The 2022-23 regular season is almost upon us, but Kris Russell is still a free agent and looking for a new home. However, with training camps starting soon, we have seen several players get signed to professional tryout (PTO) contracts over the last week. I expect the same thing to happen with Russell, as he still has plenty to offer as a depth defenseman. Yet, three teams stand out as potential landing spots for the Caroline, AB native. Let’s take a look at them now.
The Buffalo Sabres have a lot to be optimistic about after the way their 2021-22 season went. Although they were still not close to being a playoff team, they performed far better than many expected, and they will be aiming to continue that trend in 2022-23. When noting that they have just under $20 million of cap space, they are in a position where they could add more players to their roster before the regular season begins. They could use more depth on the left side of their defensive group, and Russell would provide them with just that.
At a minimum, I’d argue that the Sabres should consider the prospect of signing Russell to a PTO. He is capable of playing both sides, so he would be a nice addition to either their bottom pair or as a seventh defenseman. With that, the 35-year-old would also be an excellent mentor to the team’s younger players like Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin. That is why it is always essential for rebuilding clubs to have veterans on their roster, and he could be a perfect fit in Buffalo because of that.
If the Sabres signed Russell, it wouldn’t be the biggest of splashes. However, it would give them a defensive defenseman who is famous for blocking shots, so where’s the harm in taking a chance on him?
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks have plenty of defensemen, but it’s hard to determine how many of them are worthy of full-time NHL roles. Therefore, it would be wise for the Sharks to add a player like Russell to camp, as it would give them more options to go with before the start of the season. With that, he looks plenty good enough to play bottom-pair minutes on their current roster, so there’s the possibility that he would be an upgrade on their current group.
The Sharks have players like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Markus Nutivaara, and Matt Benning filling out the bottom half of their defense. Although they all come with NHL experience, I’d argue that Russell is not too far behind them in terms of skill level. I’d even say that he has the potential to offer more than all three of them due to his reliable defensive play and elite shot-blocking ability. Therefore, adding him to camp is a move that general manager (GM) Mike Grier should pursue.
The Sharks sported one of the worst defensive groups in the NHL last season and only made it worse by trading Brent Burns this summer. Therefore, bringing in a stable, hard-working veteran like Russell is something that could be worth considering. This is especially true when noting that he can be had at a very cheap price with the season just around the corner.
I wonder if the Colorado Avalanche would be interested in bringing in Russell. They lost both Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray through free agency this offseason, and they proved to be solid depth defensemen for them in 2021-22. They signed Brad Hunt as a result of their departures, but adding another veteran like Russell to the mix would be beneficial, too.
When looking at the Avalanche’s defensive group, Russell would not fit into their top six. He also would not be able to take away a bottom-pair spot from either Bowen Byram or Erik Johnson, but when noting both of their injury histories, he would be great to have around for extra insurance. With how often players get injured in the NHL, it is essential to have as much depth as possible, so Russell could be a player worth taking a look at during training camp.
It’s also important to note that Russell held a similar depth role with the Edmonton Oilers last season. Therefore, this isn’t foreign territory for the veteran, and it seems possible that he would be open to this sort of dynamic again. Playing in Colorado would allow him to compete for a Stanley Cup, which is something that is currently lacking from his long NHL resume.
Nevertheless, it will be intriguing to see if Russell ends up getting signed by any of these three teams. He is deserving of a PTO from any club when viewing that he is still an effective depth defenseman in the NHL. Therefore, don’t be surprised to see him get an invite to training camp shortly.
Michael DeRosa is a contributor who covers the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. Since 2017, he’s written and edited for numerous websites. Besides his work for THW, you can also find him on NHLTradeRumors.me, BBallRumors.com, BaseballRumors.me, FootballRumors.me and The Rat Trick.