Will Kris Russell help?

Hall’s gone. Yak’s gone. Devalued then shipped off.

But that’s water under the bridge.

There’s something else under the bridge that I’m much more worried about, even though he’s only 5′ 10” and about 170 lbs.

You Complete Me

That something is Kris “The Holy Terrier” Russell. (That’s not his real nickname, I made it up. It was either that or “Blockhead” and that one seemed unnecessarily mean)

So … Kris Russell is the guy Chia has decided will ‘complete’ the Oilers defense.

Fan – freakin’ – tastic.

I already see people in my Twitter feed rationalizing the deal.

“Well, maybe he’s not so bad.”

“OK, I think he’s a decent third pairing guy.”

“He scores points though, right?”

“Blocks a lotta shots man!”

Is it true? How good or bad is Russell?

Russell! Somebody gonna get a seen real bad

Without having previously done any detailed digging on the player, my impressions nonetheless have not been positive.

A. I’ve watched him play for the Flames. I wasn’t paying particular attention to him, but I was never impressed. There – the seen ‘im bad folks should be satisfied!

B. The Flames (and it pains me to say this) have two outstanding defensemen in Giordano and Brodie. They have a third defenseman who is pretty good in Dougie Hamilton. Ignoring handedness, all three of those guys would play on the Oilers easily, and probably with a lot of Top 4 ice time.

Yet somehow defensively the Flames are one of the worst teams in the league, giving up the fourth worst shot attempts rate in the league at even strength. Yes, that’s worse than Edmonton.

How is it possible they have such good defensemen and still suck defensively? Well, some of that is coaching (as an Oiler fan, I’ll miss Bob Hartley terribly). But based on watching the team (I live in Calgary, and my company has – had – corporate tickets, so I’ve seen more Flames games than I care to admit) a lot of it is the bottom 3 – Russell, Engelland, and Wideman just aren’t good defensemen, and they drag the team down.

Russell in particular dragged Hamilton down – if you dig into the stats (sorry eye test only folks) they were 5v5 CF 45% together, while Russell was 45.6% apart from Hamilton, and Hamilton was at 52% away from Russell.

In other words, if you think Hamilton had a bad year in Calgary, you’re wrong – he had a bad partner in Calgary that made it look like he had a bad year. And that partner is now an Edmonton Oiler.

MERITORIOUS!

But you know what? I’ve had bad (or good) opinions about players before, and then I’ve started digging into their actual results and been forced to change my mind. Maybe that will happen here. Let’s take a look.

I mentioned Russell’s results with and without (WOWY) Dougie Hamilton. Instead of just looking at a single WOWY, let’s look at my favourite WOWY visualization, which is from Micah Blake McCurdy’s hockeyviz.com. This lets us look at the entire pattern of how a player impacts the other players on the ice with him. Here’s Kris Russell in Calgary (feel free to skip to my explanation below):

wowy-1516-cgy-russekr87-shots

Ouch. This is ugly. See how the blue area is clustered well below the red line? That’s bad. It means Russell’s shot results overall are well below breakeven … but we knew that already.

What makes it so much more alarming is that the black squares are mostly to the left and below the blue squares. That means Russell makes most of his teammates worse when he’s on the ice with them. And the red squares are mostly above and to the right. That means most of his teammates are better – in some cases, much better – without Kris Russell.

That’s as ugly as it gets.

Quality of Competition – the Wood and the Money

Now let’s take a look at the metric that @Woodguy55 and I developed, the “WoodMoney” metric. What this does is it isolates performance vs specific matchups. We look at how the player did when facing the 60 best players in the league, and also vs the middle and the ‘gritensity’ players. (You can find the specific lists, and details on how WoodMoney is calculated, in this article).

Here’s a visualization of the results, but you can ignore this and just go to my interpretation if you like:

woodmoney-kris-russell-2016-10-07-214806

So what is this telling us?

1 – The relatively even TOI splits tell us Russell was regularly used as a Top 4 defenseman

2 – But his results were below breakeven against all levels of competition. This is a particularly terrible result, as actual Top 4 defensemen should have at least passable results against middle tier competition, and better than passable vs bottom tier competition.  His danger (shot distance and type) adjusted results were at least better than his raw shot results, that’s a small plus.

3 – His Rel results were below zero against all levels of competition. In other words, he did worse against all levels of comp than his teammates did against that same level of comp. This is an acceptable result for a bottom pair defenseman, but not for a second pair defenseman.

It’s possible to see bad results like this and have reasons for it – Adam Larsson for example doesn’t look great, but then you have to account for his zone start usage, which is brutal. This isn’t the case for Russell, who, if anything, got a pretty big push as far as offensive zone starts go.

So he’s generated these results while starting quite often in the offensive zone.

That’s bad.

These results say that Kris Russell is a third pair defenseman – but he’s not particularly good at it.

But … but … he scores!

Chia’s been looking for a powerplay quarterback.  So , maybe KR is an ‘offensive’ defenseman that will help the powerplay!

Will he?

Russell’s career point scoring is 177 points in 573 games, or 0.31 pts per game. By comparison, Andrej Sekera is at 0.33 pts/gm in his career, and last year with the Oilers he was 0.37 pts/gm.

As for the powerplay, only four of KR’s 19 points last year came on the man advantage, though in fairness, he was not used on the powerplay much.

That may be understandable though – the Flames powerplay put up shots and dangerous shots (per corsica.hockey’s expected goals metric) faster with Russell not on it, with Hamilton and Giordano the undisputed champs of the powerplay shot rate.

Scoring upgrade? Not so much.

Penalty Kill

I have heard Russell is a decent penalty killer. I’ve also read a tidbit that suggested that the penalty kill is 3x to 5x as important as the powerplay, because you can lose the game with a poor penalty kill, but you can’t win it with a good powerplay. I’m not so sure I believe this, but I might buy the idea that the value is not entirely symmetric, that maybe the PK is a bit more important.

So can Russell help the PK?

Maybe.

His shot attempts rate against (92 per hour) is right in the middle of the pack of the main defenders, and his expected goals rate (6.05) is also good. He’s certainly not bad at it … it’s hard to make the determination that he’s ‘good’ just from a couple of numbers like this but … hey, sure, why not, chalk one up for the little guy!

Penalties

One topic I’ve added to my defenseman analysis the last few months is a look at penalty differentials (call it the Gryba Clause).

How’s Russell doing vis a vis the zebras?

Hallelujah! Our first big plus. Russell runs at a +0.38 penalties/60 rate. In other words, he draws more penalties than he takes. This is actually quite rare for a defenseman. So while his results are poor, at least his team gets a few extra powerplays as a result of his play.

That’s good.

Conclusion

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Here’s Kris Russell in a nutshell:

  • Shots wise, he gets snowed under by all levels of competition. Even the third pairing doesn’t look like it will be sheltered enough for him to be able hold his own.
  • He drags most of his teammates down with him
  • Russell is not a true offensive defensemen. He scores on par with, or maybe a little less than Andrej Sekera. But Sekera (by eye and by stat) is much better defensively
  • Despite the Oilers’ dire need for a powerplay QB, Russell probably won’t help the powerplay
  • Although he should help the penalty kill
  • He might be able to draw more penalties than he takes

Is he worth $3M?

Nope.  He’s not even the third best lefty at this point.  I’d take Klefbom, Sekera, and Davidson over him in a heartbeat, in almost any situation.

And being that he adds to this crowd on the left side, if he forces one of our good LHD to the right side (where we know they were less effective last year), then his negative impact won’t just be on his own pairing, it will negatively affect other pairings.

And if he’s the one moved to RHD and proves to be even less effective than he has been in the past on the LHD, that thought is frankly terrifying.

Unless Chia and TMc plan to dress seven defensemen every game, and only have Russell out on the penalty kill … well,this isn’t good. I wish I had something positive to say, I really do.  Contrary to popular opinion, I may regularly boil over with scathing criticism of Oiler management, but I want my team to win.

But digging into his results has not made me feel better about this signing … worse if anything.  I hear Russell is gritty, truculent, good in the room, and deliberately blocks shots with his balls.  I’ll cheer for Russell and the Oilers to succeed. But I do not believe this signing will help them succeed. This isn’t good at all.

G Money Written by:

  • Andrew Smith

    Nice work G

  • DD

    Confirms what I’d read/suspected from already reading about the guy after rumours popped up since free agency began.

    Miss your commentary on LT, come back sometime. Or write more articles here haha