Lost in the hustle and bustle of the last pre-season game for your Calgary Flames last night was an interesting bit of news. According to a report by Calgary Sun scribe Eric Francis (and some comments from the player’s agent), the Flames have begun talks with pending unrestricted free agent Kris Russell on a new contract.
“I had very preliminary talks with Brad, and obviously, they’re big fans of Kris, and it’s home for him, so he’d like to stay,” said Roy following his visit to Calgary.
“Are we going to get something done? We are hoping. We are just beginning talks.”
Russell is in the final season of a contract that pays him $2.6 million annually. Most likely, his camp will want a raise. With the NHL’s revenues projected to go up only slightly this season (to $4 billion, around a 1 percent increase) and the Canadian dollar in the toilet, it’s unlikely that the salary cap will go up at all for the 2016-17 season. He was Calgary’s #3 defenseman last year in terms of duties and deployments, and broke the NHL’s modern-day record for shot-blocking – meaning he spent a lot of time in his own zone alongside Dennis Wideman and was gutsy enough to help his goalie out. He’s one of the most respected players on the team, but (at least last season) was one of the worst possession players on the club. Regardless, Russell’s probably a good fit as a #4 or #5 defender on a good team – which is what the Flames are aspiring to be.
For the curious, per NHL Numbers data, the Flames have 14 players signed to one-way deals for next year (or the equivalent), with Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, Mason Raymond, Matt Stajan, Lance Bouma, Brandon Bollig, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland all signed for a combined cap hit of around $47.3 million (ignoring bonuses for Bennett). That leaves them with $24 million to sign restricted free agents Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Joe Colborne and Josh Jooris, as well as signing two goalies, and then trying to figure out how to fit Russell or Jiri Hudler (who’s also a pending UFA) under the cap.
Now, let’s just take this story for what it is: the player’s agent saying that they’ve started negotiations. This is an organization that seemingly prides itself on saying virtually nothing publicly about internal business – we heard nothing about the Mark Giordano extension until it was finalized, for instance – and Brad Treliving was quoted in the story in the broadest of terms (saying they’d like to keep him). The cynical part of me is thinking the agent wants the negotiation news out there for whatever reason.
Most likely the Flames only have enough money to sign one of Russell or Hudler, and all we know right now is that they’re beginning to talk turkey with one camp. I’d be shocked if they aren’t also talking to Hudler’s representatives as well and trying to figure out which player they can fit into their plans going forward.
We’ll (obviously) have more on this saga as it unfolds over the next several months. Under the terms of the CBA, unrestricted free agents can sign extensions anytime during the final year of their contract, so we theoretically could have news about Russell and Hudler at anytime during this season.