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.