McKenzie: Kris Russell will look for ‘at least’ 5-years, $27.5 million on next contract

February is behind only July when it comes to the best months to follow free agents. July, of course, is when unrestricted free agents get signed, but February is the last month before the trade deadline: a time most prime to trade those expiring contracts, whether you’re trying to acquire assets for the future or build up for a playoff run.

In lieu of the impending frenzy of trades hopefully coming our way, Bob McKenzie has chimed in with some thoughts on a couple of impending UFA defencemen, including the Flames’ very own Kris Russell.

The main takeaway? Russell is going to cash in. Big.

From McKenzie:

Were Russell to go to July 1, is there any doubt he’s going to get at least, emphasis on at least, a five-year offer for $5.5 million? And he may well be looking for more than that, both in term and dollars.

While last season’s free agent frenzy didn’t yield that many huge contracts – Michael Frolik’s $21.5 million deal was one of the bigger ones – typically, when free agency opens, NHL teams go nuts. Considering Russell will be 29 years old come July, and he’s come into his own playing top four minutes the past few seasons, it’s possible he could garner that kind of contract from a team.

The Flames may want to keep him, but even if he wasn’t looking at a potential $5.5 annual average value, it simply doesn’t make sense for them. This is a rebuilding team that needs to maximize its assets, and if Russell has that much interest surrounding him, the Flames need to capitalize on that. If he’s that widely valued around the NHL, he should fetch a decent return: and that return may be more helpful to the Flames’ rebuild than Russell will as he enters his 30s.

That high of a cap hit poses some major problems, though. If Russell is going to cost that much, the Flames need to destroy all thoughts of keeping him and run as far away as they can.

This is similar to the Andrew MacDonald situation. MacDonald was 27 years old when he was approaching free agency, and had been playing top four minutes with the New York Islanders for quite a few seasons. He was the NHL’s shot blocking leader, having stopped 242 attempts with his body in 2013-14. He only carried a cap hit of $550,000 when the Islanders traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers; the Flyers then re-signed him to a six-year, $30 million contract.

Just over a season into that contract, MacDonald is in the AHL.

Russell will be 28. He carries a modest cap hit of $2.6 million, and was the NHL’s top shot blocker last season (and is second in the NHL at the time of writing).

We can’t really compare MacDonald and Russell this season, because MacDonald has only played one NHL game. But last season, when Russell truly broke out as a shot blocker and further established himself as a top four defender, MacDonald played 58 games.

Here’s how the two looked in 2014-15:

Points CF% rel ZSO% rel SCA60
Kris Russell 34 -2.42 +8.09 33.34
Andrew MacDonald 12 -1.24 +3.17 26.31

Russell has a definite leg up on MacDonald in points, but that’s where it ends. Even when playing in a much more sheltered role, pucks still went against him much more often than they went against MacDonald, including dangerous pucks in the form of scoring chances against.

And remember that MacDonald is the one who got sent down to the AHL this season, while Russell is looking at a massive deal. And it’s not like last season was a one-off for Russell: he’s on pace for 23 points this season, has a -5.99 CF% rel, a +0.03 ZSO% rel – though he was much more sheltered prior to Dennis Wideman’s suspension – and his SCA60 is 31.37, the worst on the Flames.

It took the Flyers a little over a year to regret the contract they signed MacDonald to. It looks like Russell could trend in the same direction, and the Flames don’t want to be in the same position. They already have nearly $12 million tied up in their cap between Wideman, Ladislav Smid, and Deryk Engelland until next season. The Flyers have $4.05 million of their cap taken up by MacDonald playing in the AHL.

If Russell ends up with $5.5 million per, and the Flames were to somehow fit him under the cap – which, considering the impending raises for Mark Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan, would already be difficult as is – then his cap hit would fall in between Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie’s.

There’s a difference between UFA and RFA contracts, as UFAs tend to command more. Russell’s next deal will come with him as a UFA, and Brodie’s was signed as an RFA. But would you pay Russell more than the $4.65 million Brodie currently sits at? The Flames didn’t miss a beat when Russell had to miss three games earlier in the season; they played approximately as well as a group of headless chickens without Brodie. 

If Russell is going to command as much as McKenzie estimates, then he has to go. He should go, regardless, for the sake of the rebuild – but the Flames really, really don’t need to be the next Flyers.

  • supra steve

    Some years the prices paid for this type of rental are obscene. Let’s hope this is one of those years. How can BT not be going into the trade deadline thinking that a late first round pick (at minimum) could be a real possibility? Will be an interesting TDL again this year.

    • Kevin R

      I totally agree that BT extracts a late 1st rounder for Russell. Lots of Russell hate, I don’t mind the guy, especially between 2.5 -3.0 mill. He’s a decent 4-5 option, unfortunately being utilized by Hartley at #3 minutes. If he was utilized properly, I think maybe the comments would be a little more positive. & here’s the thing, all the criticism because he’s one of the best shot blockers in the league but GM’s & hockey analysts covet that skill.
      I would think shot blocking would be a huge quality on the PK when possession isn’t such a factor. This is more of a pricing of his overall game. Flames (Hartley) have really hooped the team because if the inappropriate use & high TOI has inflated his value but the underlying stats don’t support his overall game to justify that kind of TOI per game. But he is getting it consistently, last year, playoffs & all this year. Those minutes & shot blocking skills will net you a late 1st rounder at the TDL. Flames simply cannot afford Russell for what he can get in the open market, thanks Bob.
      Especially with Wideman & Smid still under contract next year. Russell is gone, all this talk of contract talks is posturing.

  • Flames Fan in Edmonchuck

    Russell is the Poster Child for “guys you get rid of at the deadline when you are a rebuilding team”. You do not resign this guy. He is not fleet of foot and blocking shots takes a lot out of you, his play will go off a cliff in the next three years, mark my words…. reminds of Glencross, convert him to assets and run to the draft.

  • Phillip

    “Bring up Nakladal, Hartley you idiot! He’s the greatest defenceman in our system. He’s fantastic. Some college dude who saw a game this year said so. Now we can get rid of Russell, Smid and Engelend.” – screams FN for the past couple of months.

    Hartley plays him a few shifts and decides…

    “hmmmm, this guy just isn’t ready yet. I don’t want him messing up a goal or two against the lowly Leafs”… or something like this.

    Good call FN! Yeah I would want to take all the advice I get here from Ari and her clones if I were Tree.

    Definitely!

    (Ari don’t ban me, it is just an opinion. And you did say that you cherish opinions that are different from yourself).

    FN MODERATOR: Well articulated arguments for your own position and against someone else’s position are encouraged. Getting personal and attacking the person are not tolerated.

    • Phillip

      How was this getting personal and attacking the person? Please explain your thin skin, while attacking Flames players like Russell every chance you get?

      FN MODERATOR: Driect your comments at the content not the messenger. For your edification none of the FN writers are moderators, including Ari. There is no need to get upset with her.

      • AF

        Im going to assume English is your second language because this post reads absolutely terrible. I think you’re trying infer that BT knows better than the pro-Nakladal group here, which is fine, but why frame your arguement around ari… It’s completely unnecessary.

  • piscera.infada

    Hartley plays him a few shifts and decides…

    “hmmmm, this guy just isn’t ready yet. I don’t want him messing up a goal or two against the lowly Leafs”… or something like this.

    And what does he do instead? He plays a Smid/Engelland pairing that gives up “a goal or two against the lowly leafs”…

    Look, it’s not like the game against the Leafs was some sort of shining bastion of hockey superiority. The Flames got largely dummied, and if not for some timely goal scoring, we’d probably be having a far different conversation today about “the lowly leafs”.

    • piscera.infada

      The argument is essentially, “Smid, Engelland and Russell are already in the NHL, so therefore they are the superior options.” By this logic, the Flames should re-sign Smid and Engelland when they’re expired too.

      Again, it’s a rebuild. Plus cap considerations. Plus we already have three fantastic veteran D who also just happen to be our best three D. It’s an absolutely ideal situation to fill your bottom three D with youth.

      Also, let’s remember that Nakladal is 28 years old and a veteran professional. He’s been the best D on the farm all seasons and has had little to no trouble adjusting to the NA game. He’s not some raw rookie out of junior.

      So, that really just leaves the third pairing to be filled out by young rookies in about a year. Again, ideal. So let’s make some room already. No way will this team miss Smid, Engelland or Russell.

  • RKD

    I get he is a leader in the dressing room and he is fearless with all his shot blocks but he is not worth 5.5 million. He shouldn’t be in your top 4. Screw that if he wants $27.5 million then trade him for assets. Teams are already asking about Russell and more teams would love a guy like this for a deep post-season run.

  • Burnward

    We got 6 defencemen that we can bring up now or next year. Bye bye Russell, wideman , Smid and Englland and all that Extra cap signs Johnny and money , Bennett long term.

  • Oil City Roller

    Tough times down south. Your stars are running wild and now the team can’t afford to sign decent players. Trading away good players for picks and prospects is a fools game. Unless the decision has been made to go full tank mode!

    • Danomitee

      Your comment is either unintentionally ironic or downright golden satire. I’m hoping it’s the latter because if so it’s hilarious. I live in Edmonton, the only difference between the oilers stars and the flames stars boozing it up downtown from time to time is our players get penalized for it.

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      By all means you are welcome to all the Russell you want!

      We will even waive the rival tax and give him to you for 2 seconds, you know since hes a “Good player”

  • Phillip

    Can’t afford to sign good players? Huh? Like who?

    Oh you’re talking about Russell? Nah, no thanks. The team is choosing to pass on him as we have fine replacement stock coming up the pipeline and don’t need to waste money on Kris Russell. I understand this is different from the Oilers way of doing things. See Sekera contract. .laughs.

  • AF

    Remember when there were talks of Giordano’s camp looking for around 9 M a year? It ended up being 6.75 M. Anyway, I’d just be surprised if this happens because it’s an absurd overpayment for Russell. Who knows though, there’s some ridiculous contracts handed out every year. i’m on board with shopping Russell at the deadline for a pick or two. Maybe a 2nd & a 3rd like the Glencross deal last year.

  • Ramskull

    I think the market has changed and all these mid-range UFA’s are in for a shock when they realize that the money is no longer there for them. I can’t see a single GM giving Russell that term for that money.

    • piscera.infada

      You are absolutely right. Paying a 5/6 defenseman $4m plus (almost as much as Brodie) is silly. The Flames are already paying our 5-7th defensemen way too much(ranging from almost $3m to over $5M). Better to give the prospects a look and develop them; who knows what kind of gold we might find there. Brodie developed playing with better players, he now needs to be part of player development.

  • RedMan

    the question is whether he is a strong/capable 2nd pairing guy… if so, he should get compensated accordingly at @ 4+ mil per.

    However, in my opinion he is a 3rd pairing guy…. which puts the compensation at @ 1-2 mil per. the problem is, who is the flames #4 guy, assuming gio/brodie/hamilton are top 3. if they insist on him being a second pairing, they will pay him accordingly. what we need is a legit 2nd pairing or use prospects to fill the #4, #5, & #6 spots…

    EDIT: OK, why the 2/1 trash ratio? do the trashes suggest you agree that he is not a 2nd pairing?

    • Parallex

      That’s pretty much the thing… he’s played as a 2nd pairing guy but he’s not a legit 2nd pairing guy and he shouldn’t be paid as such.

      My price point on Russell is pretty much at or below what he makes now. Anything else and he just contributes to the #1 issue plaguing the roster right now… the misallocation of resources towards depth. Right now we are paying 4th line/3rd pairing/Spares/Backup around 23M dollars. IMO that’s at least double what it should be.

      I feel like while Treliving passed the “smartly add” test he’s badly flunking the “smartly subtract” test.

      • Kevin R

        Aaaaaasggghhhh!!!!!!!!! Treliving needs to move him before this stuff gets out there! It’s one thing for us to know and post it on FN, but this is TSN! That article could be sitting in every GMs inbox by now. What a disaster! Hopefully, hubris and old school thinking on the part of some GM saves the day.

    • RedMan

      good catch on the related article-

      and passes the smell test as very accurate. I don’t know what the team is focusing on – maybe his attitude, leadership and dressing room intangibles… even his shot blocking prowess has been suspect lately as he has on several occasions lately dropped to early and the apposing player simply skated around him for an easy shot at the goal.

  • Rock

    They need to sign him to a contract as long as Hamilton so he can keep covering up the poor defensive play of Hamilton. i probably will get banned from flames nation for this comment

    • piscera.infada

      Why? The Andrew MacDonald comparable is eerily fitting. He was one of the top deadline rentals that year, at roughly the same age as Russell. They were both widely acclaimed for “playing the game the right way”, they both blocked a ton of shots. The Islander’s received a second and third round pick through trade. MacDonald was signed to a 6-year, 5 million per deal. MacDonald is now in the AHL.

      Immediately following the trade, Mark Streit said the following:

      “He’s a good all-around defenseman,” “He plays really well defensively, blocks a lot of shots and has a really good first pass, and obviously got some offense as well. It’s a really good mix and he’s a great guy in the room too. He wants to win and he competes every night. As I said before he’s going to make our team better.”

      Does that sound familiar?

  • piscera.infada

    So, ideally, what we want is a shut down defender that may not get much offence, prevents shots so he doesn’t need to block shots to play either as a number 4 or a number 5/6 but preferably the former. Sounds a bit like Spoon.

    In any event, how are we going to figure that out if we aren’t going to bother playing the young players/prospects (or Nak because we might as well just trade him now as I seriously doubt he will re-sign with this club)?

    • RedMan

      ya, it can’t be a good optic to bring in prospects and never give them a chance. And Hartley felt he was better off playing Eng/Smid who were getting killed than to give Nak a few more shifts… wow, I’d like to know his reasoning in this!

  • Greatsave

    So I took war-on-ice.com’s stats and compiled them for defencemen who’ve played more than 1000 5v5 minutes since the start of the 2013-14 season, up till the All-Star break this season. That’s 216 D-men. Of those, Russell ranked (at 5v5):

    32nd-worst in High-Danger Scoring Chances For Per 60.

    20th-worst in High-Danger Scoring Chances Against Per 60.

    8th-worst in High-Danger Scoring Chances For %.

    9th-worst in High-Danger Scoring Chances For % Relative to Team.

    4th-worst in Scoring Chances Against Per 60. (Wideman right behind him.)

    12th-worst in Scoring Chances For %.

    13th-worst in Scoring Chances For % Relative to Team. (Right behind Engelland.)

    Absolute worst in Corsi Against Per 60.

    13th-worst in Corsi For %.

    25th-worst in Corsi For % Relative to Team.

    30th-best in Goals For Per 60. Which is offset by…

    29th-worst in Goals Against Per 60. These add up to…

    15th-highest Goals For and Against Per 60. Which confirms the idea that “Kris Russell is not a shutdown D-man”. Too many goals are scored while he’s on the ice. And yet somehow, he plays…

    9th-highest 5v5 Time-On-Ice Per Game, while riding the…

    18th-highest PDO, thanks to the…

    2nd-highest On-Ice Shooting %. And yet he is a middling…

    121st-best in Goals For %, behind Giordano and Brodie.

    Bottom line, those kinds of numbers are not 5.5mill-worthy.

    Tangent: If we think that a) he’s deployed incorrectly by Hartley, b) Hartley’s system is bad for advanced stats (which is fine in a sense; Patrick Roy mentioned not giving two sh*ts about Corsi in Colorado), and c) Russell’s developed habits like backing off and blocking shots under Hartley, is it possible that another coach can deploy him correctly and coach the bad habits out of him?

  • Greatsave

    After digging through advanced stats looking for comparables from 2013-14 till now, I hate to say it, but if a 35-year-old Francois Beauchemin gets a 3-year, 4.5mill per deal? Anything’s possible for Russell.

    Mind you though, Beauchemin was pretty much an even-Corsi player on an even-Corsi Ducks team for several years before moving to the Avs where everybody’s Corsi numbers are in the gutters, whereas Russell has spent the past few years already in Corsi gutters.