With the NHL trade deadline one month away, the Oilers will have a chance to make some important decisions that could impact their short term goal of qualifying for the 2017 playoffs and the long term goal of establishing a window where they can be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
In terms of short term needs, the Oilers could use an upgrade to their center depth as well as their right side up front. There's also an obvious need when it comes to goaltending as Cam Talbot, who has arguably been the Oilers MVP, does not have a reliable backup that can give him a night off from time to time. There's also a case to be made that the team could use an offensive defenceman to support the powerplay, but the team should probably refrain from spending significant assets to acquire. The issue for the Oilers is that they don't have a lot to give up, as their own prospect pool isn't very deep and the picks they have for the upcoming draft are needed to replenish it.
The Oilers do have veteran players like Benoit Pouliot and Matt Hendricks that could draw some attention at the deadline, but the Oilers are not likely to acquire significant pieces by moving either of these two. Both have struggled this season, although Pouliot does have a history of contributing to a team's offence and could provide a team with skill and experience in a top six role.
Where the Oilers could tap into to address their short term and long term goals is their defence. For the first time in a long time, the Oilers have an NHL-calibre defence core, with Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson signed with the team for the next four years on reasonable contracts. Add to that core Brandon Davidson, Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning, players that will be under team control for a while, and the Oilers have a group that should provide stability on the back end.
Source: Cap Friendly
This brings us to Kris Russell who was signed by the Oilers to a one-year deal just days before the start of the 2016/17 regular season. Serving as a well-priced stop-gap, having Russell on the roster allowed the Oilers to keep some of their defensive prospects like Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle in the AHL to continue their own development. The Oilers have been able to rely on Russell quite heavily, as he's led the team in average ice time per game and has a respectable goal-share of 51.6%. He has spent a significant amount of time with Connor McDavid this season, which would help his numbers, and he's also been benefiting from a 94% save percentage when he's on the ice for most of the season, which is not exactly sustainable.
We also know that a team or players on-ice goal-share is not a good predictor of future success, so we look at the share of shot attempts which correlates better with future goal-share. Russell currently ranks last on the team among defencemen when it comes to on-ice Corsi For% (score and venue adjusted) at even-strength (5v5), as the team has had 46.55% of all of the shot attempts with him on the ice. When he's not on the ice, the Oilers have a Corsi For% of 52.37%, which is a significant jump. Now it can be expected that the share of shot attempts would improve when Russell isn't on the ice as he has faced better competition, but it should not increase that significantly. For instance, when Adam Larsson, who has also been playing top lines, is on the ice, the team has a 50.31% share of all of the shot attempts. That share increases only slightly when Larsson is on the bench, going up to 51.52%.
|Player||GP||TOI||TOI/GP||Corsi For%||Goals For%|
And below is how each of the Oilers defence pairings have done this season at 5v5, sorted by their share of shot attempts (CF%). Worth noting that each pairing that Russell is below 50% when it comes to shot share, and ranks in the bottom three on the list.
|Pairing||TOI||Corsi For%||Goals For%|
The other issue for Russell has been his negative impact on how often the team generates and suppresses shot attempts when he's on the ice with specific players. Below is how each of the four regular centermen have done with and without Russell this year, which also gives us a sense of how Russell does against different levels of competition. Please note that as a team, the Oilers generate 55.88 shot attempts per hour this season, which ranks 14th in the league, and allow 54.03 shot attempts per hour, which is the 9th best.
- A conditional second round draft pick in the 2016 draft
- Defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka, a 7th round pick in the 2011 draft (Elite Prospects)
- Forward Brett Pollock, a 2nd round pick in the 2014 draft (Elite Prospects)
If the Oilers were to move Russell and get something close to that package, they would be better off in the long-term as they would not only parlay their stop-gap into something, but they would also address their needs going forward. The Oilers prospect pool could get a boost, plus it gives the team additional assets that can be used for future deals. Knowing how expensive It will be for the Oilers to maintain their core group of players, it'll be critical for the team to make trades that make sense financially today and in the future.
With an elite player like Connor McDavid in the fold, every decision the team makes has to be geared towards winning a championship. That requires the team to put together a roster that is optimized for success and establish a window where they can be legitimate contenders. Players like Kris Russell who are valued for their experience and the depth they can provide to a team are readily available, often at a reasonable cost, whether it be through trade or free agency. Because of the minutes he's played this season and the goal share he has posted and the 500+ games of experience he has, his value is higher than it should be, something the Oilers need to capitalize on to address their existing needs. The team would be trading from a position of strength as they have a NHL-calibre group of defencemen that would are not likely to see a drop off in their shot and goal outputs if they were to lose Russell.
The issue with retaining Kris Russell is that it likely won't be on a team-friendly deal. Ruselll was reportedly seeking a long-term deal last summer that would've paid him close to $5 million per year, something no NHL team was willing to pay. Russell will be 30 years old this summer, with his best days probably behind him. But that won't stop him and his agent from seeking one last contract to carry him to retirement. With Sekera, Klefbom and Larsson in the fold, and with new contracts expected for Nurse, Draisaitl and possibly Maroon, it doesn't make a lot of sense to hand a heavy, long-term deal to someone that hasn't exactly put up numbers indicating future success.
Data: Corsica Hockey