Nearly one full month into free agency, defenseman Kris Russell remains on the market and looking for his next employment opportunity. Russell is the highest ranking UFA still unsigned from Pro Hockey Rumors top-50 list and despite some earlier reported interest, there doesn’t appear to be much movement currently in his market. In many ways, the slow-moving nature of Russell’s free agency is reminiscent of the case of Cody Franson, who just last summer was forced to wait until September before signing a free agent contract.
Both players entered their respective free agency periods among the top options available at their position and with the expectation of signing lucrative, long-term deals. Like Russell, the market for Franson never seemed to materialize last summer and he ended up getting a two-year deal from Buffalo with an AAV of $3.325MM. It’s becoming more and more likely that Russell will end up having to do the same; ink a short-term contract for far less money than most pundits imagined at the outset of free agency. PHR predicted a four-year deal for the veteran defender with an AAV of $4.5MM. At this point it doesn’t appear Russell will be able to secure a pact anywhere near that total value.
Even though Franson and Russell are both defenseman and have experienced similar frustrations in free agency, albeit a year apart, the two players are more unlike than alike in terms of style and production. Franson was a darling of the advanced stats crowd due primarily to his strong offensive contributions at five-on-five. During the three-season stretch from 2012-13 to 2014-15, Franson tallied 0.94 Pts/60 in five-on-five situations, a figure better than that of Keith Yandle (0.91) over the same period. Of course we know Yandle is widely considered to be one of the top offensive blue liners in the game and was recently rewarded with a rich contract from Florida as a result.
Russell, on the other hand, is more of an old school favorite. He blocks a ton of shots, leading the league by averaging 3.4 blocked-shots-per-game this past season. Russell is fairly mobile and produces enough offense to draw the description of puck-mover. However he struggles in the possession department, ranking 114th out of 124 defensemen who played at least 1,000 minutes at five-on-five with a Corsi For % (CF%) of 45.3%. Because of that, Russell doesn’t rate too well among the analytically-inclined.
It’s possible that Russell’s market has been adversely affected due to more teams utilizing advanced statistics in their decision-making process. Then again it was only five months ago that Dallas agreed to ship two prospects and a conditional second-round draft choice to acquire his services. Chances are there are plenty of teams that still value what Russell does well and that he’ll sign a contract soon enough. Like Franson a year ago, Russell has had to wait longer than expected and likely won’t get either the term or the money originally predicted, but he’s too good not to land on his feet somewhere before the start of the season.