Yesterday we talked about the market for former Stars’ defenseman Kris Russell as reported by Andy Strickland, a Blues reporter for Fox Sports Midwest. On the 23rd day of free agency, Russell remains unsigned. This is surprising to an extent, since most assumed he’d be one of the few to sign a big money contract right away. Still, similar situations have happened before, including with defenseman Cody Franson last summer. Below are some teams that may have some interest in Russell, and who may be able to pay for him, given the right circumstances.
- Ottawa Senators: The Ottawa Senators currently have just six defensemen under contract for next year, and while that doesn’t count restricted free agent Cody Ceci, it does count Chris Wideman, Mike Kostka, and Mark Borowiecki, who are far from locks for serious NHL ice time. The team also lacks particularly strong defensemen, outside of Erik Karlsson, and while Russell has his detractors in the analytics community, a team that took on Dion Phaneuf without any retained salary seems like a likely one to use their own evaluation methods.
- Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres, similarly to the Senators, have six defensemen under contract, and one in Rasmus Ristolainen who is currently an unsigned restricted free agent, and one in Justin Falk, who’s yet to play serious minutes in the NHL, at 27 years old. One advantage the Sabres have in this situation is that with Franson, Ristolainen, and Zach Bogosian all being right handed, they can accomodate a left handed shot better than most teams. As mentioned earlier, Franson was an unsigned free agent far later into last summer than anyone anticipated, after talk of an expensive long term asking price, and ended up with the Sabres on a lower money, two year deal.
- Detroit Red Wings: Detroit has five defensemen under contract, in addition to the unsigned Danny DeKeyser. Once DeKeyser’s re-signed, there isn’t an obvious candidate to sit as the number seven defenseman in case of injuries, and they’re already mildly unbalanced in terms of handedness, carrying four left handers, and two right handers. Still, there’s been talk of the Wings improving their defense for a while now, and should they be able to clear out someone like Jonathan Ericsson or Jimmy Howard, which they’ll likely have to do to re-sign DeKeyser and goalie Petr Mrazek anyway, they could concievably be a fit for Russell, if GM Ken Holland values him more than one of his current defensemen, and should Ericsson be the one moved out, Russell would be a natural replacement.
- Edmonton Oilers: This is another scenario that really depends on how much the team values its current defenders. Andrew Ference was still injured during the buyout period, and so still on the roster, but between the injuries, his heavy decline, and his expiring contract, it’s hard to see him getting much ice time. The real questions are about what the Oilers want to do with Mark Fayne, who was waived and demoted this past season, and Jordan Oesterle, who has impressed in Bakersfield, and just turned 24, but who has just 23 NHL games to his credit, and is on a two way contract. We know the Oilers want to get better, and physical players are favored by GM Peter Chiarelli, but Ference was also once a physical, undersized, veteran free agent signing.
- Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have a large defense core as it is, but they also have tops of cap room, and a lot of their defensemen are cheaper veterans like Paul Postma and Brian Strait, who’d be easily stashed in the minors. It’s not a pressing need, but you can see why a team might make a less than necessary upgrade to their defense later in the summer if it’s possible, and the price tag is lower than originally imagined. Still, the Jets have a history of caution in the free agent market.