Edmonton Oilers made the right choice extending Kris Russell

Edmonton Oilers, Kris Russell #4 (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers, Kris Russell #4 (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images) /

The Edmonton Oilers made the right call when it came to extending Kris Russell

Last Wednesday the Edmonton Oilers announced they had extended Kris Russell to a 1 year, $1.25 million contract extension that will come into effect two seasons from now.  Russell is still under contract under his old contract that Chiarelli signed him to at $4 million next season.

When I first wrote this blog here, I thought there would be only two options for Ken Holland to play him at. But Ken Holland came up with a possibility that I didn’t.  He’s going to play Russell – barring training camp, of course – as a 3rd pairing D next season and as a part-time 7th or 8th man two seasons from now.  This is also assuming that Daily Faceoff is right with their projected lineup.

There could be as many as 3 prospects clamouring for Russell’s spot in the lineup as Laggeson, Broberg, and Samorukov are all knocking at the door.  Some of them as early as next season, in an outside chance sense.  There are 3 main reasons why Holland chose to do this.  Let’s go through them now:

It allows the Oilers to fall in line with the rules of the Seattle expansion draft

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This is the biggest reason why Russell was extended.  The NHL is making every team who is participating which is all of them except for Vegas as they don’t get a piece of the expansion fee pie, which will be divided out evenly amongst the remaining 30 teams.

That’s the trade-off for not participating in the Seattle expansion draft).  As far as d-men go who are eligible, the NHL is making it mandatory to have at least one d-man who qualify for exposure in the ED under the following conditions.

1)  They must’ve played at least 40 games the season prior or played in 70 games over the last 2 seasons and 2)  they must be under contract for the 2021-22 season.

Right now the Oiler’s current top 4 of Nurse, Bear, Jones, and Larsson would all qualify as locks to be protected.  Larsson has to be re-signed after this season, and unless Evan Bouchard blows the door off the league and proves without a doubt he can play 20 tough defensive top 4 minutes, there’s no reason to believe Larsson won’t be re-signed in the short term.  Asking Bouchard to take Larsson’s spot before he’s even made the team is asking a little much at this point.

Klefbom doesn’t qualify for exposure in the expansion draft – if he’s out for the entire season as expected, then he would’ve played 0 games this season and only 62 over 2 seasons, so he isn’t eligible for exposure.  The flip side of that is we won’t need to protect him in the expansion draft because he doesn’t meet the requirements for exposure.  That prevents us from having to expose one of the other top 4 guys.

We know it’s highly unlikely Tyson Barrie will be back after next season, and with Matt Benning gone to Nashville, that leaves the Oilers without a d-man to expose. Until Russell was re-signed last week.  I have to say this is an absolutely brilliant piece of strategy from Ken Holland.  He re-signed for the proper value 2 seasons from now, and right now Russell is the only d-man we can both afford to lose and we wouldn’t need to protect.

If Russell isn’t picked by Seattle, then he comes back 2 seasons from now at the proper cap hit and he comes in as a guy who can play defensive minutes, chip in secondary offence, provide shot-blocking and play his integral role on the PK.  He’s also young enough he can play up and down the lineup – in recent years he’s played in both the 1st and 2nd pairings temporarily as an injury replacement, and while he won’t knock your socks off he’ll be a reliable under the radar guy.

He’s also capable of playing as a regular 3rd pairing guy, and if necessary you can move him down to the #7 or #8 d-man without the team missing a beat.  The fact that he can play both the left and right sides is also appealing.  GMs love to have these types of versatile players in the lineup.

We know Holland likes to go with 8 d-men

Holland likes to roll with 8 d-men on the team as he’s been around the block enough to know that it’s unwise to rely on farm team callups if you get injuries in your D corps as defence is the hardest position in the NHL to master, and arguably the most important on your roster.

This is why Ken Holland likes to go with 8 d-men.  As I already illustrated, Russell is a great candidate to be one of Ken Holland’s 8, even if he isn’t a huge name. Assuming Russell isn’t picked in the expansion draft, then he’ll be back two seasons from now, with a cap hit that corrects a mistake from Peter Chiarelli – well two of them, actually.

Russell’s cap hit goes down to proper value and there isn’t an NTC in Russell’s new deal.  Why Chiarelli felt it necessary to give Russell an NTC when he signed Russell to that US$16 million pact after there were no other teams chasing him at the time is a mystery to me, and very much unnecessary.  Too bad Holland didn’t show the same foresight with Mike Smith‘s new deal.

Holland likes what the player brings to the table

A lot of Oiler fans like to rain the haterade down on Russell, but the truth is that’s very much unnecessary. As I already illustrated, Russell is a very versatile player.  He can play anywhere in the lineup, on both sides, and brings significant experience blocking shots and on the PK.  Holland loves what he brings to the table.

If I were a betting man I’d say 2.5-3 seasons from now Philip Broberg will be playing in that spot, but at this point, Russell is a great veteran and a great leader in the room.  Even after that pact expires, Holland might still bring Russell back at the NHL minimum to be a 7th or 8th d-man who plays part-time.