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.

  • beloch

    Well, let’s throw the “at least” bit right out the windows, because that’s nuts, and treat $5.5M/yr with 5 years of term as the starting point in the negotiations. What does the final contract look like?

    There are obvious contract comparisons that Russel’s agent will make. He might bring up Giordano first, but the only correct response to that is laughter. Russel is no Giordano. Wideman is making $5.25M/yr. Well, that’s a bad contract. Dougie makes $5.75M and, at just 22, is already better than Russel. Brodie is locked up long-term for $4.65M/yr. In what messed up universe should Russel make more than Brodie?

    Brodie’s contract was negotiated recently, and by Treliving. It’s the wall that Russel’s head is going to be pounding against if he insists on more than $4M/yr..

    So, should Treliving sign Russel at $3-4M/yr? It’s not a good idea.

    1. Russel hasn’t been very good this season. Hartley still likes him and gives him too much TOI, but Treliving’s job is to recognize that Russel just isn’t a guy the Flames want on their second pair long-term.
    2. Smid has been better than expected. He’s not good, but he’s at least a viable third pairing defender for the first time since joining the Flames. That gives the Flames six proven NHL defenders under contract next season. That’s all they need because…
    3. The Flames have defenders in the AHL who are NHL-ready. Nakladal might not be around next season if he’s not given a fair shake this season, but players like Kulak or Wotherspoon really need some NHL ice-time to develop. The Flames really had one too many veteran bottom pairing guys this season, and Russel’s departure would fix that.

    I honestly don’t think Russel is worth much on the trade-market, but some years there is a bizarre premium paid for any defenceman with a pulse. If Treliving can get a bag of pucks for Russel, he should jump at the chance.

  • piscera.infada

    Let’s leave dollars out of the equation for a minute. Does anyone here think that by the end of next season–as we’re about to see the end of the Wideman, Smid, and Engelland era–that there should be some pretty decent to great upside defenders ready to push for spots on the NHL team? Now, is it possible that one of those defenders could be ready as early as next season?

    If your answer to either is “yes”, then it would stand to reason that signing Russell to any kind of term would likely put a wrench in that plan. The dollars are a huge issue for me (of course they are), but an even bigger problem is that you absolutely need to create a reasonable path to the NHL for your prospects. Over the last year–plus, the Flames as an organization have invested considerable assets into building up that depth. I get it, not all of them will pan out, some can be used as trade chips, et cetera. That said, with a three player “defensive-core” here making a solid percentage of the cap moving forward, it doesn’t make sense to ink one more for four, five, six years–especially considering he’s not “core-worthy” by any statistical measure short of blocked shots.

    Now, bring the dollars back in. Is it a good idea? Does that really make it a more sound decision? Of course not. My biggest fear is that Treliving re-signs Russell, because it will signal the loss of a great deal of faith I currently have in Treliving.

    And for the “you hate Russell” crowd. No, I don’t. Not at all. He’s just not that good at NHL defense. I’d much rather he be someone else’s headache at that dollar and term, than the Flames.

    • Oil City Roller

      Excellent point. Already we see how hard it is for Nakladal to receive anything even close to a real opportunity in the NHL. Fact is, this is supposed to be a rebuilding team and a quick glance at the standings shouldn’t suggest anything other than that.

      Gio, Brodie and Hamilton are your stabilizers. The bottom three need to be filled out with youth, not just for cap purposes now, or trade chips now, but for the future as well. Let’s say in three or four years Kylington and/or Andersson look like top four D. Now you can move one of your existing top three D to add that last big piece in a Cup run or for more youth to keep the cycle of competitiveness going, which in the end is the ideal. As the team is forced to move out one vet, another rookie is readying to step in.

    • slapshot444

      That may be true but unfortunately there’s a catch 22 at work, The more he asks for the less he’s worth on a trade. The potential teams get to ask this prior to the trade. BT somehow has a way of getting pretty good hometown discounts and clearly wants to sign him as they have been taking for a bit,
      The McKenzie article can actually help as the potential trade teams might breath a sigh of relief finding out they could actually have him for the “relative” bargain of 5 m for 5 years.
      My guess is the readers here will be pissed if he’s signed regardless of the numbers which will need to be well over 4 to get a deal done.
      IMO id like to see a package go out for a true number one goalie after seeing Hiller last night.

  • Phillip

    If there is any truth to this I agree Russel is not worth that amount.

    But seriously, Ari heard one person’s opinion and ran with it like it was cast in stone.

    Anyone ever ask Russel? Good journalism Ari.

  • slapshot444

    Wow what’s with the Russell hate on?
    You should know both sides are trying to close a deal.
    The issue with McKenzie and others in forecasting a contract price is they compare to other top dollar signings. That never works except on free agent day July 1st. If every signed contract went for top dollar then the prices would skyrocket because the comparable would always rise. It also does not ever take into account a hometown discount which Russell will likely take. You might see a contract for 4/5 years with Brodie type dollars sooner than you think. And i’m fine with that.
    You can speculate till the cows come home but you know what, why not wait till u see what BT does then have an opinion, voicing one before hand doesn’t influence anyone.

    • Burnward

      You might see a contract for 4/5 years with Brodie type dollars sooner than you think. And i’m fine with that.

      Most of us are not. Especially with the Flames’ salary structure the way it is. They cannot afford to give Russell that kind of raise. Period. End of story.

      And even if they could, they shouldn’t. Russell at his current cap hit is an OKAY deal. Literally anything more than ~2.7 million per is an overpay, full stop.

  • Craik

    Good “comparable” and good article Ari.

    I don’t think Russell will be in the AHL in two years (too many hockey people think too highly of him) but I wouldn’t want him back here for those $$.

    Besides, as ‘Cfan in Vic’ already pointed out, if he’s worth that much in July, he should be worth a lot in a February trade too.

  • Christian Roatis

    I understand that players havecto cash in on their UFA years.

    You know… Russell has been pretty good. He plays hard he blocks shots but as repeatedly noted he is a possession anchor and doesnt drive the play.

    5+ per year for someone who doesnt put up a ton of points… is somewhat suspect in his own zone.. yeah he plays some minutes and blocks a lot of shots… but the minutes he plays is more a result of the lack of depth on a rebuilding team.

    5+ per year. sheesh. that is a big ask and is not really deserved and does not fit into Calgarys salary structure. maybe there is a GM out there that pays that but I have my doubts. Any GM that offers 27.5 over 5 to this cowboy should just take Russell’s lassoo and hang himself… because giving out a deal like that is career suicide.

  • Cfan in Vic

    See ya, Kris. Enjoy the rest of your career.

    If he holds that much value on the open market, you’d think there’s got to be a good value deadline deal to be made this season.