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Photo Credit: © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Kris Russell had a good first half

Kris Russell had a solid first half of the season.

He leads the Oilers defencemen in scoring with 16 points. He is +4. He has a 52.54 FF%, trailing only Oscar Klefbom 52.6% and Darnell Nurse 56.5%.

He’s played every game, has skated the second most EV minutes among defenders and he’s only played 180 minutes of his 627 5×5 minutes with Connor McDavid.

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He’s only taken three minor penalties, leads the NHL in blocked shots with 121, and 14 of his 16 points have come at even strength, which has him tied for 23rd among NHL defencemen in EV scoring. He is tied with the likes of Brent Burns, Zack Werenski and Ryan McDonagh and is one point ahead of Duncan Keith, Keith Yandle and Shayne Gostisbehere.

There have been very few bright spots on the Oilers in the first half, but Russell and Darnell Nurse have been very good on the blueline. Nurse has been their best defender, but Russell has been very steady. Russell isn’t a perfect player, but I find too often his critics focus on what he doesn’t do and overlook what he does well. He is highly respected in the dressing room, because he competes every night. His teammates don’t have to worry if he’ll show up. Not many Oilers can say they have been as consistent as Russell this season.

Sure, he misses the odd pass, but so do most defenders. Russell has done far more positive than negative for the Oilers this season, and has been their second best defender.

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He’s playing 18:33/game and he’s flourished playing a fewer EV minutes than last year. More isn’t always better. He is a smaller player and I believe fatigue plays a factor. He looks fresher and he’s giving the Oilers more quality minutes.

With the struggles of the powerplay, I’d look to give him some PP time. He has two PP points in 18:27 of PP time.

Klefbom has four points in 111:28 while Matt Benning has two points in 50:47. Russell has been much more productive when given some PP time.

The powerplay is stagnant. It has regressed from the first 20 games when it was 21.2%. In the last 21 games, the PP is an anemic 10.3% (6 of 58). I wouldn’t increase his EV minutes, but as the PP continues to struggle I’d give him a second look.

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Of course, if the Oilers just continue to pass it around the perimeter it won’t matter which defender is out there, but Russell has a good enough shot to play the PP, and he has put up decent PP numbers in the past when given the opportunity.

I keep reading and hearing how the Russell signing has crippled the Oilers, but so far he has more than lived up to his deal. None of us knows how the future will unfold, but if Russell continues to play this well those concerns should be tempered.

Klefbom has played banged up, so he gets a bit more rope, but he needs to be better on the powerplay, no question. Adam Larsson needs to play better. He needs to move the puck up ice more frequently, instead of cross ice to his partner. Matt Benning needs to be more consistent. Andrej Sekera has struggled, which I expected coming off ACL surgery, but if those four can make small improvements the Oilers slim playoff hopes can at least keep flickering.

Right now Nurse and Russell have carried the defence, but they will need the others to improve in the second half and into next season.

NHL CAN BE A TOUGH BUSINESS

Dec 9, 2017; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalie Laurent Brossoit (1) during the third period against Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday Laurent Brossoit was looking ahead to playing on Sunday, but now he faces the reality that his NHL dream is over, for the time being. The Oilers acquired veteran backup Al Montoya from Montreal yesterday for a conditional draft pick. If Montoya plays seven games for the Oilers this season Montreal gets a fourth round pick in 2018. If he plays fewer than seven games it will be a fifth round pick. Montoya has another year remaining on his contract and Peter Chiarelli acquired him to be their back up for this season and next.

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Now Brossoit will battle Nick Ellis for playing time in the AHL, and he’ll need to play well to earn another contract.

We should never forget the human aspect of sports. In a span of 24 hours, Brossoit goes from living his dream to now battling to get another contract. The NHL landscape changes fast. It is a great accomplishment to make it to the NHL, but it is extremely difficult to stay there. We’ll see if Brossoit can make it back.

Montoya’s last four seasons as a backup:

2014 WPG: 28 games. .920sv% and 2.30GAA
2015 FLO: 20 games. .892sv% and 3.01 GAA
2016 FLO: 25 games. .919sv% and 2.18 GAA
2017 MTL: 19 games. .912sv% and 2.67GAA

He’s only played four games this season, and hasn’t played since November 4th after Dustin Byfuglien hit him in the head with a slap shot and Montoya suffered a concussion. His 3.77 GAA and .863sv% this year don’t look great, but most would agree it is a very small sample size. His past four seasons have been decent for a backup.

PARTING SHOT…

Congratulations to Edmonton product Tyrell Goulbourne, who is set to make his NHL debut with the Philadelphia Flyers tomorrow. He was supposed to play last night vs. the New York Islanders, but travel problems prevented him from getting to Philadelphia in time. I’m sure the delay will only make tomorrow sweeter. I met Tyrell when he was 16 years old. I was staying in shape doing Crossfit at Spark Sport Conditioning. I loved it and one day this young kid comes in and was training with Kim Layton. He wanted to get stronger. He was going to play for Kelowna in the WHL the next fall and was getting serious about training.

The first day it was apparent he was one of those freak, natural athletes. He was incredibly quick and his agility and mobility was off the charts. He was naturally strong. I only spoke to him and his father a few times, but I always remembered him. He had a strong drive and work ethic. He wasn’t an elite scorer but was fast, determined and tough. He is a bottom-six type player with speed, good on the forecheck, kills penalties and will fight if needed. He has 20 pro fights in two and a half seasons.

I’ve followed his career over the years and I am thrilled for him and his family. It never gets old watching someone fulfill their dreams. Enjoy the moment Tyrell.

Recently by Jason Gregor:



  • Ten Long Years

    You forgot to mention he scored a game winning goal on his own net. But other than that, I agree, he’s been pretty solid. Although I’d rather he had the puck on his stick rather than blocking it with his shin pads.

    • oilerjed

      That’s the first thing I thought when I saw the title as well. Gregor’s form of click bait protagonism?? Either way it will be fun to read the responses of people that will still try and assert that Russel is ahorrible hockey player.

  • Prairiechicken

    I trained with Tyrell at spark too.
    I remember trying to beat him in a workout. I almost died. And I wasn’t even close. What a freak. Good for him for getting the crack

  • Gravis82

    The Russel signing did not cripple the Oilers, it was just one of those slightly more bad the good deals that Chiarelli makes. They all have added up this year, and the standings show it. The Oilers don’t have a mystical problem that will suddenly be solved when they put it all together in the second half, or have a dressing room problem. Their problem is they have not spent wisely on each player they employ and are not a good team. A better team would not have to put it together in the second half, they would have done it from the start. At this time we need a penalty killing forwards and wingers more than another left shot defenseman….we had them…their names were Benoit Pouliot and Tyler Pitlick…and they are currently killing penalties and scoring 15 goals elsewhere.

    • Jason Gregor

      Pouliot was on team last year when PK was 78% in final 68 games. I agree he has more experience than this group, but he maybe they’d be 75%, but wouldn’t be great. I didn’t like the buyout, but more so due to having dead cap space for two more years after current deal is over. Tyler Pitlick has been replaced by Khaira. Khaira has 7 goals in 30 games and kills penalties.

      How is Russell deal bad this year? How is it hurting them now? It isn’t today, might in future, but isn’t hurting now and no guarantee it will in future.

      • Gravis82

        It’s not about if he has value, he is…ok….it’s about where we would have been had that money been spent in a different way. Its important to look at it this way, because if we don’t, the ship will have sailed on the next 5 years before we know it. Chiarelli needs to be taken to task for, what I can tell, about 70% of his moves. Lets just look at last off season and forget the Hall Larson Lucic fiasco. Compare currently reality to hypothetical alternate reality if different decisions had been made in the last 12 months. These different decisions dont even involve hypothetical scenarios, they literally were 100% possible, most of the time he didn’t even have to make a decision…just do nothing. Keep Pouliot, sign and keep Jokinen (I liked this move), resign Pitlick, keep Eberle, protect Davidson (they lucked out getting him back, expose Kassian). Cut Gryba and Russel. Add Kharia to the mix and you have three additional penalty killers compared to now, plus more offense overall. PK is the reason season is in the toilet, that would have likely solved it. Maybe total value for that would have been more, but we have cap space the value per dollar spent would have been higher, and that’s what it all about. Sure hindsight etc etc, sure, but I’m sorry, that excuse wouldn’t prevent me from being fired if I kept making net loss decisions. Look at the last 2 years and the assets the team had at the time of his hiring and \ there is no way to tell me that this was the best possible sequence of decisions that could have been made and the best possible team that could have been assembled. Russel, to me, is just another, meh, decision that is par for the course for Chiarelli.

      • BringitbacklikeSlats

        Thank you Gregor. Besides you and Robin, the amount of Russell hate on here and other blogs has been near toxic. Funny how they only chime in after he has a bad game which is rarely.
        One thing regarding his play that NOBODY ever mentions is that he plays his off side. In fact he’s the only one on the Blueline to do that. One could argue he’s the only one good enough to do it. Happy for him to have some success offensively. Everything he gets is earned, and all I can say is thank Gord PC signed him and didn’t give in to the Corsi perpetuating BS from the nerds on keyboards

  • Natejax97

    Appreciate the positive press on this player. Always liked Kris Russell and he is an warrior. Teams need guys like him to be successful. Too many fixations on the contract, understandable, but he is a good soldier and we are lucky to have him.

  • Rusty

    If Ellis can show he can carry the load in the minors i don’t think the Oilers give LB another contract. He’d be blocking Ellis development. LB has a very short window to show he’s a pro goalie. I don’t think hes an NHL starter or backup personally, but what the hell do i know? Goalies are voodoo.

  • oilerjed

    I was having a conversation yesterday about the Oiler’s goalie prospects and my view was that they viewed Ellis as the better prospect and that was why they were giving him all of the Bakersville game time and LB was more or less the practice goalie and never really had a shot at a long term gig here. Am I crazy??

    • Rusty

      i somewhat agree. i do believe the oilers were giving LB his “shot” this year, giving Ellis the reigns in bakersfield, and LB couldn’t take advantage. Unfortunately if the oilers were doing better overall i believe they might have stuck with LB through his struggles this year as long as they were pulling out wins. Now the question is do they sacrifice Ellis development in the minors and Let LB find his game? I don’t think they do. like you said, i believe the organization will place Ellis above LB now.

    • Dean S

      LB was never an NHL goaltender, he was outplayed by Tristan Jarry (won Memorial Cup) when with the Oil Kings, and was the 3rd best prospect on the Abbostford Heat when Calgary decided to trade him.

  • Rusty

    Are there actually that many people that hate Kris russell or is there the silent majority of fans that think hes just fine and the few keyboard heroes **cough**baggedmilk/henderson**cough** that will despise him no matter what? Does he make the odd bad breakout pass? of course he does! Every dman does! Like gregor says i see more positive than negative. i do find it hard to justify a 4 year contract for him, but again, right now hes earning it. As long as he earns it its gonna be fine.

  • ubermiguel

    When Captain Connor said Russell is “a guy you would go to war for”, that was all I needed to hear; the team needs more guys going to war for each other.

      • Anton CP

        Especially one among the staffs of ON, that guy has written numerous blogs about how Russell is the worst defenseman ever in the history of NHL. Is a heel commentator necessary for ON?

    • Dan 1919

      I think you’re watching too much hockey. Try ignoring what you see on the ice and start basing your decisions off of reality, a couple fancy stats. What’s next, you going to tell me that Connor is bigger offensive threat than Khaira, well think again Khaira’s SH% is 18.9%. I’m way smarter than everyone else because I can find stats you dummies can’t.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I’ve wondered a few things:

    How does Chiarelli manage this club starting in 2015 if they made the playoffs two or three times in the previous 9 years?

    How does he manage this club if there was no expansion draft?

    How does he manage the defence and KRs extension had Sekeras not been injured against the Ducks?

    My guess is considerably different.

    • Dean S

      Dale Hawerchuck will be the next General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers. He know how to access talent (found Mark Scheifele for the Jets). He also knows what it takes to win playing a speed and skill game.

  • The Future Never Comes

    I don’t think Kris deserves as much tiki torch uprising as he gets, yes he makes about 1 million more than he should but as Gregor suggested, he brings his work ethic to the rink everyday. I would have that over lazy skill any day. Kris’s contract isn’t the crippler, Lucic’s contract is the devastator. People always point to his point production, but what I notice about his points is that they are never the first assist set up plays, they are the one foot passes at the defensive blue line to Mcdavid (Which any of us could do) type points. In reality, he is gifted first line minutes (Probably Chia’s orders so the contract doesn’t look so terrible), but is a third line player. In Year 5,6, or 7 he may not even be in the league at that point.

  • Oil9744

    Russel the muscle ?? I never understood the hate on Russel, it’s about time he gets some respect, Hey Gregor what do you think about Nurse getting some power play time? I would like to see 2 players on the points to preferably a righty and a lefty to put it on net, I think Klef and Strome at the points and JP on the half wall as well to put pucks on net with, to much passing going on.

  • RJ

    If there was no cap, then I think most fans would have no problem with Russell.

    But since the Oil are going to pay Drai and McDavid as much as they will next season, they need value contracts throughout the lineup.

    Paying your fourth-best LHD $4m is not value. Having to ship out some players like Eberle last season or possibly Maroon this season because of cap concerns and then give Russell $4m for four seasons and a NMC to play the 6th most minutes is poor value.

    • FISTO Siltanen

      At the end of 2019 season trade restrictions relax for both Russell and Sekeras and their salary is less than cap hit. Provided they aren’t horrible they should be moveable if so desired.

      End of 2021 season same with Lucic. And he might actually be easiest to move.

      People need to stop keying on these contracts in later years. Chiarelli gave himself plenty of wiggle room.

      • Rock11

        I have heard this argument before and cant think of a worse reason to sign a contract. If part of the reason a deal is structured a certain way is so that you hope you can escape from it then the GM is basically admitting the contract is bad and should not offer it.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Let’s see your list of top 4 Dman and their accompanying pay structures.
      You getting a lot of quality #3&4’s for less than 4 per? I doubt it

  • a lg dubl dubl

    My only issue with Russell is the NTC, it just makes it harder to deal him when/if the time comes.

    LB, I had high hopes for him to replace Talbot after next year.

  • Dave33

    I wanted to leave this alone, but I couldn’t…. Did you guys watch the two really bad plays the last two games? Tuesday, Russell comes barreling in on a pinch when the other team has control, leads to 2 on 1 and we are down 1-0 in a very tight game. Last night, Mr. Russell was busy trying to play goalie instead of looking for his man in front and the tip makes it 1-1. The Winnipeg game, again, we lose by one, and on the power play, Russell heads to the point to block a shot and his man in front gets the rebound and buries it. I will sit with anyone and watch a game and show you how he doesn’t follow the basics of defence: 1. Challenge the man in the neutral zone, or at least your own blue. Nope he sags so deep and lets the other team have possession. 2. Does not make the quick breakout pass in transition, holds on to it way to long. Also loves ringing it around the boards when he has no pressure. 3. At least consider letting your goalie see the shot and take a man in front. Nope, he’s busy playing goalie so he can be a ‘heart and soul’ guy. You understand he’s pumping his stats right? It is what it is, but he’s maybe a 6-7 dman on a good team. We have him as a 3-4 and pay him like it. We are toast. Chiralli cannot evaluate talent. Thank you Connor for making the games at least worth watching even though we are going no where. Nice of you not to say anything bad about Russell after he scores on his own net, good Captain. Too bad everyone else cannot see through leadership versus honesty.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Guarantee Talbot thanks him every day for his ability and courage to get in front of pucks.
      You SIr… have never played defence. That is also a certainty

      • BringitbacklikeSlats

        I have and some have played pro.
        Russell has something like 160 shots blocked this year. That’s 160 saves that Talbot would have been forced to make otherwise. Pretty sure Cam’s not altogether too happy with his SV% as is. Probably just fine not having to make 160 more.
        You’re anti shot blocking mentality isn’t adheared to by a single professional hockey franchise.

      • Dave33

        Bud, ask the right question. Sure, goalies would like a blocked shot, but in front of the net they are going to tell you to take the man and let me have the shot. Russell gets out of position and screens the goalie by his poor play.

  • DerpSolo

    Kris Russell has his good moments and bad moments. Fortunately imo there has been more good than bad, and hopefully he can continue to impress. Good for kris??

  • Rock11

    My opinion of Russell is not strong pro or con but Gregor please never again use a possession or shot metric stat in praise of KR. All that is going to get you is buried under an avalanche on negative stats that can longer be refuted as you gave credence to the value of the stats in the first place. Make whatever argument you like about his value but using Fenwick or Corsi is not a winning strategy with this player.

    PS. It also makes you look like a hypocrite when you dismissed all of those stats in previous posts defending the player.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Quite the opposite no… I thinking it’s completely relevant that for a guy that’s been skewered by the advanced stats gurus over the last year and a half… to have those same stats shown now when they’re showing him as a good player.
      Really it just illustrates how random and innefective these so called stats are as an individual players analysis tool. After all, Kris hasn’t really changed much. HE was a good defenceman last year and he continues to be one this year.

      • Rock11

        The stats are either useless or they aren’t. Dismissing them as garbage when they show a guy you like is bad and then quoting them they show he is good is classic hypocrisy. Pick a side and stick with it. If that number craters over the next 20 games Gregor will need to come here and tell us the Russell is playing like crap and you know he aint gonna do that so I’m saying just make your normal arguments and move on.

        • camdog

          Considering most of the Russell haters have been using these analytics to “prove” their point it is fair for Gregor to use them. It wasn’t long ago that Henderson got taken to the wood shed on Twitter by Wood Guy for ignoring analytics in another rant on Russell.

  • lucky

    I wonder if (almost all of) the Oiler players not named Russel tried to exceed expectations if the team might be doing a bit better. To borrow a phrase from T Mac, too many guys playing for themselves.

  • crabman

    Gregor I applaud your continued optimism that the Oilers still have a shot at the playoffs if they can only get their sh together. I still watch the games and cheer for the team but have come to terms with the fact weeks ago that I don’t think playoffs will happen this year. I hope I am wrong and would be happy to admit it.
    As far as Russell goes, I’m not a fan of the contract or really of the player. But I am happy he is more than living up to it this year. I like my Defencmen bigger and stronger unless they are at the higher end of the puck moving variety. I am one of those people that see the warts more. the lost wall and corner battles. the problems he has clearing and battling the front of the net. and his default give up the blueline to get in a better shot blocking position. That being said it’s nice Seeing him chip in more offence and I think he has benefited greatly by having his minutes reduced and I think playing with a big, strong, mean, mobile partner has complimented him this year. At this point I would like to see if he could add some more offence on the pp. That would add a lot more value to him as a player and his contract.
    But more than anything I would love for him to be able to have a great game or an awful game without the comment section full of the the arguing over the validity of advanced stats and the name calling. the argument is getting old.

  • Anton CP

    Still so many haters here…how is 4×4 really a bad deal? I mean, remember before the inflation and increase of cap room that Nikitin was signed for 4.5×2 and Fayne was for 3.625×4 (which the Oilers is still paying). 4m is 78th highest for defenseman, heck, there’s some players that are not even in the league are getting paid more than Russell. He is what he is, he is a 4m defenseman and he is just playing like one, maybe even better than that.