The Kris Russell sweepstakes, which has dragged on much longer than anyone expected, is finally over.
One would have assumed the Edmonton Oilers would call it a night after shipping Nail Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues, but GM Peter Chiarelli’s work wasn’t done there.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Oilers have inked the 29-year-old free agent defenseman to a one-year, $3.1-million deal, and Friedman said the contract could be announced as soon as Saturday morning. Russell was expected to sign before the end of the off-season, and it’s no surprise to see him sign with less than a week remaining until the start of the regular season.
For Russell to land with the Oilers isn’t all too shocking. Edmonton had long been reported to be one of the teams chasing Russell — one of the teams that Russell was considering, too — and for the rearguard it’s a return to Alberta after spending the past three campaigns as a member of the Calgary Flames. He was one of the hottest commodities at the trade deadline, being sent to the Dallas Stars for Jyrki Jokipakka, Brett Pollock and a conditional 2nd round selection in 2016.
Signing Russell helps round out the Oilers blueline, especially with the loss of Andrew Ference to a career-ending hip injury, and the money saved with Ference on long-term injured reserve can help pay for Russell’s deal in Edmonton.
This past season, Russell scored four goals and 19 points in 62 games while averaging upwards of 23 minutes per game, but it’s unlikely he takes on a top-pairing role, or even a top-three gig, with the Oilers. Russell will no doubt fall behind Andrej Sekera, Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom on the depth chart, and with the emergence of Brandon Davidson and Darnell Nurse, Russell could potentially find himself taking on third-pairing minutes.
The advanced stats community hasn’t been kind to Russell and his underlying numbers haven’t been great, but he’s a useful asset on the penalty kill for teams that value shot blocking. Russell is fearless when it comes to shot blocking, and he’s arguably the best player in the league at it.
With Russell signed, the Oilers will still have nearly $8 million in cap space, and that could mean a signing is on the horizon for one of the Edmonton professional tryout players. Both Kris Versteeg and Eric Gryba still remain in training camp with the Oilers with less than a week remaining until the regular season.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.