For The Kids, Flames Should Let Russell Go

Kris Russell might have began his last season with the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night.

The 28-year-old Albertan is in the final year of his current contract and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He blocks shots, he shoots left, and he’s an alternate captain.

And the emergence of Calgary’s young defensemen is about to make him completely superfluous.

A lot of the discussion about whether or not Russell should be offered a new contract is hedged in either advanced stats or the salary cap. He spends a lot of time in his own zone and he’ll want too much money. Plus, given his age and size, it’s likely that his style of play – reliant on physical play, shot blocking and occasional bursts of speed – will lead to some physical diminishing over the next couple seasons.

But let’s be optimistic and say he’ll be just as good as he is right now for another year or two.

The biggest reason to get rid of him is that there are going to be a lot of cheaper options available internally very quickly.

Right now, there are three established left-shooting defensemen on the Flames: Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Russell. The number swells to four if you include Ladislav Smid. Traditionally, Brodie’s played on the right side of Giordano and Russell’s been the second-pairing defender. However, the arrival of Dougie Hamilton, combined with both the difficulty the Flames will have moving the contracts of Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland AND the arrival/emergence of right-handed prospects Rasmus Andersson, Kenney Morrison and Jakub Nakladal means that odds are that Brodie will be on the left side for awhile.

That’s awful news for Russell, because the Flames are chock full of left-handed players in their system.

Oliver Kylington? Left-handed shot. Brett Kulak? Left-handed shot. Ryan Culkin? Left-handed shot. Tyler Wotherspoon? Left-handed shot. Kylington is waiver exempt for four seasons, while Kulak and Culkin have this season and next waiver-exempt. Wotherspoon’s waiver-eligible next season.

And I wouldn’t be shocked if another strong NCAA season didn’t lead to the Flames offering Hickey a contract to come to the professional ranks.

Why would you spend $4 million or more on Russell, when he’ll probably end up being a very expensive third pairing defender given Calgary’s depth AND your drafting and development system has given you no fewer than five pretty interesting internal options to replace him with (at a much, much lower cap hit).

Calgary’s forward group took a big leap forward because they drafted and developed in an intelligent manner, but a big part of that development was having open roster spots up for grabs at key times. Next season’s going to be a crucial season for the development of the young defensemen in the organization. It’ll be move up or move on for a few of them in terms of trying to crack the NHL full-time.

For the growth of the young defensemen to continue, somebody has to leave. The easiest, and most logical, player to let go is Kris Russell. He’s had a great run with the Calgary Flames, but for the good of the kids, he has to go.

  • piscera.infada

    Completely agree. Russell is now a redundant asset within the organization. He’s also one who could have inflated value with some GMs (young-ish, alternate captain, blocks…). Really like him as a person and an Albertan. He’s been a good story as well, but I think you have to go with some of the (cheaper) upside on the farm.

      • Tomas Oppolzer

        This is what I was talking about before with unneeded aggression. Neither Claybort nor the article brought up Byron, yet you feel the need to be rude. Try promoting discussion rather than attack someone for something from a completely different article.

        Also, Byron is definitely more valuable than Russell. I’ll take a good, possession driving player over a possession blackhole that blocks a lot of shots because he’s always in the wrong end, any day.

        Edit: Well, looks like this comment is no longer relevant, thanks Flood (I kid)

        • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

          I struggle to see how precedence is not relevant, Claybo and I have been discussing the value of Byron, then he says Russell is not good, to which I reply that Russell is better than Byron.
          Whatever, and why the edit BOL?

          I still wasn’t rude.

  • #97TRAIN

    Calgary has to trade him . Take a look at the salary cap issues at the end of the year and you’ll see why. A few guys are gonna have to go. If you don’t believe me cuz i cheer for Edmonton fine , but have a look for yourself.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I have already covered this for you…Calgary doesn’t have salary cap issues…maybe some difficult decisions but far from cap issues.

      Joe. C 1.2 mil
      Josh. J 975
      David. J 4.0
      Jonas. H 4.5
      That is 10 mil off the books without including anyone considered a core player going forward.

      Players they may not keep…
      Jiri. H 4.0
      Kris. R 2.6
      That is another 6 mil off the books should they decide to go that route. More importantly the following year Calgary can say goodbye to the five worst contracts on the team.

      Enjoy cheering for the Oilers and cursing the Flames all you want but don’t project the Oiler’s cap issues onto the Flames because it just won’t stick.

      • Tomas Oppolzer

        Train may be from Shelbyville, but that doesn’t make him wrong. It’s no secret that CGY has some cap issues coming up next year. They’ll be clear in 17/18, but next year will be very hard with at least Gio, Monny, and Johnny having new contracts kicking in.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    This is a deadline move, or at least a mid-season move in my opinion. The Flames need to have a good solid look at Kulak, Nakladal and Wotherspoon at the NHL level before moving out Russell. Not re-signing Russell has less to do with Kylington and Andersson and more to do with the above three plus Culkin & Morrison. They are the more NHL ready prospects. The two young 2nd rounders are a couple years away.

    This rumour of a contract extension out there is hopefully just smoke and mirrors.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I agree with you entirely. Also, out of the defenders that the Flames are presumably willing to move Russell is the easiest and most valuable. Engelland and Wideman’s contracts are to rich and long and the top 3 are untouchable at this point.

      Out of the 3 bottom defenders, Russell is the one a like the most, but he has to go.

    • ngthagg

      This is true even if none of those players are as good as Russell. Signing Russell hurts us in 3 ways: lost play time for younger nhl ready dmen, lost cap flexibility for the duration of a new contract, and the loss of the return for trading him.

      I know people have an emotional attachment to Russell and his performance last year, but I hope treliving has the business sense to rise above that.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    That’s a good problem to have.

    I think it depends a lot on where the Flames are in the standings come January.

    If we are in a playoff position, no chance he gets moved.

    If we are struggling, then he would land a first for sure.

  • JumpJet

    I don’t think they’ll be much disagreement that Russell should not be with the Flames this time next year, however there will be debate over when he leaves the organization.

    Do you trade him before/at the deadline or wait until the season is finished and hope you can trade his negotiating rights? Of course the Flames will get a much better return if they move him during the season.

    I say you keep him for the season just in case Giordano only lasts 60 games again. Brodie/Hamilton would make a fine first pairing, but any combination of Wideman, Engelland, Smid, and a rookie on the second pairing would be trouble.

  • ClayBort

    Objectively I think that Russell belongs on a third pairing. I like him; but the media (Calgary Sun) is certain that he’s worth more than what Sekera just signed for, somehow (if memory serves from a recent article).

    We’re already paying Smid and Engelland second pairing $. This is $ that is needed up with the forwards, and finally we have internal prospects that should replace or even improve on his performance. Sell!

    • piscera.infada

      but the media (Calgary Sun) is certain that he’s worth more than what Sekera just signed for

      Was that Eric Francis? He said on the radio a few weeks back that Russell was worth somewhere between $6 million and $7.5 million a year on a long-term deal. That’s why no one should ever listen to Francis on these matters–or at all, more realistically.

      I think Russell at even the much more realistic rate of $3-4 million is too much. He can easily be replaced from within for a much more meagre cap-hit.

      • Derzie

        Agreed. Francis can’t find his ass with both hands and a map and I don’t think any team is going to pony up more than $3m a year for Russell. If someone does, good for him.

    • everton fc

      I don’t think the media feel he is worth Sekera type money but since he is a better player than Sekera, his camp will be asking for that contract or better.

  • everton fc

    The article should be entitled:

    For The Kids, Flames Should Let Engelland Go.

    I like Russell. But if he’s looking for a big payday, he’ll have to go. I wish they could keep him as a 5/6 guy. If Kulak continues to develop and remain “steady”, and Nakladal can somehow provide better minutes than last year’s combo of Diaz & Schlemko… Then you can move Russell. Kylington, Culkin, maybe Morrison, maybe Sieloff, eventually Andersson… A lot of options, and we must remember, we are rebuilding…

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Wisneiski (sp?) is down with torn ACL. Out 6 months!

    Would Carolina make a play for Russell? What about Wideman? I would prefer to move that Wideman contract.

    And let’s trade Ramo to Buffalo or NYI already!

    • ngthagg

      Well Wideman is a better replacement for Wisiewski than Russell is. But I’m not sure how interested Carolina would be in adding a veteran. Certainly they wouldn’t give up much in the way of picks and prospects.

  • Derzie

    Smid & Engelland, gone asap. Prospects are between 1 & 3 years away. Russell as a number 5 works for those 3 years. If we get a first, have at trading him, but we won’t.

  • Franko J

    I would like to think by trading Russell it would garner a first round pick, but I think conventional thinking a second would be more likely. I guess all depends who the Flames trading partner is how they value Russell.
    Just like moving one of our goalies I hope Calgary is trading from a vantage of strength.

  • Victoria Flames Fan

    I don’t agree. Unless Russell does demand north of 5-6 mill then sure reluctantly I’d see what we can fetch. But in the playoffs – which I hope we are going to be contending for over the next few years – I’d take a warrior like Russell over any of the young guys in our organization. Russell and Wideman were the reasons we got by the Canucks last year when GIo went down and Brodie got saddled with Engelland. Sign him for at max. $4.1 mill (like Niklas Hjalmarson’s contract).

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    I guess if the return is really really good, you have to consider moving Russell at the TDL. Personally, I would rather see it go down this way:

    Russell wants to be here, he’s an A Captain so the dressing room & coaching staff obviously acknowledge that he plays a leadership role. Why not keep him & try to sign him for 3 years at Engellend type of $$$. Who would complain about if Russell was given a 3 year deal for 2.95mill per.

    I would beg, bribe & trade Engellend, Smid & Wideman. Even consider buyouts or sacrifice some B prospects & 3rd rounders to move these contracts. This not only removes just under 12.0mill off the cap, but it frees up 3 more spots for our young guys.

    That is why we need to see Russell moved away from Wideman & paired with Hamilton upon the return of Brodie.

    @McRib – any word out there if Hickey wants to complete school before turning pro or is it a possibility at the end of this year?