Five days into this summer’s signing season and Kris Russell remains without a new deal.
Nobody’s blocked as many shots over the past three seasons as Russell. He was highly sought after at the 2016 trade deadline, eventually landing with the Dallas Stars in a deal that netted the Calgary Flames defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka, forward Brett Pollock, and a second-round draft pick.
Despite Russell’s polarizing presence, it’s rather surprising the left-shot blue liner hasn’t been locked up yet. He draws praise from old-school types for his hit totals and shot-blocking prowess, while the analytically inclined scoff at his sub-45 per cent Corsi for and sub-50 per cent goals for totals.
Russell will sign. It’s just a matter of where and for how long? Here’s a look at some potential landing spots for the 29-year-old defenceman.
The rumoured interest set
Let’s get the easy marks out of the way first…teams Russell has been linked to.
Over the weekend CSSNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reported the Boston Bruins were feeling out a fit for Russell. Haggerty also noted that the defenceman had turned down a four-year, $17-million offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Russell’s agent Allain Roy promptly shot down rumours of his client rejecting such an offer.
The ship may have sailed on a fit for Russell in Toronto as the Maple Leafs inked Roman Polak to a deal on Saturday. Polak, while a right-handed shot, offers similar shot-blocking, physical skill set that Russell is known for. The Maple Leafs are also currently sitting over the salary cap.
The Bruins could be a more logical fit with just five blue liners under contract for the 2016-17 season. Restricted free agents Joe Morrow and Colin Miller have yet to sign new contracts, although neither is a lock for NHL ice-time next season.
The Vancouver Canucks were reported to have been interested in Russell’s services, but fell out of the mix early.
The cap floor crew
Two teams, the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes, currently sit below the salary cap floor.
Both clubs fit the bill logistically, although the Hurricanes committed to a youthful blue line last season and could have all spots in their pairings spoken for once a deal is reached with RFA Ryan Murphy. Between Murphy and forward Victor Rask, the Hurricanes shouldn’t be long for climbing over the cap floor.
The Devils, on the other hand, present an intriguing option. New Jersey is more than $1.5 million below the floor and have little in the way of experienced defencemen following the trade that sent Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers for Taylor Hall.
Cory Schneider’s goaltending could keep the Devils out of the basement next season, but not without some semblance of an NHL blue line in front of him. Andy Greene is one of the league’s most underrated defencemen and 21-year-old Damon Severson, while there’s much room for improvement, has shown flashes of a legit puck-moving type, but it thins out pretty quickly after that with Ben Lovejoy, Jon Merrill, and John Moore under contract for 2016-17.
The ‘this is so crazy it just might work’ scenarios
The analytics community is not kind to Russell. Well, you know what team drives the stats set mad? The Colorado Avalanche.
Loaded with top-end forwards and a management team that leaves the calculator crew scratching its collective head, the Avalanche have long been in need of some help on the blue line. Why not look to Russell to fill out its defence pairings and offer maximum entertainment value when Twitter blows up with news of the signing.
How about a homecoming with the Flames? Russell’s penchant for laying it all on the line fits the mould for the types of players Flames president Brian Burke loves to praise. The Flames have three great defencemen in Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton. It’s Dennis Wideman, Jokipakka, prospect Oliver Kylington, and bloated salary commitments to Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland beyond those three studs.
Flames fans may want to take a pass on any potential long-term Russell reunion.
And finally, never count out the Canucks. Jim Benning and Co. have shown an unwillingness to commit to a rebuild, so why not rob some potential NHL minutes from Nikita Tryamkin, Ben Hutton, and Andrey Pedan?