Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Some Quick Comparables For Russell Post-Thirty

I’ve had a nice quiet summer. I got to do a little travelling around Europe and spent many weekend days cooking large pieces of meat with fire. Everything was wonderful and then my good friend Baggedmilk decides to remind me that Kris Russell is probably going to be the Oilers’ number 3 defender until Christmas with this article here.

I get it. I can’t have nice things. Now, I think it’s well documented exactly what I think about the player, his ability to defend, his impact on offence, and how things stand to play out with Sekera injured. No need to rehash that. All we can do is drink more frequently and white-knuckle our way through the next three or four months/years.

However, one thing that stuck out in my mind from Baggedmilk’s article was the suggestion that Russell wants to play better and do more this season. It strikes me as odd in both that we might expect a player to get remarkably better after the age of 30 and also that NOW is the time it would happen. Why not last year when he was on a 1-year deal trying to prove his worth to the NHL?

Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? I’m not a gipsy, I don’t know the future. Is it reasonable to assume or even hope? Ehhhhh.

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I wanted to look at a list of comparables for Kris Russell based on some relatively generic accomplishments in the NHL. I searched (using Hockey-Reference) for NHL defenders who played their first 10 seasons in the NHL from ages 20 to 30, who played at least 500 games, and who produced between 0.27 and 0.31 points per game. I set the dates to between 1996-1997 to 2016-2017 so I’ve had the last 20 years of hockey to look at and we aren’t comparing eras too far out.

The computer spat out 10 names. Kris Russell was one of them.

  • Kris Russell 2007-2017
  • Marc-Edouard Vlasic 2007-2016
  • Dan Girardi 2006-2015
  • Braydon Coburn 2005-2015
  • Trevor Daley 2003-2014
  • Keith Ballard 2005-2013
  • Dmitri Kalinin 2000-2009
  • Eric Brewer 1999-2009
  • Toni Lydman 2000-2008
  • Danny Markov 1997-2007

A quick perusal of the list, I think, shows a solid mix of talent and impact. There’s certainly a range of effectiveness. I’d place Vlasic at the head of the class and move downwards from there. The question for me, though, was not how do I rate them but what did these players accomplish after 30? Also, how are they similar and how are they different from Russell?

After all, the next four years of the Russell contract take him from 30 to almost his 34th birthday. The post-30 years aren’t always kind to professional athletes, with a few exceptions. Thankfully, sports nutrition and science, on the whole, is helping players maintain their careers better than they did in the past, but time is still the enemy.

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Apr 16, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks right wing Melker Karlsson (68) stumbles trying to get the puck as Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (4) watches in the third period of game three in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center at San Jose. The Oilers won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

So what have we got from this list? Working from the bottom upwards:

Danny Markov played eight more professional seasons after turning 30! Unfortunately, only one such season was in the NHL. He was a Detroit Red Wing in 2006-2007 and appeared in 66 games scoring 4-12-16. After that he spent the majority of his playing days in Moscow. Physically, the 5’11”, 176-pound defender fits the slight build of Russell.

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Toni Lydman played six more seasons after his 30th birthday between the Sabres and the Ducks. He managed to keep his modest offensive contributions going for his early 30’s, but it all fell apart in his final two seasons with Anaheim. From a fancy stats perspective, he had a negative impact relative to teammates with both the Sabres and the Ducks in the last half of his career. His early career pre-dates the fancy stats era so it’s difficult to tell if that was a change or a continuation.

Eric Brewer was a favorite of mine as a young man. I thought he was going to develop into an awesome player, but never really did add that offense to his game. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, he’s not a great fit to Russell physically. Frankly, I wouldn’t say they are very comparable. Still, he did go on to play seven more years in the NHL after he turned 30 years old, but the final two were restricted to just 28 and 18 games. During none of his seasons post-30 did he have a positive impact on possession relative to his teammates.

Dmitri Kalinin played eight more years after he turned 30. Bad News: He was in the KHL at 29. At 6’3” and 206 pounds he’s also not physically similar to Russell. He was really only similar in that they both were brutal by possession metric standards.

Keith Ballard was a little bigger than Russell but he was still under 6 feet and below the 200-pound threshold. Ballard only managed to play another two seasons after turning 30, though his career was cut short after a catastrophic injury left him fighting post-concussion syndrome. The video of the injury is haunting at times. Ballard had poor shot attempt metrics for as far back as the record shows. Post-30 he went from being a 15 minute a night defender to a 13 minute a night defender.

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Trevor Daley is an interesting player as a Russell comparison because they do have a fair amount of similarities. They are both historically poor possession players with many commendations based on their character. Since turning 30, Daley has actually had his best offensive season and his worst possession season and they were the same season. In the four years since he turned 30, he’s only played 70 or more games just one time. However, he’s still averaging 20 minutes per night for the Penguins when he does play. With Back-to-back- Stanley Cups to his name, it goes to show teams can still find ways to win with flawed defenses (if you have generational talent on your side).

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Braydon Coburn was a defender Oiler fans coveted for quite a while to be that shutdown option. He’s significantly larger than Russell at 6’5” and 225 pounds and not a great comparable. While it’s true that his relative metrics have gone down since joining the Lightning and turning 30, Coburn also starts a significant portion of his shifts in the defensive zone. One thing to note in the negative, he went from a 20 minute a night mainstay to 16:45 a night after that 30th birthday.

Dan Girardi is a name that gives fancy stats observers fevers. He has been a brutal possession player for a very long time and is in that regard even worse than Russell. In his mid-20’s he was playing well over 20 minutes a night, but he’s been in steep decline since turning 30. He is bigger and taller than Russell but in many other respects he’s a good fit as a comparable. Last year he was just 32 years old but even still was just a shadow of himself. It’s difficult to see him salvaging his reputation, but the Lightning have given him a chance.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the best defender on this list by a mile, in my opinion. He’s a medium sized blueliner with a focus on shutting down the top players on the other team. He probably should have gotten more Norris votes in his lifetime, but his lack of offense is going to hold him back in that regard. He just turned 30 in March, so we wonder what happens to his effectiveness on the other side of 30 as well. Is he a comparable for Russell? I really don’t think so. They are similar in individual offense but in terms of impact, it couldn’t be more different.

So we’ve got this list of 10 defenders which includes Russell. Of the nine non-Russell players one just turned 30 (Vlasic), so he doesn’t add much to the conversation about what to expect moving forward. Another three are so different from Russell physically that they make poor matches (Kalinin, Brewer, Coburn). Of the remaining five players, two were out of the NHL within two seasons after turning 30 (Markov, Ballard). Of the three that remain from the list we have Trevor Daley, Dan Girardi, and Toni Lydman.

The reality is that this list of Russell-like players doesn’t bolster the confidence for what a post-30-year-old Russell can bring to the table. All of the players had lost a step or some level of effectiveness. I think best-case scenario for the Oilers is a Trevor Daley/Toni Lydman situation where the team can overcome flaws and best complement him with better teammates. As far as the prospects of playing “better” goes, I’d say that’s a pretty long shot to make.

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So there are the nine players who vaguely resemble Kris Russell in terms of games and points over the same ages and what they accomplished after turning 30.

  • madjam

    Sounds like you have a disdain for Russell even if Oilers had given him a 1M contract for 1 year . Chia (well respected ) has determined based on last years play and contribution to team , his current value and contract length going forward . Unless Russell does not live up to those Chia expectations down the line , i’d side with Chia’s decision until shown otherwise , as he is pretty astute at judging talent from all angles , not just stats .

  • Hemmercules

    Honestly, what is Russel suppose to say?…”Now that the moneys in the bank I can coast out the next 3 years”…of course he says he wants to be better. Thats cliche hockey interview talk in a nut shell.

    I find myself liking Russel a little less with every Henderson bash article so I guess Matts quest to run Russel out of the NHL is working a little, on me at least. That said, if Russel can come in this season with the same attitude and work ethic that he had last year I think he and the Oilers will be fine.

  • Masma

    Did any in your list of comparables ever lead the league in blocking shots? KR is not a offensive defenceman, if you get this small but important idea in your head you will not need to drink more over the next 3-4 years but enjoy what he brings to the team. I know its hard to enjoy the game when all you do is write numbers down during those action packed games , but put that pen down for awhile and see what KR is about

    • Rock11

      I’m not quite on Henderson’s side in this fight but the problem is not that KR doesn’t bring individual offence. That can be overcome. The problem is that he traditionally has a negative impact on the offense his teammates generate while he is on the ice. This is a problem that is hard to overcome shot blocks be damned.

  • Jordan88

    So were basing his value off of comparable stats. How about who lead the NHL in blocked shots? And he blocked an average of 8.86 a game.

    I want that on my team, I want that on my team for 4 years. that level of give-a-damndness is hard to find.

    • HOCKEY83

      Russell with the flames they make the playoffs. Russell goes to Dallas Flames don’t make the playoffs Dallas does. Russell goes to Edmonton Dallas misses playoffs Edmonton makes playoffs. Just a coincidence…I don’t think so. There’s something to be said about having one of the top shot blockers in the NHL on a team.

      • Rock11

        Yup Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin recovering from offseason injury, Ales Hemsky being hurt for a large chunk of the season and bantam level goaltending were not Dallas’s problem. It was losing Kris Russell that did them in. Sheesh if you are going to pick on Henderson at least bring a level of intelligence to the conversation that is better than what you would see from a 3rd grader.

    • OldBalls99


      I don’t care if the turnover was committed by the shot blocker or if an easy zone entry was given up, the willingness to sacrifice your body and well being to right the wrong is never lost on team mates, especially the goalie. Goalies love that $hit!

      I do not believe it is a coincidence that Talbot has a career year the year Russell is brought in. Tbot knows Russell has his back. That is an incredible intangible for a championship caliber team.

  • RyanCoke

    I wish I got paid to write Russell bash articles. I mean that’s all you write lately and somehow your still getting paid to publish them. Write like 10 more. Who knows maybe you can retire on Russell bash articles if they keep paying you to do them.

    • Off the wall

      Russell bashing:

      It’s like trying to pluck feathers off a rooster, eventually he’ll bite.

      Fun facts:

      2017 is the year of the rooster

      John Wayne was known as Rooster Cogburn, definitely not a wimp..

      Time to pluck another instrument Henderson.. violin?

    • Reinman

      Oh, and the Lucic Contract was not great either. I am not sure we would have been that far behind if he had not been signed. I felt this way at the time, and I still feel this way now. I had no problem with the Hall Larsson trade, but I think we could have taken our time and weighed our options before signing Lucic for so much, and for so long. Build the D and down the center first they say. Our centers are solid, and with Hamonic our D would be solid too. We would have now been in a position to just find some complimentary wingers. Which we could then trade for draft picks, to keep a revolving door of winger to play around our 3 stud centers.

    • Reinman

      They should have gone after Hamonic for Eberle. They should have never traded Davidson last year, and probably we would still have Reinhart (another mistake I will not go into). Chia is doing ok with the forwards, but he has still made a lot of mistakes with the D. I will give him props for the Benning thing though. A winger to replace Eberle is not that hard to find. Not nearly as hard as trying to trade for a quality top 4 D-Man. Anyway, Eb’s and a conditional 2nd ( 20 goals 50 points?) for Hamonic. Then we have Klefbom, Larsson, Sykera, Hamonic, Nurse, Benning, Reinhart and Gryba. With Sykera out, I think we would be in good shape, and would be completely solid once Sykera does come back.

      • JimmyV1965

        Chia clearly didn’t want Hamonic or he would be on our team by now. The GM has shown a willingness to overspend for guys he wants. This tells me he didn’t want Hamonic. And there’s some good reasons to be wary of Hamonic. We will see how he does in Calgary.

    • Off the wall

      Kris Russell> Eric Karlsson

      I don’t understand the hate Russell receives, yes his metrics are damming, but he is a heart and soul guy. Metrics unfortunately can’t measure that!

      He was loved among Flames, even if we say different.
      I watched him during your playoffs and he was great. All defensive players are going to be question marks after they hit 30… duh!

      I wish him nothing but the best, even if he’s on a rival team!

  • Off the wall

    Kinda sounds like you were a gypsy.. Europe and eating large amounts of meat!over fire?!

    Btw, sorry but spell- check must not have been your friend today,


  • Roberto

    Let it go man. He’s an NHL d man, who seems to work in the Oilers system. Sure he has his warts, and his contract is longer and more expensive than I would have liked too (and I believed structured so he can be moved in a couple years, if he does fall off). The Oilers made the playoffs last season, and he was much better than Nurse and Benning in the playoffs…. The Sekera injury almost made his signing necessary, and he can hold the fort until Bear or Jones are ready, or Nurse and Benning take a step forward. It’s not the end of the world. He’s an NHL D man playing about the role he should be, for slightly more money than he should probably make. He seems to fit with the system and be well liked. NHL D men don’t grow on trees, and if you look at the last 10 years, I’m fine with having him rather than a long list of Oiler D men….. If he just keeps shots to the outside, and plays solid positionally in the D zone, McDavid, Talbot and Drai should take care of the rest. It’s all good, he doesn’t have to be spectacular, and he’s better than Nikitin.

  • Ginbaby

    I picture the person writing this article as a guy who has had some tough times in life and the one thing he had to pick him up (Oilers) were bad for so long that he has to project that disdain. I am so tired of reading the same basic premise over and over again. Sorry life has kicked you in the nuts bud, but it wasn’t KR who did it. Maybe try writing something objective for a change…and now everyone can rain down upon me with great vengeance and furious anger.

    • Spydyr

      I get what you are saying and the Pulp Fiction quote is great but you do know you can skip reading all the articles about Russell written by Henderson. Live and let live.

  • OilCan2

    I think you touched on the truth by saying Kris should be surrounded by good help to succeed.

    He brings a unique mix to the table and how that jig saw puzzle falls together means the pieces have to fit each other. I think he will do very well and PC and Todd might agree by spending Katz Kash 4x4m.

  • JimmyV1965

    I actually think this is the most balanced article you have written about Russel. Still hard to compare though. Were they first, second or third pairing guys. I’m not a huge Russel fan, but I don’t hate him. And I’ll be absolutely stunned if he’s not on the third pairing by next year, likely by the playoffs this year. Russel on the third pairing. Meh. Who cares.

    • DerpSolo

      Nikitin didn’t lead the league in blks, and Oilers didn’t make the playoffs. Kris led the league in blks, and Oilers made the playoffs. But sure, whatever ya say bud