Sportsnet’s Mark Spector posited today that the long-awaited signing of defenseman Kris Russell simply may not come. As Spector eloquently put it, he and his agent have simply “blown it”. After being such a hot commodity on the NHL trade market last year, it seems as though Russell and his representation misread the subsequent free agent market, believing he would be highly sought-after, and priced themselves out of a reasonable deal and a new home. Russell’s play style has been the subject of many debates, and it seems to be a forgone conclusion now that his skill set is being devalued, just not to the player himself. Now, the opportunities are drying up and Russell is facing the possibility that his NHL days may be over.
Many people first identified Russell’s lengthy off-season hiatus as being “this year’s Cody Franson“. Last summer, Franson was reportedly unhappy with his original offers in July and was seemingly negotiating with several teams for months, before finally signing for less than expected with the Buffalo Sabres right before training camp. However, even that scenario has passed Russell by. Training camp is nearly over, most spots are filled, and multi-year, multi-million dollar deals are simply not available. As Calgary Flames beat writer Ryan Pike suggests, Russell has actually turned into this year’s Curtis Glencross. A former teammate of Russell’s in Calgary, like Russell, Glencross was in high demand at the NHL Trade Deadline in 2014. Like Russell, a team (the Washington Capitals) overpaid for his services at the end of the year. Like Russell, Glencross then priced himself out of where teams were comfortable paying him. He ended up waiting until September, bounced around a couple of training camps to no avail, and then simply retired due to lack of interest at just 33-years-old. Unless Russell gets lucky, he could be on the same path.
Now, Russell’s situation has definitely been effected by the strange situation occurring across the league with restricted free agents. No one could have guessed that, this late in the summer, players like Jacob Trouba and Hampus Lindholm would still be unsigned or that others like Cam Fowler or Braydon Coburn could have their names out on the rumor mill. There are definitely still teams that are waiting for the dominos to fall with several big-name RFA signings before they look to make moves on their blue line, but most have already built in safeguards with PTO’s, two-way investments, and young players. There is simply no guarantee that a team forced to trade a defenseman or a team that missed out on acquiring one of the big names will come calling for Russell. Russell may have an “old-fashioned” game, one that analytics pundits have shunned, but he is still a reliable hockey player. Spector believes that, at some point over the course of the season, Russell will likely find an NHL team to sign on with. However, the “inevitable” signing of Kris Russell is no more. He may be back, but he very well may not. That’s just the reality of today’s NHL.