After Friday’s spending frenzy, D Kris Russell is the most prominent player left on the open market. Because of the contrasting interpretation of his skill set, his free agency case is certainly interesting to follow.
Russell, though quite undersized for his position at just 5’10, has carved out a niche for himself in recent years as one of the preeminent shot blockers in the entire league. He has recorded at least 201 blocked shots in each of the last three seasons with a career high of 283 in 2014-15, more than 70 blocks more than the next highest player. Last year, his total dipped to 210 but that was still good enough for second highest in the league behind Colorado’s Francois Beauchemin.
How that stat is interpreted is what makes his particular case so intriguing. On the one hand, teams value players who are willing to put their body on the line to keep shots from getting through to the net. Those players have been handsomely rewarded in the past. On the other hand, the fact that Russell is on the ice for so many shots against can be interpreted as an indictment of his defensive play; if he was better in that regard, he wouldn’t have so many shots to block. Any GM who looks at it that way will either offer him less money or stay away from offering him a deal altogether.
Further complicating his value is Russell’s step back offensively compared to 2014-15. That season, he collected 30 assists and 34 points but last year, he had just 15 and 19, respectively. At 34 points, he can be classified as a two-way defender but under 20, that’s no longer the case. Russell’s agent may try to sell him as a two-way player but it’s not likely that he’ll get much traction there.
Toronto and Montreal were both linked to Russell on Friday but neither of them has the cap space to sign him outright (before taking any projected LTIR-bound players into consideration). Vancouver also was believed to have some interest but may not have a roster spot for him. Boston has the cap space and roster vacancy to fit him in, as do the Stars, where Russell finished last season. If Russell’s asking price drops, that will open up a few other landing spots as well.
Russell is ranked 12th on our Top 50 UFA list and is the highest of the unsigned players on there. We project a four year, $18MM contract for the 29 year old.