The Case *For* Kris Russell

There has been a lot of noise made in the last couple days in the Oilogosphere about Kris Russell and how he’s literally the worst hockey player to ever hockey. Many of the advanced stats purveyors just have a field day when it comes to Russell and his (real or perceived) deficiencies, mostly centering around his basement-dweller numbers in categories like Corsi- and Fenwick-For. They really, truly fail to understand what professional hockey general managers see in the guy. The fact that his on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage is historically through-the-roof and currently 2nd amongst Oilers d-men (along with his PDO, too), are often brushed aside as “luck” or “flukey.”

Boy oh boy, isn’t there a word for selectively applying the statistics that help reinforce your preconceived notions and support your argument, while simultaneously ignoring or underplaying the ones that work against you?

From what I can tell, from watching almost every one of the Oilers’ 25 games so far this season, Kris Russell is an enigma that defies conventional stat-tracking. Watching him, seeing his play, I just cannot understand how this guy keeps getting such shade thrown on him by the pundits. He’s like the hockey player equivalent of that kid in your high school class who shows up looking sloppy and unkempt and gets sneered about by his teachers who don’t expect anything from him, but keeps getting good marks on his tests and constantly outperforms his perceived shortcomings. The things that Russell does well aren’t very easy to measure in Corsi derivatives, and the things he isn’t strong at are hyper-inflated by those very same metrics.

But the sheer arrogance of some of these writers who, I fear, legitimately feel their armchair analysis is superior to that of a Stanley Cup winning general manager and the teams and teams of people he surrounds himself with is astounding. In fact, Chiarelli himself noted when questioned about his initial pickup of Russell that they knew all about the reviews and numbers on him. And according to the internal, unconventional statistics the Oilers have access to (read: non-Corsi-derivative), Russell is currently sitting 2nd in the NHL amongst all defenders in clean offensive and neutral zone entries. And in the pressure system the Oilers employ, this type of skillset is immeasurably valuable.

You know how you can see how valuable it is? By watching Russell play hockey for the Edmonton Oilers. By seeing how he gels with Sekera, and how relatively smoothly and quickly he’s picked up playing on his off-side. (A feat many of the naysayers are unwilling to acknowledge the difficulty of.) Perhaps listening to Sekera himself –who praised Russell from Day 1 saying how “easy” he makes his life — would be another good place to start. Maybe acknowledging the fact that, while yes, an NHL-high number of blocked shots might indicate a propensity for having a history of being stuck in the defensive zone too long, it’s also an indicator of a warrior mentality – someone who is routinely willing to sacrifice his body as a last-ditch effort to stop a scoring opportunity and according to Woodguy, blocked shots cut down on dangerous fenwick. It’s also just simply a fact that shots against are going to happen, and when they do, it sure must be nice for the rest of the Oilers knowing they have a guy who is absolutely going to jump in front of them and take the punishment they entail. It must be nice finally having a couple veteran defenders on our second pairing with very recent playoff experience who can chew up minutes and help guide the next generation in their development. It must be nice having a quick-skating D-man who stays poised in PK situations and never really looks flustered or panicked.

Listen, I was as anti-Russell as the next guy when we first signed him. I saw all the stats and heard all the doomsday predictions that came along with them. And I’m a big fan of fancystats! I use them poorly and with an air of superiority all the time! But here are the objective, observable facts: we’re an above-.500 hockey team that is pretty seriously in the playoff conversation at the quarter-mark of the season, which has been so obviously out of the question by this time during the Decade of Darkness(TM), it’s not something we should understate the importance of. If you don’t think Russell can be said to be partially responsible for that, you haven’t been paying attention. You haven’t been watching him play. If we sign him for another 3 or 4 years at some value <$4.5M/per, I take that deal every day, and I think Peter Chiarelli does, too. And he’s smarter than us and gets paid far more handsomely than us to make that call.

Come fight me on Twitter @sife

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Michael Sifeldeen Written by:
  • GCW_69

    Still waiting for the case for Kris Russell. This post was just a bunch of whining and saying the same guy who thought trading for Reinhart was a good idea liking Russell makes Russell a good idea.

    There is no evidence to back up Chiarelli’s claim Russell is good at zone exits and entries. Those folks on the net that are tracking those stats have found him to be horrible at it. So, maybe Chiarelli was blowing smoke?

    Anyway, if you think Russell is good, prove it. I would love to see the case and I would be happy to be proven wrong in my own views.

    I can tell you definitively what Kris Russell isn’t though. He isn’t a right shot defender who can run a powerplay. With Sekera, Klefbom, and Larsson filling the of the other top four spots, the Oilers would be wise to save their cap space for someone who is rather than pissing it away on Russell.

  • Kerry McGowan

    posted this earlier. In a just world, (it’s not btw) Kris Russell would get royalties for all the mileage analytics guys get out of his play. It is somewhat mind boggling.
    Your sheer arrogance line captures the prevailing sentiment rather well.