Oilers Signing Russell May Work Under 2 Conditions

According to reports from some reliable Edmonton media, the Edmonton Oilers have reached out to free agent defender Kris Russell. The still unsigned defenceman, who played last season with the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames, is arguably the biggest name still on the free agent market and would provide greater depth and help solidify the Oilers blue line which has been a problem for Edmonton in the past.



While the numbers seem wildly speculative, there were rumours out there that Russell had been seeking a $4-$5 million per year contract and that his high asking price is what has kept Russell unsigned so late into the summer. This price is a non-starter for the Oilers. But, if Russell’s asking price has come down, it could explain why the Oilers have started kicking tires and shown a bit of interest. However, signing Russell only works for the Oilers under two important conditions.

The First Condition

Kris Russell, NHL, Dallas Stars, Trade Deadline
Kris Russell is on the move to the Dallas Stars who’ll look to make a push in this year’s playoffs. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

With the potential change in asking price from Russell’s camp, potentially he offers a one-year, low-risk option for an NHL team. If Russell can be signed for a single season at less than $2 -$2.5 million, there are reasons to make a play here. This kind of low ticket price means the Oilers can be selective in where Russell is deployed. Being selective will be critical in Russell’s success.

While the Oilers may not need a defenseman who can play 25 minutes-per game, Russell has the ability to play heavy minutes and create a bit of offense. If you look particularly at his power play production, over the last three seasons he rates 52nd amongst all NHL defensemen.  This would put him in the same company as players like Drew Doughty, Victor Hedman and Tyson Barrie (who the Oilers were rumoured to be very interested in). Russell has also been used effectively on the penalty kill and Edmonton can always use more players with skill short-handed. Russell ranked 89th in NHL blueliners over that same three year period.

The Second Condition

Russell is a left-handed defenseman who would be joining an already crowded roster of NHL left-handed defensemen. He wouldn’t slot in higher than Oscar Klefbom or Andrej Sekera and to argue that he’s a better long-term option than Brandon Davidson, Griffin Reinhart, Darnell Nurse or Jordan Oesterle would be difficult to do based on Russell’s history or poor 5-on-5 production.


It is Russell’s 5-on-5 production that is troubling when you consider that Edmonton has better options already existing in their system. But, should the Oilers effectively work around his even-strength tendencies, signing Russell could give the Oilers some flexibility in easing Nurse or Reinhart into a role better suited for their respective careers and start them in minors with top-pair playing time.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Signing Russell may give more quality playing time to Darnell Nurse in the minors. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Nurse, in particular, struggled at 5-on-5 last season, but as a rookie, it was somewhat expected. Nurse could use a bit more time to bring his game to the NHL level in that regard and if he and Reinhart did not start on the pro roster this season, signing Russell could mean Russell slots in as a third-pairing defender with sheltered minutes in 5-on-5 situations.

If Russell isn’t on board to be a part of a system that uses him in that way, the Oilers should walk away. If Russell has not only accepted, but can embrace backing up players who may struggle at times throughout the year or doesn’t mind being looked to as a player who gets more opportunity based on injury or the need for temporary chemistry, he could be a wise move for the Oilers.

Final Thoughts

On a less costly contract for one year, Russell provides some special team stability, veteran experience, and a tradeable asset at the NHL Trade Deadline. He doesn’t hurt their cap situation this year and gives some flexibility to the Oilers who need to be a bit more creative in how they manage the bonuses that will be required for a team so heavily laced with rookies and bonus contracts.

Perhaps it would be a pleasant change to go from an NHL team who has never had enough viable defensemen to one that has too many. A team can never have an overabundance of good blueliners to call upon and while Russell is not a great defenseman, used in the right situation, he could be a good one.