As we get closer to the February 29 trade deadline, expect talk about the Calgary Flames and their impending free agents of various stripes to start heating up. Case in point? Tonight’s Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada, where Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had an interesting morsel of information regarding a certain pending unrestricted free agent from the local hockey club.
To quote Friedman’s assessment of the situation:
Another defenseman to keep an eye on: Kris Russell from Calgary. Hearing teams have been asked about Russell’s availability. He’s a UFA. But one GM said he’s been told that Calgary still wants to try to see if they can re-sign him.
Russell is making $2.6 million this season and he turns 29 in May, and he’s from Central Alberta originally. After serving time as a third-pairing defender in Columbus and St. Louis, he was sent to Calgary in a sign-and-trade dead in the summer of 2013 and seemed to find a home in the Flames blueline – albeit during a rebuild on a team that had suspect depth until just recently.
Unfortunately, Russell’s made his reputation on shot-blocking in Calgary and that’s troublesome for two reasons. First: Russell plays a physical style and sacrifices his body a ton. That means he’s more susceptible to injuries than players that play a different style of game and long-term there should probably be some concern about his ability to maintain a high-level of player over the long-term. He’s already been injured this season and at times seems visibly slower than in years past.
Second: Russell spends a LOT of time in his own zone. Here’s his player usage chart for his career.
If Russell was a bonafide top-four defender, his bubbles (indicating Relative Corsi) wouldn’t have that much red in them as he spent more time against better players. Unfortunately, these numbers indicate that as you give Russell more ice-time against better players, he gets his head kicked in possession-wise – which is why he’s in a position to set NHL records for getting in the way of shots.
Russell definitely has some value and can contribute offense when given the chance. But any argument regarding signing him long-term is one vested in “Hey, who else do they have to play on the second pairing?” logic rather than any arguments that he’s the guy best suited for that job. Russell’s a good third-pairing defender on a good team, but signing him long-term and giving him a raise means cementing him into a spot that he’s not well-suited for.