Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Kris Russell is ready to step up his game

Over at Global, friend of the Nation, Reid Wilkins, posted a conversation with Kris Russell where he spoke about stepping up his game, consistency on defence, and being ready for the challenge that his new contract presents.

It’s no secret that re-signing Kris Russell to a four-year deal was a divisive decision in the Nation. The analytics crew hates him for his possession numbers, and the gritensity squad loves him for his intangibles and willingness to sacrifice his body on the blue line. Which side is right? Both could be right depending on which game we’re watching, but it’s those differences in opinion that seem to set the comments section on fire on a nightly basis.

For Kris Russell, signing a four-year deal is a complete 180 from the summer he had a year ago when he had to wait until early October before signing a one-year deal with the Oilers. With a fresh contract in his pocket, Kris Russell will have to up his game to make sure the juice was worth the squeeze and that fact is not lost on him.

“At this time last year, I was still looking for a contract. I’m excited they showed some trust in me. But with that, my expectations are higher. I want to play better and do more to help this team.”

To put it bluntly, Russell is going to HAVE to do more with Andrej Sekera out for the first couple months of the season. Sekera’s injury means that the Oilers will have a young player paired up with Russell on the second pairing and they’ll have to find a way to make sure that the dingy doesn’t leak while playing tough minutes. That challenge is something that Russell is looking forward to.

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“If you can give back and help out a young guy, it’s rewarding.”

Very admirable of you, sir. What lessons do you plan on teaching them?

“With my size, I’ve had to learn to play positionally. My structure has to be really good. I’ve had to make sure that I’m aware. Little things that I’ve picked up on players over the years, if I can pass on, maybe it’ll help.”

One of the things that Russell also mentioned in the interview was that he was happy to see the same defensive group (for the most part) coming back from last season. To Russell, that consistency will only help as the team looks to progress and continue to improve.

“I think it showed last year. There were some injuries. Some guys went out here and there (but) our pace of play didn’t slow down.”

I agree with that. I don’t believe that it’s a reach to say that having consistency in your defensive group is a good thing. I think that having the same guys around all season, and having Todd McLellan back for year two of his reign of silver foxiness, allowed the defence to play within a system that they are all familiar with. Guys that knew the system were able to help the newbies and it created a consistency that hasn’t been there in a long time. Especially, around these parts.

“Guys stepped in and played big, solid minutes. I think we have a deep defence corps now.”

Deep? I’m still not so sure about that, but I appreciate his enthusiasm. Surely, the defence is better than it was in the Eakins era but that’s not exactly saying much, and I still think that there is room to improve the pieces on the back end. That said, the Oilers’ top six brought them into the second round of the playoffs and they’ve earned the opportunity to prove that it was no accident. Peter Chiarelli clearly believes that they have a group that is capable of getting the job done, and he’s better that they will keep progressing and getting better. Swag Daddy could be right, but there is still work to do before saying mission accomplished.

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“We have to keep better as a defensive unit. All the ingredients are there. We just have to make sure our work ethic and attention to details are better.”

Getting better is what the Oilers are going to need to keep the ship upright early on in the season, and it will be up to veterans like Kris Russell to make sure that it happens. Whether you’re a stats guy or an eyeballs guy, we’re all on the same side in hoping that the Oilers keep marching towards Stanley Cup glory, and Kris Russell is going to be a part of that whether we like it or not. Can he make good on his end of the bargain? We’re only a month and change away from finding out.

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  • The analytics crew hates him for his possession numbers

    I think the word “hate” here is over the top and just contributes to the needless animosity on the Oilogosphere.

    I gave Stauffer crap for saying “hate” when I was on his show last week too.

    The general fancystats take on Russell is that he’s best on the 3rd pair and probably over his head a bit on the 2nd pair, especially if he’s on the right side.

    This is not hate.

    I know Matt Henderson and some others write with a lot of venom, but they are the exception, and not the rule.


      • Marshall Law

        That’s definitely the first thing I look for when I’m building a hockey team. Who cares if he can play the game? All I really need to know is whether or not he can milk a cow.

        • Natejax97

          Knowing that he can milk a cow and ride a bull tells me that he has a lot more grit and toughness than a lot of guys that lace em up. Also tells me he is a respectable guy and a great role model…that’s the stuff I would like to build my hockey tem with…but if youd rather have Evander Kane’s and Chris Simon’s…go at it.

          • puckle-head

            …What?! Bahaha! This is one of the sillier I’ve read on this site.
            1. You want players who can “milk a cow and ride a bull” two activities which have zero overlap outside of involving cattle (I know of several bull-riders who have never milked a cow in their life. Why would they? They’re not dairy farmers).
            2. Kris Russell was never a bull rider. So I’m really not sure why you mentioned bull-riding at all.
            3. I guarantee if you round up a bunch of bull-riders (maybe mix in some dairy farmers for good measure) without bothering to see if any of them can skate first, your team would lose to, like, an okayish beer league team.
            4. I really hope it was just a random coincidence that you chose two non-white players as examples of who you wouldn’t like on your team.

  • Natejax97

    I am not sure what everyone was expecting, but a 7 million dollar PP wizard D-Man does not fit in our cap after this year. We get a tough as nails, shot blocking, reliable #4 defenseman signed for 4 years and negativity spreads like wildfire. I agree that Hamonic (being a righty at 3.6 mill) would have been optimal, but I am a Russell fan and I think the signing was a great one. Show me someone better for the oilers at that price point that any team would be stupid enough to trade to us. Our D core is going to be great starting this year, and depth will develop as early as next year. I would try Benning and Nurse together and pair up Russell and Gryba to start and see if it could work…if not, move a puck mover Benning with Russell, it will be more than fine until Sekera gets back and back up to speed. Go Oil!!!! 6 more long weeks!!!

    • Jagrbaum

      I don’t know that people were expecting a Shattenkirk type, but I was certainly hoping for less than 3 years in term. Not much of an issue with the player, but if we had him on a $4.5m x 2 yr deal I think the displeasure would be far less pronounced.

      I also get that it’s not in the players best interest to sign that deal, for sure, but that’s where a GM has to play hardball.

      • puckle-head

        Yeah, I agree. Not sure chiarelli did his due dilligence here. Was there another team clamouring to giving Russell a multi year deal? Seems doubtful, but I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

    • Rock11

      For many of us it isn’t the player we “hate” but the contract. As Woodguy says Russell can be a useful, good even, 3rd pair LHD. This has value. It doesn’t have $4m over 4 years value. Had Chia been able to get him on a one year deal at $5m I would have been thrilled. The problem with the deal is that we expect to get improvement from Nurse and Benning which is needed to compete for a cup. If that happens then we are locked in to a long term deal with a high(ish) cap hit for our 6th best Dman. This puts the cap crunch on the Oilers and probably forces a Nuge trade while also blocking the ability to improve the D without trading away one of Nurse or Benning. It just strongly restricts the ability of the GM to improve the team at a number of spots and will likely also cause a downgrade at another position next summer.

  • Oilerchild77

    He’s not a perfect player, but he’s the best we have on the second pair for now. He’s no Sekera, but playing on the left side (most likely scenario) should help his possession numbers.

  • Jordan88

    Did the Oilers not have good possesion numbers during Eakins? The answer is yes they did. They also were craptastic.

    I know what I seen on the ice with Russell, I seen a bonafide 3-4 dman that was willing to die on the ice for the team. How can we as fans of this team Champion a player like Gator yet claim Russell can’t play?

    • Marshall Law

      This is objectively false. You clearly subscribe to the Trump philosophy of alternative facts. Their possession numbers were terrible during the Eakins era. Believe it or not, now that they are a good team, their possession numbers are also pretty solid. Funny how that works, no?

      • Cam Lewis

        The worst thing the stats movement ever did was name it Corsi/possession. The thing they’re tracking is shot attempts which is just a proxy for the good ol’ ‘get pucks on net!’ thing that we can all agree is important to winning.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I’m not going to get in to the contract or its length – what’s done is done and Russell is here and on the team this year.

    I am worried about Russell losing his safety net on that 2nd pairing – Sekera. Sekera is a very steady d-man and helped Russell considerably last year.

    What I am extremely hopeful is that the unfortunate injury to Reggie will shift Russell over to the left side. Yes, he “can play” both sides but over his career he is a better d-man on the left side, a better and more efficient puck mover which is an area he greatly struggled in last year.

    I’m very hopeful that Benning can run with the 2RD spot because, if he can’t, Russell likely shifts over to the right side where he simply is less effective.

  • madjam

    Chia and Todd seem pleased with Russell’s work and contribution to club. They are both pretty good at recognizing talent needed to compete at a high level to move club forward . Far better than fans, etc.. I happen to like Russell and what he brings to club , at what I feel is representative of his contract . One major flaw of stats are they represent the past , but often flounder when it comes to accuracy and fluctuations when trying to predict the future . Like going to the horse races – easy to pick out who should win by multiple stats , but most often that horse loses more often than ever wins . Put in perspective , it is only a small guide not an end all be all .

  • OldOilFan

    Kris Russell – I believe he’s got potential to skate the puck and join the attack more than he did last year. He’s said to have good/great wheels. As for putting him on the left side, yes, that move would make him more effective and more comfortable….

  • btrain

    I think Russell was a great signing and I do expect he will be a valuable member of the blue-line moving forward, especially with Sekera out. I also get both sides of the Russell debate. On one hand, as a Canadian born male who grew up playing and watching hockey, a blue-color like work ethic has been drilled into me. So obviously the fact that Russell always appears to be playing hard, engaged in the game, willing to sacrifice himself, and engage in battles even when outsized, makes him stand out positively for me. On the other hand, I have come to realize more and more, that these blue color traits, though have their value, sometimes make it difficult for us to be truly unbiased as we place so much value on them. For example, Russell’s willingness to block shots all game long earns him cred but takes our attention away from the fact that his shortcomings (i.e. gap control) are part of the reason he must block some of those shots in the first place.

    So I guess I agree with the Russell supporters, that he is a valuable member of the team, but I also agree with most of the stats folks, who disregard over valued intangible traits, and make the case that Russell has his warts and should have been paid with this in mind. Glad Chia signed him but it was very generous to hand out a contract extension Russell didn’t even need to think over before signing. Don Vito Chiarelli and his offers that can’t be refused.

  • Mc?

    I believe they knew they had to give him 4 years or lose him to another team. Basically his last big term contract, and someone would have given him the 4×4. I think Chia wanted to only go two years, but knew he wouldnt get him. And any other free agent year for defenseman you could let him walk and get someone else, but this year was weak. Also add in the Sekera injury, you want a dman in the top 4 that knows the system and can mentor the young guys. Also the 4 years are not as bad as everyone thinks, because IF benning and Nurse step up, you can ship him to 10 teams of his choice along with a 3rd rounder.

    • btrain

      All things equal this is not bad logic but the Oilers represent opportunity Russell is unlikely to find on another team willing/able to pay him 4×4. You don’t have to offer him a garbage deal but the expectation needs to be that you give up a little on what you could get elsewhere to play with the best.

  • the reasonable person

    No one seems to have much respect for Chia on almost anything he does, yet he does what needs to be done and is working within a market that none of us really know. Our defence is very thin, good enough but very thin and can’t withstand another injury. Losing Sekera for most of the year already means undoubtedly getting fewer points than we would have otherwise. Why don’t you all consider just how horrible our roster, defence and otherwise, was before we got Connor and realize that Chia is only doing what needs to be done however he must do it. You can be assured that if there was a better way to fill this need it would have been pursued.

    Smarten up the lot of you.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    It hurt the team more than anyone knows when he left Calgary. If anyone can rise up to the challenge of a contract some people don’t think he should have, it’s Kris.

  • OilCan2

    I like the player and the contract. A team first guy with superb motivation will help with Stanley.

    The door is open to move him later so its good paper for the club.

  • russ99a

    I wouldn’t use hate, there’s just some imbalance in their deductions.

    The fancystat crowd undervalues defensive zone play since there are few quantifiable metrics to prove that how a defenseman handles opposition players with and without the puck makes a difference on goals allowed. So they discount something that every hockey player knows exists, defense. Not to mention the use of Fenwick, a flavor of Corsi which discounts blocked shots. Ask Cam Talbot if blocked shots make a difference.

    Conversely, they overvalue “shots for” metrics, which makes little sense to find conclusions on defensemens’ play in their zone, as one players affect on future shots in the opposition zone has less weight than the “puck mover” crowd thinks. The difference between a successful exit/breakout and an unsuccessful one isn’t down to one player, it concerns all 5 skaters, and the opposition has some say as well. Rare is the defenseman who makes a difference behind the blue line that leads to an automatic goal at the other end.

    To make this worse, many Corsi proponents are fans of the rebuild credo of “Oilers hockey”, offense and goalscoring at all costs, which many teams have proven is detrimental to success and the current Oilers management/staff don’t believe in.

    So I really don’t think there’s any hate against Russell, just skewed conclusions based on style of play bias and preferring easy to quantify but hard to prove single player events Corsi for numbers (goals) and discounting harder to quantify but useful defensive metrics like HDSC%.(goals against)