Kris Russell: Trap or Opportunity?

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 12:49 am by Jonathan Willis


One of the larger individual decisions that the Edmonton Oilers have to make in the next few months is whether or not to sign Kris Russell to a contract extension. He is the team’s most prominent player bound for unrestricted free agency and handles key minutes on the blue line.

Before the Oilers make a decision on Russell one way or the other, a particular fact which should not escape their attention: Kris Russell’s reputation this season hinges on a single hot month.


Russell - October

  • Oilers with Russell by Fenwick% in October: 47.4%
  • Oilers with Russell by Goals% in October: 72.7%
  • Oilers without Russell by Fenwick% in October: 50.0%
  • Oilers without Russell by Goals% in October: 52.6%

(Above numbers via Corsica)

The skirmishes over the value of shot metrics like Corsi and Fenwick are extremely valuable. Every time there’s a debate, it’s a chance to test whether those numbers are still predictive, and a chance to add to collective hockey knowledge. Analytics types will get things wrong, and need pushback to figure out what does and doesn’t have value. Skeptics and proponents of new metrics need to be able to test their own numbers and see if their approach is better.

For a casual fan or for someone who long ago decided how they viewed the sport and isn’t interested in new information, it can be excruciating. Even for people with a real interest into digging into what is and isn’t predictive in hockey, it can be tedious. And the rhetoric surrounding a player who finds himself the latest lab rat in the experiment can get a little crazy.

Russell is one of the latest players to fall under the lens, and as a result a lot of people are sick of hearing about him. Still, he’s worth looking at because of the varying claims and counterclaims that his fantastic October produced.

November 1 – Present

Russell - November

  • Oilers with Russell by Fenwick% since October: 47.8%
  • Oilers with Russell by Goals% since October: 45.0%
  • Oilers without Russell by Fenwick% since October: 52.0%
  • Oilers without Russell by Goals% since October: 56.7%

Russell has been a little unlucky in the months since Halloween, with a goal percentage that trails his shot metrics. This is especially true since the Oilers outperform their shot metrics as a team, mostly thanks to the superb goaltending provided by Cam Talbot. Given enough time, I’d expect Russell’s on-ice goal numbers to trend up.

The point here seems inescapable. In October, Russell looked great, regardless of what Corsi or Fenwick said. Since October, those shot numbers have stayed steady, and he’s regressed hard so that his performance reflects them and has for months now.

Since October 31, no regular Oilers defenceman has worse shot metrics than Russell. Since October 31, only the little-used Eric Gryba has worse on-ice goal numbers than Russell. Edmonton gets out-shot and out-scored when he’s on the ice, and the only thing obscuring it is the fact that his first month was so great.

From an Oilers’ perspective, what’s the right play here? It’s to hope that some other team lets Russell’s October streak and the legitimate things that he does well blind them to his warts. Find that team, and make a trade.

When Russell signed, I described him as a solid third-pair defenceman with legitimate special teams abilities. That’s still true, but it isn’t something Edmonton particularly needs. With eight healthy defencemen and three legitimate options on the farm, the Oilers could move Russell for a bunch of assets (which, ideally, they would then re-invest) and not be any worse off.

Russell had a great October, and looked like more than he actually is. The months since prove that was a mirage. The question now is whether the Oilers will take advantage of the confusion generated by that hot run, or allow themselves to be fooled by it. 


Pray For Playoffs Party 

As you probably expected, the Pray for Playoffs party will be happening at the Pint Downtown on Friday, February 24th, with doors opening at 4pm and the hockey game starting at 5pm. Aside from making sure we’re all well hydrated, we’ve got the usual swag bags planned along with raffles, giveaways, and more. I encourage you to start coughing now so that your boss won’t be suspicious when you call in sick. 

As always, it wouldn’t be a Nation party without trying to raise as much money as possible for our charity partner, Sport Central. If you’re unfamiliar with their work, Sport Central is a local organization dedicated to making resources available to assist kids in sports in the Edmonton area as well as central and northern Alberta.

Your $20 ticket gets you:

  • A Pray for Playoffs Party t-shirt
  • A $20 Pint GC
  • $10 worth of Oodle Noodle GCs
  • A lottery ticket for our door prizes
  • Access to the exclusive Pray for Playoffs NationGear launch
  • You’ll be in attendance for the re-launch of NationBeer! Yes, we have our own beer now. Not only that, we’ll buy a beer for the first 100 people to show up with their ticket as a thank you for your support. 

As always, all proceeds from ticket sales will be donated directly to Sport Central so bring your friends, get involved, and help us support a community in need. You can get your tickets here before they sell out.

This is a party that’s been 10 years in the making and you’re going to want to be a part of it.