Kris Russell (Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
Kris Russell is still looking for a contract for the upcoming season, but according to a report, Russell is waiting on teams to clear salary cap space before making his decision. Russell, 29, has been a top-four defenseman over the past three seasons and earned $2.6 million in 2015-16.
Kris Russell’s stay on the free agent market has lasted much, much longer than he probably expected, and the 29-year-old blueliner is reportedly stuck in somewhat of a holding pattern while he waits for teams to open up cap space to get him under contract.
According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Russell is “still waiting for a few teams to clear money,” in order for a potential deal to get done for the free agent rearguard. That money needs to be cleared in order for Russell to sign likely means he’s not going to be taking any sizeable pay cut from the $2.6 million he earned during the 2015-16 season.
While it might not seem like much, if Russell is able to wait this long into the off-season and sign a deal that doesn’t see him take a step back in terms of salary or term, that’s quite the feat.
Consider that defenseman Matthew Carle, who was on a six-year, $33-million deal before being bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning, signed a one-year contract worth $700,000 with the Nashville Predators. The same went for Sam Gagner, who went from making $4.5 million in 2015-16 to a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
That’s not to say there’s no difference between Russell and the veteran players signing cheap, short-term deals, though. Though he has his share of detractors, Russell was a highly sought commodity at the trade deadline. It cost the Stars two prospects and a conditional second-round pick — one that was nearly a first-round selection — to land Russell from the Calgary Flames at the deadline, and Dallas wasn’t the only team interested in landing the blueliner.
Barring his short stint in Dallas, Russell spent the past three seasons as a member of the Flames and did so as a top-four defenseman. Russell averaged 23:23 of ice time during his stay in Calgary, notched 15 goals and 78 points and became known league-wide for his unmatched willingness and ability to block shots.
Currently, there are 10 teams that couldn’t afford Russell’s salary if he was looking to make the same $2.6 million that he earned in 2015-16. Of those, the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche are the only landing spots that would make much sense. Detroit has expressed its interest in landing a top-four defenseman, Colorado sorely needs help on the back end and the Maple Leafs were mentioned as one of the possible destinations for the rearguard early in free agency.
It sounds as though Russell won’t need to worry about finding a home come next season, though, and it may be only a matter of time before one team makes a deal to free up cap space and sign the veteran defenseman.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.