Oilers Mailbag: What does future hold for defenceman Kris Russell?

Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19) celebrates the team's win with Kris Russell (4) during third period NHL action against the New Jersey Devils, in Edmonton, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (Jason Franson/CP)

EDMONTON — Ah, the spring mailbag. Hear it sing, with notes of sarcasm and fragrant tones of complaint.

It’s the May long weekend and this hockey writer is at home with family — not on the road covering the National Hockey League playoffs — for maybe the second time in the past 20 years.

The good news? Chilling around a fire at the lake this weekend, where for once a face mask might come in handy.

The bad news? I have to actually help put the dock into a freezing Alberta lake — rather than sending instructive texts from San Jose or Vancouver to the neighbours, imploring them to build a level pier for a change.

So COVID-19 has left a hockey writer with nothing but his imagination, a laptop and some thoughtful questions from loving Tweeps like this one: “So where does this pandemic leave Jesse Puljujarvi contractually???” asks @Greenbaygumby.

Well, Gumby old boy, we would say it leaves him socially distanced from the NHL.

More gems like that one lie below. Read on, for our weekend Oilers Mailbag.

“If the season returns, how upset will the EDM media be if the ‘Cowboy’ does not crack the top 6D for the playoffs? It would be quite a story. Personally, I can’t see him getting a sniff.”

Well Jay, there seems to be a lot of interest in defenceman Kris Russell — a.k.a. The Cowboy — whose $4 million salary and repelling nature to the Fancy Stats set make him quite a popular topic in this week’s mailbag. This we know for sure: It doesn’t matter what his name is, $4 million is too much to pay a third-pairing defenceman. And with younger defencemen on the way up, it begs our next question…

“Do you believe the oilers will be able to move Kris Russell with an uncertain cap? Will Benning be retained and traded or let go?”

Jeremy has it right: GM Ken Holland’s ability to move Russell’s contract will impinge on what the GM will offer Benning, a fellow third-pairing guy who is a restricted free agent (with arbitration) coming out of a $1.9 million deal. Benning turns 26 this month and is properly priced for his role. In an ideal world, a GM moves out the older, more expensive players while keeping the younger, cheaper one.

There’s not much sense in letting Benning walk. But between he and Russell, it’s fair to say that one is likely to be moved to make room for a youngster like Caleb Jones or, eventually, Evan Bouchard.

“Do you think the Oilers will buyout a contract at season end Neal or Russell. If Russell would they resign him for less money less term? Also what do you think will happen with our goaltending next season Koskinen as starter or bring back Smith or another Veteran goalie?”

Unless the NHL offers up a compliance buyout, as it did after the last lockout, I do not see Holland buying anyone out this summer. After the 2020-21 season, the buyout for Benoit Pouliot ($1.33 million) is complete, while Andrej Sekera’s buyout goes from $2.5 million to $1.5 million for two more years. Maybe then. (Edmonton also owes Milan Lucic $750,000 for three more seasons.)

In Russell’s case, you cannot buy a player out and sign him immediately. In Neal’s case, sure, he is overpaid at $5.75 million. But he did score 19 goals and 31 points in 55 games, though that minus-20 wasn’t pretty. My guess? No one considers a Neal buyout until at least the summer of 2021, and hopefully the summer of 2022 when Neal only has one year left on his deal.

As for Koskinen, he still plays the lion’s share of the games, and has two years left at $4.5 million per. The Oilers do not have a goalie in their system who is close. I suspect Koskinen finishes his contract in Edmonton, and if he remains around the .917 saves percentage he gave Edmonton last season, he may sign another.

“When are you going to start reporting on the oilers instead of nitpicking on all things negative so players will want to do interviews again”

Whiskey Todd.

I think I met your brother once. Sweeney Todd, the murderous Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Or perhaps it was that Vancouver band of the same name that gave us Roxy Roller back in the ‘70s. Ah, where is Nick Gilder these days…

Anyhow Sweeney, er, Whiskey. I’ve been reporting on the Oilers for a while, and they talk to me just fine. My job feels safe… Why, have you heard anything…?!?

“Is there a surprise or shock move coming from Holland this off season? If so what do you think it might be?”

I hate to be Debbie downer Doug, but I doubt it. Let’s explore that though anyhow.

Holland has too many defencemen, and soon enough Bouchard, Fillip Broberg, William Lagesson, maybe Dmitri Samorukov, will be ready for full-time NHL jobs. And Edmonton needs a Top 6 winger, of that there is no question.

It’s nice to think you can cobble together a bunch of parts — Puljujarvi, a draft pick, maybe a Jones — and get your guy, but that is fantasy. To get quality you generally give up quality. I can think of a lot of reasons not to deal guys like Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson or Oscar Klefbom. But if Holland makes a big move before next season, it would likely include one of them.

“What percentage chance do you give Bouchard of making the lineup full time next season. And if a high percent – who on the right side do you see the Oilers moving to make room for him?”

Marcel, I’ve got bad news. I don’t think Bouchard is ready, and we know this of Holland: He places huge value on playing in the American League. Now, if COVID-19 means the NHL somehow plays games and the AHL does not to begin the 2020-21 season, then all bets are off. But under normal circumstances I believe Bouchard will be instructed to return to Bakersfield to start next season to install the urgency that his game still lacks.

Play well, and he’s up after Christmas.


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