Reasonable Expectations: Kris Russell

That goal was sweet. Kris Russell, outta nowhere! (in fact, that would be a fitting title of a novella written about his 2013-14 season). Ending that 2810481 year jinx in Chicago was nice and that got a win for Reto Berra, which didn’t happen often.

It is fair to say that Kris Russell has far-exceeded the expectations of someone acquired for a fifth round pick. After a strong start to last season, Russell was rewarded  with a two-year extension that brings him under contract until 2016-17 at a very reasonable $2.6 million per season.

Russell has a surprisingly good history of driving possession but played more last year than ever before in his career and his possession numbers suffered. Perhaps the Flames simply asked too much of Russell last season and weren’t able to shelter him enough. Let’s see what we should expect from Russell this season

THE NUMBERS

KR2

Last season, Russell posted a career high in points last season and surprised a lot of people with his ability to contribute offensively. However, Russell’s play noticeably declined near the end of the season but it likely had a lot to do with the fact that he was being relied upon more heavily, a role he is likely not suited for.

Prior to coming to Calgary, Russell had a pretty rough 2012-13 with the Blues numbers-wise, who likely weren’t able to give him prime zone starts and PP time as they had many capable defencemen above him on the depth chart.   

KR

from stats.hockeyanalysis.com (Pour one out for Extra Skater)

Looking at Russell’s 5v5 CF%, he didn’t really drive possession all that well last season but, once again, it wasn’t like the Flames did very well in that regard last season across the board (outside of Gio and Brodie) hence the fact that Sam Bennett is now a Flame. 

What I find significant about those numbers is the 1233:42 that Russell played at even-strength last season, a career high by a significant margin. Russell soaked up a lot of minutes and likely played in some situations that the Flames weren’t exactly comfortable with, therefore his possession numbers were bound to suffer. 

For what it’s worth, Russell posted a CF% of 51.1 2012-13 in St.Louis, albeit with a much better team and playing only 470 minutes at evens. In fact, Russell’s CF% was >50 in each of his previous seasons before coming to Calgary, including the seasons he played in Columbus. I am not quite sure what to make of this information, other than the fact that Russell may be capable of driving play a lot better than he did last season if used in the right situations.

USAGE

Clean_Image_for_Blogs

Russell was slightly sheltered last season and I would expect that this season will be more of the same assignment wise. Russell has proven himself to be effective in the offensive zone while being fairly inconsistent defensively.

In an ideal world, I think the Flames would use Russell as a sheltered-minutes bottom pairing guy, perhaps paired with a more conventionally-styled d-man. However, the Flames don’t exactly have this luxury and compared with some of the other  options that the Flames have on defence (see: Engelland, Deryk), Russell will likely see more minutes that he probably should this season.

kr3

from stats.hockeyanalysis.com

Last season, Russell was quite effective on the power-play positing a career high in goals and points. Four out of Russell’s seven goals came with the man advantage and, as you can see from the table above, Russell has demonstrated an ability to generate a lot of shots on the PP in years past. 

This facet of Russell’s game is an important one for the Flames next season as the Flames could have four reasonably solid defenders on their 2 PP units with Gio, Brodie, Russell, and Wideman.   

EXPECTATIONS

To my mind, Russell is a perfect case study in reasonable expectations. If the Flames can find a way to use Russell in sheltered minutes, pair him with a capable defensive defenseman (they may need to find one first), and give him plenty of time on the power-play then I think the Flames will be very pleased with the offensive upside of Russell. 

However, the lack of depth on the back-end for the Flames next season will likely expose Russell to minutes and situations that he isn’t built for and I would expect him to suffer possession-wise again. That all being said, I think all Flames fans are already impressed in what Russell has given the Flames already and the fact that he is an everyday NHL defenceman is pretty good for the price that was paid to acquire him.      

  • prendrefeu

    Good analysis re:
    – provides reasonably good possession, especially if paired with a capable defensive defenceman
    – needs to be kept to reasonable minutes against middling #2 & #3 lines, as results will quickly deteriorate if too much asked of him (minutes, QoC etc)

    Interesting re poor CF with Calgary last year in what was generally a good year for Russell, while consistently posting much better numbers in his career. Likely a result of minutes/QoC issues and also his Flames partners versus in COL and STL…WOWY stats could likely shed some light on this.

    Anyway if I’m BT/BB, Russell has been a pleasant addition overall, bringing some offensive capability (30 points again this year would be great), possession and defending.

    Ideally on a good team he would be a 5/6 defender paired up with a heavy on the 3rd pairing. For the Flames he is a good serviceable reasonably-priced placeholder for the next couple years while the D is rebuilt.

  • prendrefeu

    This poses the question who on the Flames would be his ideal linemate? If no one then why did the Flames not get a UFA that could help solidify the depth in this area.( I believe they tried, I’m giving BT the benefit of the doubt) Eng’s may or may not be the answer, although I suspect he will not be the answer. Are there any UFA’s out there that could still help as Wspoon and Sieloff develop; even an older guy for one year. Is there a trade for a higher end 3/4/5 in the works only time will tell.

    • I always find it hard with regards to prognosticating defensive pairings, the ones that seem to make sense don’t always end up working out. So I remain hopeful that something will materialize for Russell on the bottom pairing but you’re right, at present there isn’t any really appealing options, Engelland included.

  • prendrefeu

    – Intermission –

    Sorry, this is off topic – but have any of you been catching some of the European Champions League games?

    This happened:
    http://webmup.com/I51zl/

    … anyway, back to the Kris Russell discussion.

    I agree w/ Stubblejumper (so far). He’s a great asset during the rebuild and will, possibly, but not guaranteed, be around when we lift the Stan Lee Bowl in 2016. I look forward to his production, within his capacity, out there on the ice while our rookies and prospects emerge into the Super Friends.

  • I am not quite sure what to make of this information, other than the fact that Russell may be capable of driving play a lot better than he did last season if used in the right situations.

    Always make sure to check context. In Russell’s seasons with St. Louis he was above water in absolute terms, but was a negative relative corsi player (-4/60 and -1.6/60) even though he was facing secondary competition.

    He was above water during his time in CBJ, but was always given the high ground by his coaches…for example, his ZS ratios in his first two seasons? 64% and 72% (!!) In fact, Russell has never had a ZS below 50% at any point in his career. He has pretty much never faced tough competition in aggregate either.

    So he’s probably not a guy who is going to drive anything or carry a lesser partner. As you suggest at the end, he’s a depth/PP guy.

    What’s kind of concerning about Russell is he somehow sank TJ Brodie when he played with him last year. Their combined corsi % was just 45%. Bordie was 53% away from Kris while Russell was 43% away from Brodie.

    • PrairieStew

      Kent – your numbers confirm what I feel he is – a very good third pair defenceman. Seeing how we have 2 more of those in Smid and Engelland this leaves Russell to play on the second pair with Wideman, who, as we discussed yesterday needs a strong supporter to make him an effective second pairing guy.

      Those numbers with Brodie are depressing – it really would be great if we could spread Gio and TJ around and get 2 pairs close to 50% instead of one at 55 and one at 43.

      As to potatoe’s remark on Derek Morris. I was looking at the remaining UFA’s yesterday and his name popped out at me too. Right shooter – Treliving is acquainted.

    • seve927

      Why the big concern about the Russell/Brodie numbers? Seems to me this was likely when Gio was out (he was averaging over 25 min during that spell). Russell against the Kopitar’s, Thornton’s, Sedin’s of the world? I don’t think we’ll be seeing those matchups much.

      Better numbers would be nice, but I just don’t see why those in particular would surprise or alarm you.

      Edit: As I see has been discussed!

  • Parallex

    Reasonable expectations: We don’t have any d-man prospects ready for primetime so just eat some minutes you otherwise wouldn’t and don’t make Butler/Staois-like facepalm worthy embarressing brain farts.

  • Re: Morris. He’s finished.

    The Bruins need to get rid of $ and they have Johnny Boychuk to dangle. That’s the dude I’d go after if I was the Flames and wanted a RH shot for the point this year. One year left on his deal, but if he works out you can either try to re-sign him or flip him at the deadline.

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      Yes JBoychuk would make sense but Bruins not really over the cap since good old Marc Savard will stay on LTIR so they don’t have to rush. And of course our buddy Jaro Maginla has left

    • PrairieStew

      Agree that Boychuk a better option if you can get that done; but disagree that Morris is totally done. Played over 1000 minutes 5v5 last year and was middle pack among PHX D, much better numbers than Engelland on a far weaker team.

        • PrairieStew

          Depth placeholder. Not Shane OBrien bad – or even 12-13 Cory Sarich. Wotherspoon the only young guy that appears to be even close to playing – and in his short time last year got basically pounded 40% CF ?

          Upside is in case of injury you don’t have to call up rookies Sieloff or Kulak who probably both need at least 2 years in AHL to determine if they are even going to be NHLers.

  • Burnward

    Quick question for you guys..

    Are there any “not reasonable predictions” or “surprising predictions” you can make for this team because of their advanced stats?

    No disrespect, but I could have pulled numbers out of thin air and said “between…”and they would probably be within shouting range of the predictions we see here.

    Thanks for confirming what we know, but how about putting that effort into discovering something we don’t?

    Again, no disrespect. I appreciate your work, but it seems like chasing your tail if all you confirm is the general consensus.

    Work smart, not hard.

    • Keep in mind not all readers are willing to put in as much research as you might be to determine expectations for players heading into the season. Which is why this sort of series is useful for many. In addition, it makes a lot of sense to establish a historical base rate of performance to anchor future discussions and expectations.

      And, finally, you just aren’t going to surface a lot of truly counter-intuitive potential outcomes for a lot of guys on the roster, so it’s really hard to make that into a series (without being wildly speculative or purposefully contradictory).

    • Fair enough, but I find that there isn’t exactly a general consensus when it comes to some players (think Smid for instance). The data that we are trying to use, in some cases, pokes holes in perceived values that don’t reflect what the player is capable of.

    • piscera.infada

      Love the details provided, but have to agree with Burnward. Seems like pretty consensus projections, and mostly confirming what BB said: Advanced Stats like a lamp post to a drunk, good for support but not for illumination.

      Possible you could use the stats to illuminate some key things/weaknesses that need to be addressed, or trends that might be anticipated?

      e.g.
      1. were the numbers consistent throughout the year or were there trends when things were dramatically different that could shed some light on the future?
      2. Like what happened when players in their “correct” spot versus moved up due to injury? (depth issues),
      3. or significant changes in results over the season (good or bad) and what does that resonably foretell for the future?,
      4. or what would a “normal” progression be for a young player i.e. Monahan/Colbourne/Backlund/TJ Brodie be and impact on projected success in upcoming seasons?,
      5. or is there a difference in rates of progression for different levels of players?
      6. or at what point does it become clear you’ve got a “superstar”/”generational” player versus a very good player?
      7. or what’s the normal impact on a players’ results after signing for big $s, versus shorter term contracts? Contract year results versus other years?
      8, or what’s reasonable to expect i.e. new players to be added each year for a team and still be successful? Are we shooting ourselves in the foot by not leaving some spaces open for the best prospect(s) to slot into versus having to jump a vet in every case?

      Perhaps a few things you could consider that might be more interesting…

      • Burnward

        cccsberg wrote:

        8, or what’s reasonable to expect i.e. new players to be added each year for a team and still be successful? Are we shooting ourselves in the foot by not leaving some spaces open for the best prospect(s) to slot into versus having to jump a vet in every case?

        Fantastic questions.

        Essentially “what is the lost opportunity cost of signing Setoguchi rather than providing development time for 3-4 top prospects during this crucial year focused on development.

        I still can’t get my head around the Setoguchi signing. Do I think he could bounce-back and get 15 goals this year…sure.

        However I think it’s MUCH more important that Baerstchi, Granlund, Reinhart, Knight and Ferland get NHL playing time to speed their development and who, as a group, would likely outperform Seto this year and given this experience could all be regulars the following year. In short I see this move setting back the development paths for a potential 50+ pt 2LW playmaker, 40pt 3C, a solid two way 35-40pt 3rd line Fwd, a 30pt defensive 3-4C, and 2/3 power Fwd.

        Maybe I’m the only fish swimming upstream on this one but IMHO signing Seto speaks more to the OLD mentality of WIN NOW rather than the patient development approach needed.

        While not quite Jeff Friesen or Tony Amonte it’s close…and not what is needed now at this life cycle development stage.

        A low risk move…yeah. An ill thought-out move…absolutely…to say nothing of the damage it does to the attitude of the top prospects in the system.

        • piscera.infada

          While not quite Jeff Friesen or Tony Amonte it’s close…and not what is needed now at this life cycle development stage.

          A low risk move…yeah. An ill thought-out move…absolutely…to say nothing of the damage it does to the attitude of the top prospects in the system.

          I saw an interesting post up on Oilersnation from Dan1919 (I know, heresy), it stated:

          …[T]here seems to be an alarming amount of ignorance around prospects in this city. Many seem to think because a teenager is highly regarded that they will pan out without issue (Yakimov or Kharia) and hence an NHL team can be built and based around players who aren’t even in the NHL.

          Until this team realizes that an NHL team needs to be built, and prospects have to come in and win positions, they will continue to flounder in the basement.

          Not getting a center this year because Draisaitl will save the day, then assuming Yakimov will come in next year to provide added depth is just sheer reckless.

          This is exactly the way we should be looking at a signing like Setoguchi. You cannot view the young players as pencilled in to anything. We speak of the “meritocracy” because it sounds good – and works in theory, yet we often don’t think about what needs to happen for it to work in practice.

          We know that it requires players that can come in a “beat out” an older or more established player – that’s a given. Knowing however, that the team needs to ice a set number of players, as well as still remain somewhat competitive/consistent (as that will benefit the younger players already on the roster, as well as create the base-condition of competition within the organization), we need to understand that if none of the younger players are truly “ready” what are you going to do now?

          This seems to be the argument that’s often lost in all of this. We typically hear an argument centred around keeping a slot open to “rotate young players through for ‘x’ number of games”. Sounds great. However, what happens if no player(s) prove they can do it for 82 games? This scenario doesn’t even account for injuries, slumps, trades, or any of the other myriad situations that can arise over the course of a given season.

          Moreover, the general idea that the organization would rather leave prospects in development leagues rather than forcing them into an NHL lineup before they’ve proved (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that they’re ready, proves management is taking a patient path to development. Again, if one (or two, or however many) prove they belong, then the organization can (and will) figure it out. Creating a situation where your prospects must (whether it’s through vacancies in the roster, injuries, piss-poor play, or again, any number of situations) play above their heads, is the one ill thought-out move that will absolutely damage them.

          Above all else, we now have a player we can refer to as “The Gooch”, if/when he does underperform.

          • Burnward

            I agree in principle, but not in practice. By filling the open(?) slot with another vet I guess they are saying none of the prospects has already proved they belong? I think that’s a dubious argument, and i.e. Baertchi has already shown he can play(though still developing, as is, e.g. Monahan). And what about Gaudreau who at the World Championships was like one of the best USA players…?

            There is a point were the lack of space stars to look like a lack opportunity and is disheartening and discouraging.

            How does this need to function to actually work? Well, training camp and the start of the season TRULY needs to be a meritocracy, where the best players stick, regardless of veteran status or past NHL experience. Is that going to happen? WHAT will be required to beat out a vet? Will a few weeks of practice and several pre-season games be enough to define that? I have some serious doubts, but we shall see. Last year Monahan made the team because of size, maturity of attitude and he was one of the top scorers in his “cup of tea” tryout.

            With the current crop of vets signed I’m seriously doubting any prospects will make it out of camp and call-ups will have to wait for injuries. Cap considerations aside, not sure that is fair, as I anticipate several prospects will have earned their shot THIS YEAR by time the season opens.

            Perhaps an underlying motive of delaying the inevitable surge (of talent) to the Flames is at hand to take advantage of a strong draft year coming up? I guess time will tell…

          • Burnward

            Yes I read the post at the time with interest too, particularly given Edmonton’s penchant for rushing prospects.

            However comparing Yakimov (19 yrs, never played in NA) and Draisaitl (18 yrs) to players entering D+3 to D+5 experience (20-24 yrs) is a poor comparative.

            While I appreciate your attempt the pervert the argument as “anti” patient development, trying to get limited playing time for D+3 players with good potential emphasizes the “development” part of the equation.

            Simply put..adding reclamation projects to our roster does nothing from a developmental standpoint.

            And from a master team planning perspective…do we not want to trade off some current players who do not fit the longer term team plan and fill these spots with good capable experienced prospects?

            This means Baertschi, Granlund, Reinhart, Knight and Ferland need to be ready to go in the next 6-18 months to fill the voids left by DJones, Hudler, Glencross, Stajan, McGrattan, Byron, Setoguchi etc.

            Retaining Seto and reducing development time isn’t “anti-patient”…but instead “anti-development” and “defensive traditional thinking”.

        • Parallex

          “Maybe I’m the only fish swimming upstream on this one but IMHO signing Seto speaks more to the OLD mentality of WIN NOW rather than the patient development approach needed.”

          I don’t see how. I mean do you really think that Burke and Treliving think that the team we have can win now? I’m as big a critic of Burke as there is out there but even I don’t think that he’s that out-to-lunch.

          IMO his signing is entirely part of a patient development approach. Signing him means the team doesn’t have to slot a prospect into the line-up it means they can be patient… with all of them. Come mid-season if Gaudreau or Baertschi or Granlund is blowing the AHL apart he’s (Setoguchi) so cheap that even if he isn’t anything more then a solid third-line winger (and he’s been more then that in the past) they can trade him and get a mild futures package in return (ala Stempniak). I really don’t see an issue with saying to a prospect “prove that you can be great at the level below the NHL before you get the chance to prove you can be great in the NHL”.

          If he’s more then that then great… we now have a 27 year old natural RW (which is an area of low depth in the org) that we can retain and trade depth elsewhere (ala Glencross) or we can get a bigger return for him. None of the prospects are going to be harmed by having to start the year in the AHL.

          I think it’s important to not rush the rebuild and that this year the Flames continue to focus on building the prospect base rather then rush them into the NHL ranks. We can be the Oilers or we can be the Redwings… I’d rather be the Redwings.

          • Burnward

            Yes, much rather be the Red Wings than the Oilers. Problem is we’re not talking 2-3 prospects here, but likely as many as 12-15 over the next 2-3 years. You can’t do that all at once or even over a couple of years. It is imperative that we graduate several this year as part of a continuos process, and space needs to be available in order to accomplish that. If that can be done mid-season then fine, but I expect several(2-3) can make the jump right out of the gate and it seems like the management is saying no, no no, not yet.

  • Burnward

    Given Russell’s pedigree and the fact he had a career offensive season, I’m impressed by his play. He may be given tougher minutes but I think he could handle the challenge. If I am BT I would bring in a guy like Boychuk he could eat a lot of minutes and take some of the pressure off the other d-man.

  • Burnward

    The problem was that Russel’s Corsi QoC (even Corsi Rel QoC) was much higher with the Flames than St. Louis. What is telling is that his DGVT suffered near the end of the year, even when ESSV% is accounted for. I surmise that Russel’s lower Fenwick can be explained in part due to his defensive partner (Smid) – a WOWY analysis would be apropos.

  • piscera.infada

    With the current crop of vets signed I’m seriously doubting any prospects will make it out of camp and call-ups will have to wait for injuries. Cap considerations aside, not sure that is fair, as I anticipate several prospects will have earned their shot THIS YEAR by time the season opens.

    Yes. I would say it says they haven’t proven that they belong on a full-time NHL roster yet. Why? Because they haven’t. You’re making a massive assumption in saying you “anticipate several prospects will have earned their spot THIS YEAR”. Unfortunately, it’s not a pragmatic tack for management to take going into an 82 game season – “rebuild” or not.

    I’ll grant you Sven Baertschi’s 51 NHL games have proven that he belongs in the NHL for roughly 20-some games a season – above that, yes, he deserves a fair shot, but a cemented position? I’m not so sure.

    Moving down the list, Granlund, he’s played 7 reasonably effective NHL games in his young career. Again, that hardly cements his spot for 82 games.

    Max Reinhart? 19 games of NHL hockey over two seasons. He’s looked alright, but I don’t think he’s pencilled in for 82…

    Gaudreau. Love the kid as a prospect, hope he sticks, and I’m not worried about his size all that much. However, all we have to go off is 1 NHL game at the end of the season when both team’s fates had been decided, and some exceptional play in the NCAA.

    By no means am I saying none of these guys deserve a shot. It’s the assumption that they can be relied on for 82 games a year to start the season that I take issue with. I would prefer to see the kids get their shot surrounded by NHL bodies, not an AHL team + Gio/Brodie.

    Look, the prospects will still have all kinds of opportunity this year. If Gaudreau comes in and absolutely blows everyone out of the water through camp, pre-season, the first couple games of the regular season, and so on, is Treliving really going to say “Setoguchi and his 3 points in 8 games really deserves that spot beacuse, well, age…”? Of course not. That goes the same for Baertschi, Granlund, Reinhart, Agostino, and anyone else under the sun. However, if you have to play the season opener tomorrow and you have to decide which of the prospects are least bad simply by virtue of not having enough real NHLers, you’re in a whole heap of trouble.

    • piscera.infada

      So your argument is the top prospects are likely deserving but aren’t sure they can handle a full 82 games?

      However:
      – Reinhart (22 yrs) led the Heat in scoring,
      – Granlund was a top 12 AHL rookie,
      – Baertschi (22 yrs)has proven he can play at the NHL level (as agreed by you),
      – Gaudreau (21 Yrs)was an exceptional player in the NCAA and is older,
      – Knight (24 yrs) was a good NCAA player, and defensively sound, and
      – Ferland (22 yrs) had 1.0 and 1.6ppg WHL D & D+1 seasons and excellent power forward potential (close to both Baertschi and Monahan were 1.3ppg in their draft year).

      “By no means am I saying none of these guys deserve a shot. It’s the assumption that they can be relied on for 82 games a year..that I take issue with”.

      Rather than singularly thinking of 82 game snapshots I would prefer to think of rotating 4-5 deserving players through in 15-25 game chunks, with the possibility Gaudreau or Baertschi stay up longer depending on their performance.

      These prospects have so far proven they deserve a shot, and they all fit in to the longer-term development plan of the team (anyone over 24 need not apply).

      From my vantage point the move is regressive and lacks focus on what the team needs to accomplish this year.

    • Burnward

      Although what you say sounds good, I believe its hugely biased against new prospects.

      Firstly you’re pretty clear about a strong concern that the prospects can’t be relied on for 82 games, even if they start strong. May be so. But at the same time you seem to assume the vets can be relied upon, and not only versus last year’s results (e.g. DJones, Glencross, Smid…) but against their “potential” or one of their better years, giving them the benefit if the doubt. This is clearly biased against prospects even though the concern (i.e. 82 game consistency) is equally valid for the vets.

      Secondly the prospects not only have to match a vet, which in and of itself would be winning i.e. lower $s and younger going forward, but they have to crush them to have “beat them out”. Clearly not fair again. Monahan last year beat out about 20 vets after his first 9 games, by being near the team lead in scoring. Is that what is required? Gaudreau has already proved his worth at the Worlds, against a better average player than the Flames’ average player. Its a joke to say he hasn’t proved it yet. Well yes, he just started, give him a chance…

    • Burnward

      “By no means am I saying none of these guys deserve a shot. It’s the assumption that they can be relied on for 82 games a year to start the season that I take issue with. I would prefer to see the kids get their shot surrounded by NHL bodies, not an AHL team + Gio/Brodie.”

      Final thought, it was that AHL team & Gio/Brodie that played the best hockey of the year last year… instead of the one early on with all the vets. Nothing clearer than the results themselves.

      IF the training camp started as a zero sum process, i.e. a complete meritocracy we’d be much further ahead.