t it? It does.

    The numbers the analytics guys produce doesn’t mean much when the team lines up for the anthems prior to the next game. The camaraderie and faith and belief in the TEAM before they skate out matters more. With Sekera on the IR for a while, Russell stabilizes things, and brings the versatility to play either side of the ice well. Chill out, analytic folks. Stability on a young up and coming team seems like a smart move to me.

    • Rock11

      You understand the “the numbers” you quote are just things that actually happened in the game right. I mean they aren’t running simulations based on height and weight. All “the numbers” are is people actually counting things that happened DURING THE GAME. Corsi is no more advanced than goals or assists or saves. Somebody just literally counted all of the shots. It aint rocket science.

  • oilerjed

    For every person on here screaming that the contract length is too long, ask yourself how many established 30 year old dmen are going to take a one or two year contract? The only ones taking shortterm contracts are those vying to remain in the NHL, NOT those who will have multiple teams lining up next week to sign them.

    • CMG30

      Why do we want a 30 year old D man? If we must have one, lets wait till we see what the market is like in free agency. Not like we’re looking for top pair here.

      • oilerjed

        What is wrong with a 30 year old dman?? And when we wait til July 1st and we end up over paying for a dman for 4 years and no chance of getting some concessions on term etc. Who will also have to come in and get accustomed to a new city and system, are we better off? I doubt it

        • Rock11

          we just overpaid for a dman for 4 years. Why wouldn’t PC have waited to see what the market would bear. I mean if KR was signed during training camp last year for one year who is to say you couldn’t find that type of bargain again. At this point PC was negotiating against himself and he still lost.

  • 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.

  • The Whispererer

    I wonder if there’s a rule about the maximum number of times you’re allowed to re-spend the same $ on different players ?
    e.g. When Fayne’s salary is off the books it will pay for Russell’s contract. When Fayne’s contract is off the books it will help pay for Draisaitl’s raise. When Fayne’s contract is off the books it will help pay for McDavid’s raise. What’s next ? When Fayne’s contract is off the books it will pay for the RFA raises for Nurse Benning Strome Slepyshev Caggiula with enough left over to re-sign Maroon and Letestu as UFA ?

    • nuge2drai

      Forwards David Desharnais, Matt Hendricks and Tyler Pitlick as well as defencemen Eric Gryba and Andrew Ference will also be unrestricted free agents on July 1 if not signed to contracts.

  • Hockey123

    If they didn’t trade their #16 and #33 for Reinhart they would have Brandon Carlo at #33.
    NIKLAS HJALMARSSON makes 100,000 dollars more than Russell each year.

    Chia fail.

  • Hockey123

    They can’t go after Harmonic because they are low on prospects they need their picks. They need a 2nd wave of players to come because of the CAP
    Reinhart deal a gift that keeps on giving.