Trade Deadline Risk and Reward: Kris Russell

Has there been a more polarizing Calgary Flames figure over the last couple of seasons than Kris Russell? The pending free agent defenceman has ardent supporters who rave about his fearlessness and character. He also has realistic detractors who point out his defensive liabilities and dependance on shot blocking in response. I’m not sure where the Flames land on this conversation, but I do know what their approach should be with Russell prior to the deadline.

Our profile on Russell is the final in our risk and reward pieces prior to the deadline. We’ve done three so far:

The trade deadline is less than a week away, so let’s break it down with Russell.

Trade him

Risk: Regardless of where you fall on the Russell debate, no one can deny he plays a lot of minutes. Averaging around 23 minutes per game, only TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano play more than Russell does on any given night. A trade for Russell likely won’t bring back anyone who can play right away, so you’re taking a lot of minutes out of Calgary’s lineup. Can those minutes be filled by other players (cough, Dougie Hamilton)? Yeah, I think they can, but until we see it, you never know.

Trading Russell also removes an important voice in that locker room. Yes, I know, leadership and character arguments aren’t the most popular on this site, but this one isn’t irrelevant. Russell is one of the true leaders in that room and from a personality standpoint, he’s a guy I’d take on my team every day of the week.

With that said, making decisions based largely on “intangibles” is not a sound way of running a hockey team. As cold as it sounds, there are other solid character guys in the NHL who are more effective players than Russell. So while removing him from the group will be felt off the ice, his impact in that regard is not irreplaceable. It does still belong in the risk category, though.


Reward: The Flames have a really good opportunity to capitalize on something right now. Russell is a player who will be coveted at the deadline for a couple different reasons. First and foremost, there aren’t a lot of defencemen rumoured to be available. Regardless of how effective you believe Russell is as a player, he does have the ability to step into any lineup right now and play 20 minutes per night. Because there’s not a lot of guys like that out there this year, he’s going to be sought after.

For me, Russell’s best fit would be on a team lacking a little bit of defensive depth. I look at teams like Colorado and Dallas, for instance. One squad is a playoff hopeful while the other is fighting for a division title, but they both leave a little to be desired on the back end. Nashville, Minnesota, and Washington are also interesting and realistic fits. I’m sure you could come up with other good landing spots, which illustrates my point: teams will be interested in him and that could, and hopefully will, drive his price up.

Second, and just as important, is Russell’s reputation around the league. There are certain GM’s who value a lot of the qualities he brings to a hockey team. Russell blocks a lot of shots, he sells out, and genuinely does leave everything on the ice. Some GM’s look at that and are willing to overlook other shortcomings in a player’s game. If you’re Calgary, you have a real chance to leverage that.

Knowing all of that, the Flames have a real opportunity to cash in on a trade involving Russell. For just a second, think of some of the trades made involving blueliners at last year’s deadline. Anaheim turned Ben Lovejoy into Simon Despres; the Kings gave up a conditional first round pick for Andrej Sekera; Jeff Petry netted the Oilers two picks including a second rounder; Tampa paid through the nose for Braydon Coburn in the form of a player and two picks, including a first.

I’m not sure where you slot Russell in among those other defenders, but am I off base suggesting Calgary could get a pair of picks in return? If there is enough interest, the Flames could drive that asking price up even higher. It’s an opportunity that is going to be tough to pass up.

Keep him

Risk: If the Flames are able to retain Russell for next season, they’re very likely going to have to give him a raise. That worries me, because for what Russell is, I don’t think Calgary is in the position to give him that raise. There have been numerous articles written, both on this site and abroad, detailing the reality of what Russell is.

For me he’s an over-utilized defenceman who spends far too much time in his own end. He’s definitely an NHL caliber defenceman, but he’s not suited to be a regular in a contending team’s top four. The numbers below will give you a pretty good indication of that. Up until February 17th of this season, I’ve compiled Russell’s possession and zone start data in all 5-on-5 situations and in close situations.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 6.45.27 PM

The team rank is compared to every blueliner who has played more than 15 games with Calgary since the start of the 2013-2014 season which totals 11 players. In that time, only Chris Butler, Ladislav Smid, and Deryk Engelland have worse raw possession rates; all three of them have lower offensive zone start ratios. Even more telling is in close situations where only Butler and Shane O’Brien have worse possession numbers. In this case, Butler had fewer offensive starts than Russell while O’Brien had more.

So what does this tell you? It says that Russell has spent among the most time in his own end despite fairly favourable utilization. In seeing that, his gaudy shot block totals don’t seem all that surprising anymore. Numbers like these are fine for someone playing on a third pairing, but to sign Russell to a deal that would see him remain in the top four doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Reward: Right now, I don’t mind Russell’s contract at all. Carrying a cap hit of $2.6 million, Russell has given the team decent value even if he’s been forced to play over his head for much of his time here. If there’s a way for that trend to continue, I think there’s a decent conversation worth having about keeping Russell in the fold.

For sake of argument, would it be that bad to see Russell come back on a three year extension at or around his current cap hit? It seems fairly reasonable knowing where things are going. The contracts of both Engelland and Dennis Wideman will be expiring at the end of next season, which would align nicely with Russell moving into a depth role as the number five or six guy. If the team is able to bring in another top four guy over the next two years, I could live with a few years of Russell on the third pairing for under $3 million a season.

The chances of that happening seem slim, though. The contracts signed by Sekera and Petry with Edmonton and Montreal, respectively, are being used as comparables for what Russell might be able to get on the open market. If he has a shot at $5 million annually for a decent term, why would he sign for less money and term with the Flames?

Verdict

I really do like Russell for what he is. The problem is, he’s probably going to be asking for a whole lot more than what his type of player should ideally be paid. With where their cap is going, the Flames just don’t have the option to overpay for a third pairing defenceman regardless of what he brings off the ice. Calgary has the opportunity to get a good return prior to the deadline for a guy they traded a fifth round pick for. That’s good asset management and that has to be the priority.

  • TheRealPoc

    Looking at what Lamoriello just pulled in for Polak, and how ominous our cap situation becomes after this summer, this isn’t even a question anymore.

    • fretsey

      Disgraceful how Toronto is so obvious in their intentions to finish dead last.We are going to hear the Leafs name so much on TDD and the Draft I’m already throwing up in my mouth a little bit.

      No doubt Russell will be moved.Even if he came in for 3mil a year we have no room on the third pairing.Nak and Spoon are showing well and and we still have Engelland and Smid.

      It’s too bad,Kris has always been a pro and shows up for work every game imo.

      • piscera.infada

        It’s pretty funny how the Toronto media was giving it Buffalo for “being a disgrace” last year. Now, “Toronto Management is pulling off shrewd deals”.

        • fretsey

          I’m at a loss for words really.You are bang on,every talking head is praising them for the picks they are acquiring.10 players in their next line-up will have spent some time in the minors this year.

          At this rate they may not have any NHL’ers on TDD to deal.But it’s TO,so Bettman won’t say anything and of course the media will continue their bootlicking.

  • Backburner

    I think Russell’s salary will also make him popular, as he can fit in to nearly any Cap situation fairly easily.

    I think the trade earlier today kind of answers a few questions.. Polak, Spaling for two 2nd rounders and.. Torres, which is basically some salary coming back.

    Makes me think a comparable package of say Russell and Colborne, could bring back at least two high draft picks, or a high draft pick and a prospect.

    This is a great return for Calgary.

  • Plumsrus

    after what Toronto received today. We have to move him! just for him I must insist we get two 2nd rounders. We combine him with Jones for example a first and prospect.

    • flamesburn89

      Agreed, plus the guys that they’re dealing are pending UFAs anways. This happens every year. It’s just that Toronto plans to deal one third of their roster lol.

    • Kevin R

      Agreed. The only problem with doing everything in one year is that you get a log jam of young players & there are only so many spots to give young guys opportunity. I almost think if we can by sheer luck & other GM stupidity net 2 extra 1st rounders this year, we either try to package a few together to get 2 top 10 picks or trade 1 at the draft to get a 2017 1st & another 2nd or 3rd at this years draft. If a player is available to a GM they will trade away draft picks like monopoly money at the draft.

    • Backburner

      Sometimes a team has no other option but to have a fire sale at the deadline and hit the rebuild button..

      But I will say if the Oilers win the draft lottery again this year, I don’t think I will watch another hockey game as long as I shall live.

      Some teams that have drafted high for years (Oilers, Sabres..) should be buyers at the deadline, and consider moving a few picks prospects to better their team outside of the draft every year.

  • fretsey

    Not to derail this thread but does anyone know why JH is not offer sheet eligible while Monahan is??

    I’m just curious,not that I want to see any offer sheets for either of them!

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Steiner, you like him for what he is? After you just detailed how he is worse than every other defenceman on the team over the last 3+ seasons except for Butler and O’Brien? Do the intangibles really earn him $2.6M?

    • He’s been over utilized basically his entire tenure with the team. Sometimes by necessity, sometimes because…I don’t know.

      What Russell is is a third pairing defenceman. If he’s playing that role for 15-17 minute a night, those possession numbers are likely better. Hopefully.

      • MattyFranchise

        I think you’re right on this one. Russell as 5/6D with PP and PK time is great at his current contract.

        Russell getting 3rd D minutes and asking for over 5 million a year… not so much.

        I think it’s time to sell.