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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Top 10 Unsung Heroes: Kris Russell (6)

I admire and respect players like Kris Russell because he’s one of those guys willing to contribute what he can and do whatever it takes to win — dirty, grunt work like blocking shots and banging bodies. Russell gives you all he’s got, even if, in the eyes of some, it’s just never good enough. Then again, it doesn’t really matter what I, or those prone to discount or dismiss such attributes, think. What matters is what Russell’s teammates with the Edmonton Oilers think.

In that regard, there was no doubt what Russell’s teammates thought in the wake of his own-goal in a 6-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Nov. 30. Russell got righteously roasted by many after the gaffe and faced the music in the dressing room after the game. As you’d expect, teammates had his back because that’s what teammates do. It went a step beyond the norm, though, two days later when coach Todd McLellan levelled a blast at “all the analytic nerds out there” who seem to take great delight in hammering Russell every chance they get. That right there tells me how valuable Russell is to the people who matter — his teammates. Unsung hero? Damn straight.

Kris Russell

Defense — shoots L
Born May 2, 1987 — Caroline, ALTA
Height 5.10 — Weight 173 [178 cm/78 kg]

Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets

Round 3 #67 overall 2005 NHL Entry Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

TOI

ATOI

HIT

BLK

2007-08

20

CBJ

67

2

8

10

-12

14

90

2.2

991

14:47

31

64

2008-09

21

CBJ

66

2

19

21

-10

28

86

2.3

1064

16:07

50

62

2009-10

22

CBJ

70

7

15

22

3

32

108

6.5

1301

18:35

101

96

2010-11

23

CBJ

73

5

18

23

-9

37

88

5.7

1279

17:31

63

128

2011-12

24

TOT

55

6

6

12

12

25

56

10.7

936

17:01

61

78

2011-12

24

CBJ

12

2

1

3

-1

13

20

10.0

211

17:34

9

15

2011-12

24

STL

43

4

5

9

13

12

36

11.1

725

16:51

52

63

2012-13

25

STL

33

1

6

7

6

9

41

2.4

530

16:03

26

57

2013-14

26

CGY

68

7

22

29

-11

15

109

6.4

1573

23:08

42

201

2014-15

27

CGY

79

4

30

34

18

17

111

3.6

1892

23:57

61

283

2015-16

28

TOT

62

4

15

19

-5

10

70

5.7

1431

23:05

40

210

2015-16

28

CGY

51

4

11

15

-4

8

56

7.1

1166

22:52

31

174

2015-16

28

DAL

11

0

4

4

-1

2

14

0.0

264

24:02

9

36

2016-17

29

EDM

68

1

12

13

5

23

68

1.5

1443

21:13

67

213

2017-18

30

EDM

26

2

9

11

4

2

33

6.1

463

17:50

26

67

5 yrs CBJ

288

18

61

79

-29

124

392

4.6

4845

16:49

254

365

3 yrs CGY

198

15

63

78

3

40

276

5.4

4632

23:23

134

658

2 yrs EDM

94

3

21

24

9

25

101

3.0

1906

20:17

93

280

2 yrs STL

76

5

11

16

19

21

77

6.5

1255

16:30

78

120

1 yr DAL

11

0

4

4

-1

2

14

0.0

264

24:02

9

36

Career

667

41

160

201

1

212

860

4.8

12902

19:21

568

1459

PLAYOFFS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

TOI

ATOI

HIT

BLK

2008-09

21

CBJ

4

1

1

2

0

2

5

20.0

67

16:40

1

4

2011-12

24

STL

9

0

3

3

3

5

7

0.0

175

19:27

8

19

2014-15

27

CGY

11

2

5

7

-9

7

13

15.4

294

26:45

11

54

2015-16

28

DAL

12

0

4

4

1

4

8

0.0

239

19:57

14

24

2016-17

29

EDM

13

0

4

4

2

4

16

0.0

286

22:02

21

54

Career

49

3

17

20

-3

22

49

6.1

1062

21:40

55

155

WHY HE MAKES IT

Feb 2, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Harry Zolnierczyk (26) skates with the puck as Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (4) defends in front of Predators left wing Cody McLeod (55) during the first period at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I was going to have Russell on this list regardless of what happened against Toronto. In the name of timeliness, I’ve moved him a spot down in the aftermath of what McLellan had to say about the hard-nosed cowboy’s kid from Caroline and the over-the-top criticism he took after his Steve Smith moment. It’s not what McLellan’s words say about those who seem to make sport of kicking Russell around that stuck with me, it’s what those words say about his value to the team.

“Kris Russell is a character individual and that’s why our team cares so much about him,” McLellan said. “Whoever’s criticizing this individual probably has never played a competitive sport in their life and if they have and they’ve been perfect and that event never occurred to them, then they should be in the Hall of Fame somewhere. Mistakes happen.

“But what he means to our team — and I know all the analytic nerds out there find ways to run him into the ground — but he means a lot to our team. Every single one of those players, regardless of the goal the other night he put into his own net, will tell you that any day in any place. … so, analytics that, if you want.” The full interview is here.

THE FINE PRINT

Feb 24, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (4) passes the puck as Washington Capitals center Marcus Johansson (90) defends in the first period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I spent enough seasons inside NHL dressing rooms to know players circle the wagons when it comes to dealing with outside criticism of a teammate. The question is the degree to which it’s done — that’s where you get a real read on how any given player is regarded by his teammates and how much he is respected for his overall contribution. Russell rates as high as any player in the Unsung Hero category as anybody I’ve seen on this team in the post-Cup era — he’s up there with Mike Grier and Matt Hendricks and on and on.

As close as I was in my years on the beat, I learned that you can’t get the full measure of a player within the framework of a team solely by what happens on the ice during games and practices, even supplemented by being a regular in the dressing room, on the bus and flying on the team charter. That shouldn’t be confused with not being allowed to have an opinion and make it known — that goes for MSM people, bloggers and fans in general. It just means those takes are weighted accordingly by coaches and players who spend a lot of time together behind closed doors outsiders of all stripes are not party to.

“He’s a guy you would go to war for,” captain Connor McDavid said after the Toronto game. “He does everything for us. He throws himself in shooting lanes where most guys would be diving to get out of the way. He puts himself in harm’s way. He battles so hard each and every night . . .” Those who believe McDavid, McLellan and the teammates who have Russell’s back are somehow mistaken because what they say doesn’t align with their assessment or because they can’t (or refuse to) measure the value of the attributes he brings to the team, are welcome to that opinion. They don’t share it. Neither do I.

This series of various Top 10 lists will focus on the post-1990 Oilers – the players who haven’t played on a Stanley Cup winner in Edmonton.

The List:

  • OriginalPouzar

    The contract is still bad, I think all Oiler fans agree with that.

    At the same time, I don’t think any reasonable Oiler fan can argue that we aren’t a better team with Kris Russell on it than without.

    The main issue at the time of signing was it was fairly clear that he would be passed on the depth chart by Nurse and Benning within a few years and would be relegated to the 3rd pairing – Nurse has already passed him.

    The other issue is that the contract essentially blocked management from being able to improve the 2nd pairing by acquisition unless a material d-man is moved out.

    With that said, giant gaffs aside (scoring on own net, falling down on a 2 on 2), Russell has played fairly well since his minutes were reduced and is playing somewhat effective hockey. He is also, from accounts, great in the room and great with the young/developing d-men.

    I think he is a more effective player with the lower minutes and it also helps him add some offence which is nice to see and a bonus.

    • I agree with you on every point. The overpayment of a player impacts the perception of that player with a lot of people. We’ve seen it before — Horcoff etc. That overpay is on the GM, not the player. Likewise, if you have Russell in your third pairing instead of the second, you’ve got a pretty good blueline.

    • puckle-head

      I think you’re mostly right, but I do disagree that the Oilers are better with Russell in the lineup, however.

      Everyone is familiar with all the arguments on both sides at this point. Detractors say Kris Russell’s breakout isn’t great, he blows his coverage occasionally, his gap control is poor, and he surrenders both blueline’s too easily, allowing the opposition to break out and in without having to battle for the space. Fans say he’s an excellent shot-blocker, aggressive in the defensive zone, fairly effective at retrieving the puck/ blocking pass lanes, and is fantastic in the dressing room.

      It comes down to if you think the pros outweigh the cons. For me they don’t. I know he’s a “character” guy, but has anyone ever been on a team with one of those “character” guys that everyone loved and would gladly go to war for? Has anyone ever noticed that some of them sucked? It sounds mean, but there are some people whom you love to play side by side with and stick up for, but that doesn’t mean they are good at hockey. I’m glad the Oilers are willing to go to bat for their teammate, and I hear he’s loved in the room, but the scoreboard does not have a section that displays team chumminess.

      Furthermore, I get Russell can be effective in the D zone, his breakout pass is not great, but he can still help with shot suppression there, if he played a 3rd pairing, defensive zone/ penalty kill specialist role. But hockey is a 200 foot game, so I would prefer to see GMs avoid giving out roster spots to players who play such limited roles. But here’s where Russell’s play really bugs me, McLellan doesn’t coach that way. He tends to dole out Ozone, Dzone and Nzone shifts pretty evenly, which is alarming because Kris Russell is an active detriment in 2 of those 3 zones. He’s shown vast improvement offesively this year, so if he sustains that, maybe I’ll be eating my words by the ends

      I know we are all sick of this argument, and I have nothing against the guy personally, but a bunch of us simply don’t think Kris Russell helps the Oilers win games. haven’t seen an argument to convince me other wise so not sure where that leaves the comment section. Just a war zone I guess ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • 1ncinawhile

      Agree fully. Want to point out, Russel is good with the younger Dmen… so guys like Nurse and Kleffbom develop into better D-men because of a guy like Russel (who himself is having a 4mill level season), and oiler fans are upset… we are a crazy bunch.

  • Tha Legion

    He’s definitely the kind of 3rd pairing guy you want in your lineup 1.5 million similar to others on this list. 4×4 with a NTC because a bonehead GM perceived him as more while media parroted his comments though.

  • camdog

    I do think it’s funny that people complaining about his contract want Sekera and his 5.5 million tied up on the right side. If that were to happen, that’s a 5.5 million dollar man as your third pairing. And Sekera isn’t any better than Russell on the right side, on the left side however he’s miles ahead.

    • MessyEH!

      Way to make generalizations. Poo did not live up to his contract. That’s why he was bought out. He caught onto a different team with a very good cap hit of 1.15 million vs the 4m he made here. At 6 goals so far this year. He’s been found money for buffalo.

      Russell is over paid today. Let al9me in 3 years. You add Lucic to the mix, If his performance falls off, and all of a sudden you have 10 million wrapped up on a #7 defenseman and a slow 4th liner. Intangibles be damned if you can longer pay those can contribute in your top two lines.

      Russell is a NHL defensemen on any team. But at 4 million he wouldn’t be on many them. At 3m or less it opens up options.

      The contracts on Chia. The criticism will always be on Russell. The player, the contract and the production are all linked to the team. To say ignore one because “it’s not his fault” is just wrong.

      He is, his contract. He is, his stats, both traditional and advanced and he his his cap hit to the team. They are all symbiotic.

      • camdog

        Most UFA’s that change teams are over paid. This is the reality for NHL teams that don’t develop properly. Marancin, Reinhart and Davidson were all waived this season which was my prediction going into the season. Contrary to the advanced stats I have yet to see either excel in the NHL on their off side. So the question is which player would be filling that hole on the roster. I know the theory is that some random right shot d-man would have signed at a cheap rate that doesn’t hold water with me.

    • Big Nuggets

      the difference is Chia signed the Russel contract after the McDavid contract and he gave him a no movement clause overlapping with McDavid’s contract. Which means we will probably have to let go of more valuable players than Russel next off-season. If Chia doesn’t have a plan for this it was a bonehead contract. No movement clauses for bottom pairing defensemen are not good, especially when you want to sign some wingers to ride shotgun with McDavid.
      Pouliots contract was too long and too rich but it was different circumstances back then.

  • Dan 1919

    Russell has been one of the most consistent and reliable Oilers D for the last couple years. Sure he’s used on the bottom pairing sometimes but the bottom line is he’s an impact NHL dman, not a fringe 7/8 guy.

    In 2017 NHL reality that’s worth $4million a year, end of story. In analytic nerd land or EA-NHL 2017, sure I would pay pay Russell $3mil for 2 years, Lucic $5mil for 3 years and the NDP would be fiscally responsible.

    Most of you nerds have been proven wrong for 2 years about Russell, you look pathetic, go on to find another goat because you’ve failed here.

  • Spydyr

    He brings it every game. The biggest fault I see in his game is he tries to do too much and ends up taking himself out of the play by starfishing on the ice.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    Kris Russell: Punching bag 2017/2018. Settle down, kids. Russell is the least of the Oilers’ woes. Speciality teams are what needs to be punched.

    • Dan 1919

      Exactly, he’s far from perfect like all players, but at $4mil for a reliable dman in 2017 he is just so far off the radar of being a legitimate problem that it’s a joke to listen to these wannabe analytic guys try and pretend they understand what they’re talking about by blindly accessing a player on info they don’t understand. Stick to the cheeses and sportsnet channel and let the pros assess the players, you analytic nerds are antagonizing valuable data for the rest of the hockey community.

  • Coheed

    *sits back with a bag of popcorn* this outta be good…

    For the record, I am somewhat neutral on Russell. I like some of his game, dislike other parts, dislike the contract (not his fault). Do I think he is an NHL defencemen? Yes I do, despite the recent gaffs.

    If he is as good in the room as everyone claims, I don’t see how that is a bad thing. The problem with analytics is that they are a lagging indicator, a measurement of past performance. Some people take that as the gospel on an indication of future performance. As Gregor recently pointed out, players rarely progress in straight lines throughout their career. We know what Russell is, and the fact that he leaves it all out on the ice is a good thing.

    • Dan 1919

      The other problem with analytics is you have to know how to access the data. If you’re looking to pick up a third liner and it’s a tough call who to choose beyond what they both bring to the table by watching them play, then sure, pull out the advanced stats and cross reference the stats to the video and see if the indicators lineup and maybe advanced stats can then weigh in on a tough decision. But when you have guys that haven’t played the game before taking one or two advanced stats and blindly saying a good player like Russell is bad because of this stat I found, they’re frankly butchering advanced stats. Then not to mention if you pay attention to what coaches say about advanced stats, many say that unless you know how a player is being used by the coach, that some of the stats can’t really be used. Ex. A third line can be deployed in a playing style and roll that naturally won’t lend well into say corsi, so trying to use corsi to evaluate them is irrelevant.

      The “analytics community” has been giving advanced stats a bad rep for too long. I hearby declare the new name for the “analytics community” the “wannabe stats nerds”

  • #97TRAIN

    Not sure why we are so negative here after getting some decent games in. You could be a Flames fan on Flamesnation right now where they want everyone traded or fired.

  • “the over-the-top criticism he took after his Steve Smith moment”

    Where is this over the top criticism? Everybody circled the wagons to defend an attack that didn’t exist. It’s really weird.

    “That overpay is on the GM, not the player.”

    This is precisely what the “analytics nerds” have always said.

    McLellan’s line, “Whoever’s criticizing this individual probably has never played a competitive sport in their life”

    Is anyone supposed to take this line seriously? It’s a bit of a joke.

  • Flint

    Defenseman are very much like goalies. A terrible goalie that once in a while makes a flashy save, wins the admiration of the fans, coaches and media. But he’s still a terrible goalie, and what said terrible goalie should be doing is focusing on making safe, simple, controlled saves consistenly (although it may be boring).

    something, something Kris Russell…

    why can’t he just stay on his feet? See: photo above vs Nashville.

    he’s the worst goalie the Oilers have.

  • BringitbacklikeSlats

    Robin I think those last comments you make nail it. Here’s an issue that nobody discusses as well;

    Last year every time Woodguy was on Stauffer’s show it would be a rant about how bad Russell was. It was like clockwork. Now, this year you’d swear he was talking about an entirely different player and saying he’s playing well.

    Now fluctuations in performance do happen pretty regularly in sport year to year. But watching every single game tells me that Russell’s play is roughly the same as it was. Maybe a slight uptick in jumping into plays this year, but for the most part it’s the same old steady and reliable defender we’ve come to value him for.

    Tells me that that Corsi Metric in terms of validating a defensive defender is complete and utter crap. (Penalizes for shot blocks) and takes into account all shot attempts from anywhere in zone. Give me a break. I would love to be in the room on an NHL scout meeting taking this erroneous stat into argument and see for myself how very little they actually regard it.

  • Kurt

    i like russell. a lot. but the media have to quit calling him a cowboy, or a hard nosed cowboy from caroline, alberta.

    hes not a cowboy. hes a professional hockey players.

    does anybody call gryba ” the duck call manufacturer from saskatoon”? no.

  • Anton CP

    I don’t know why everyone has so much problem with his contracts. 4×4 is not a lot for a veteran defense that is a jack of all trades player. Term is not really an issue also, NTC can be easily waived by player especially with a front load contract that the player has very little reason to not to waive the clause if such request happened from management. It is really not either overpaid nor underpaid, it is just what kind of value that he is truly worth.

  • Derian Hatcher

    Ok – I have to vent…just my opinion…trash away.

    Kris Russell is a professional hockey player in the best league in the world. Full stop. If you love his performance, dislike his performance, whatever, the fact remains that he is one of apporximately 700 human beings in the entire world who is paid very well to play the game at the highest possible level. That is a fact. If you, I or any other journalist, blogger, commenter or fan had the skills, abilities and every other trait that professional athletes have to be the best at what they do, we would all be in the NHL or some other professional sports league. But obviously (unless someone on here is actually a pro hockey player in disguise) some people feel they have the right to constantly slag KR, seemingly completely missing the fact that Russell must have some idea of how to play the game at the professional level since he as been in the NHL for approximately 10 years. Further, is it possible that all of the scouts, GM’s, coaches and teammates may have a better idea of what KR brings to a team than those who constantly critisize him? Maybe?
    So… while I would guess that most, if not all, of us would trade places with Russell in a New York minute as we are all passionate fans, what Oilers have in KR is someone who, by the account of coaches and teammates, is someone who gives his all for the team. What more do you want?

    I know have to get back to my own profession, which today, is unappealling and frustrating. Thanks for allowing me to vent.

  • CMG30

    Ah Kris Russell: Beloved by fans and his teammates alike for his heart and grit. Undersized glue that sticks this team together in the dressing room. Blocks more shots than Supermans chest. The epitome of giving 110%. Unappreciated by the analytics community because of their stubborn focus on results.

  • Shredder

    Forget fancy stats, he’s got some good point totals this year. He’s off by 2 points for his total last year and on track for 35 in 82 games. That’s earning his keep in my mind, never mind the intangibles like blocked shots and whatnot. He’s turning into one of my favorite players, and frankly I picked him to be my goat. Good on him. That’s SIUTBOHC…to use a Brownlee term.

  • Oiler Al

    Russell is a bargain if you compare it to Faynes $ 14 million contract playing in the AHL.In my books Russell should have got 3X3 for a hardworking,shot blocking defense man.

    • IRONman

      Russel is a key player. He can block shots all day long. Our goaltending is in need of him. He a Sekera make a dynamite duo for the next 3 seasons. He is still young. Nurse is firing up and Bear. By the end of Russel contract we will have Nurse + Bear. Kelfbom + Larson. Future looks bright

  • OilersBro

    2 things:
    1) Russell’s contract is top heavy so he only gets 2.5MM in his final year.
    2) As of right now, he is getting paid what he deserves. He’s been arguably our third best D man behind Nurse and Larsson and has almost scored last year’s point total in 1/3 of the games. His value is also acquired through the mentorship he gives to guys like Nurse, Klef, and Benning who will be the future of this team.

    • Big Nuggets

      I like Russel, don’t like the contract. The 4 million is not even my issue; my issue is the no trade clause. If he refuses to waive it we have to trade better players. That’s the whole issue for me. Our defense could be pretty sick if Benning improves and Sekera comes back in old form. But next season we basically have to let Maroon walk and not replace him to balance the books.

  • Gravis82

    what happened in Toronto is meaningless to any argument on any side. I am not sure why we are even talking about anymore. Any reasonable person could see that it was just one of those things….regardless of where you stand on this player.

  • dsanchez1973

    I admire and respect players like Jordan Eberle because he’s one of those guys willing to contribute what he can and do whatever it takes to win — high difficulty work like beating NHL goalies and playing 1st line RW minutes. Eberle gives you all he’s got, even if, in the eyes of some, it’s just never good enough.