The Kris Russell contract is a problem for Ken Holland and the Oilers. He’s got one year left at $4 million, and he is the 3rd best option on the left side. Some would argue that he’s the 4th best option after Caleb Jones. Moving Russell to allow Jones to have a roster spot would save the Oilers $3.15 million against the cap (depending on the return obviously), and it could allow Ken Holland to fill a different hole on his roster.
Teams all across the league are dealing with a flat cap this season. Teams will be looking for value contracts, which Russell’s is not. However, Russell’s contract will be desirable to teams looking to save real dollars because there are several teams looking to cut operating costs due to low revenue as a result of COVID-19. Russell is only owed $1.5 million for the coming season. A team with some cap space or with a player with an approximately $4 million cap hit that might interest the Oilers could acquire Russell.
The biggest complication in moving Russell will be his NMC. He has to submit a list of 15 teams that he would agree to play for next season should a trade be arranged. We don’t know which teams will be on there or what his criteria will be, but we can reasonably assume that a 33-year old entering the last year of his contract will not want to go to a horrible team. He will likely want a chance to win a Stanley Cup. I have also made the assumption that he would not want to go back to any of his former teams: Columbus, St, Louis, Calgary, or Dallas.
Using those criteria and considering the cap situations of each team, I have come up with 6 realistic trade partners for the Oilers and Russell:
ARI – They Coyotes have 6 NHL D signed for next season, 2 of which are signed thru 2022. ARI would have to move a D to take on Russell, which they seemingly want to do since they have 4 impending UFAs. It would only make sense for the Coyotes to acquire Russell if they can move an impending UFA LD that has a higher cap hit than Russell in a separate deal because of their desire to cut costs. That would be Hjalmarsson or Goligoski, and I imagine that they could find suitors for either or both. The Oilers wouldn’t want an LD back because of their own cap issues and Jones. The Coyotes don’t have much in the way of draft capital, unless they use some of what they get for Hjalmarsson or Goligoski to acquire Russell. The most reasonable return for the Oilers would be Michael Grabner. They could use his speed on the wing and on the PK, and it’s only one year at $3.35M. It wouldn’t be an exciting move, but it would get Jones on the roster.
MIN – Behind Ryan Suter and recently extended Jonas Brodin, they have Brad Hunt signed on the left side. They could go for an upgrade over Hunt. Bill Guerin appears to be making sweeping changes this October if we’re to believe the rumour mill. The Wild have a bunch of bottom 6 Fs that could be had, but I’d be curious about Victor Rask. He’s got 2 years left at $4M, and could be a decent 3C here. Rask for Russell would save the Wild $2.5 million in real salary and shore up their left side.
NSH – The Preds could use an upgrade at 3LD over Jarred Tinordi. They don’t have much for cap space, so they would need to part with a forward with a similar cap hit. The Oilers could try to get a 3C out of Nashville. Nick Bonino’s name came up at the trade deadline in a potential Russell swap, and he would be a good fit here. His cap hit is only $100k more than Russell’s, he has won 2 Stanley Cups, and he can still produce 35-40 points in a season. The other option would be Kyle Turris. Nashville would be excited to move his $6 million cap hit for the next 4 years. The reason the Oilers would even think about this would be that Nashville would have to pony up a bit more of a return to get the Oilers to take this contract. They would have to retain salary and give the Oilers a pick or a prospect.
NYR – The Rangers have Marc Staal, Brendan Smith, and Ryan Lindgren on LD. They seem to like Lindgren since he played 60 games for them last season and he’s still on his ELC. Smith is the guy they might wish to move. He has a slightly higher cap hit than Russell and similar point production, but Russell’s +/- has been better recently and his actual salary will be lower than Smith’s this season. This is a lateral move that wouldn’t let the Oilers get Jones into the line-up. Like the Coyotes, the Rangers might think about moving Smith and acquiring Russell in separate deals. The Oilers would be interested in Pavel Buchnevich (1 x $3.25M) or RFA goalie Alex Georgiev, but I’m sure the Oilers would have to add if they want to include Russell in a deal for one of them.
SJ – The Sharks could use an upgrade at 3LD, but the issue for them is that they only have 10 forwards signed. I’m not sure that they want to use $4 million of cap space on the 3LD position. They have 3 3rd rounders in 2021, so they could use one to acquire Russell. Russell for a 2021 3rd and a bottom 6/AHL forward would be a win for the Oilers, but it might prevent the Sharks from spending on Fs like they might want to.
WPG – It’s no secret that WPG needs defence. They have a surplus of wingers to shop, like Laine and Ehlers. Russell wouldn’t get that done. However, there could still be a deal to be made with the Jets involving Russell. I see two possibilities. One would be Mathieu Perrault. He’s got one year left at a $4.125M cap hit, and he could play 3C for the Oilers. The intriguing scenario would be Bryan Little. Little’s career is in jeopardy after a serious head injury. He’s got 4 years left at $5,291,666; but if Little’s career is over, then that is LTIR money. That would allow the Oilers to go over the cap, which would be a huge asset in a flat cap world, especially for a team like the Oilers with a desire to get better now and little cap space. I’d expect WPG to throw us an extra pick or something of the sort to take Little’s contract off of their hands and give them a roster player for the coming season.
Russell probably doesn’t want to go to a bad team, but there’s always a chance that the Kings might want to add a veteran LD that their coach knows and trusts. Ottawa could want to add a veteran shot blocking defender to help reduce their goals against. Ottawa has the cap space and the desire to have low operating costs, so Russell might be desirable to them as well.
One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Russell isn’t junk, but the Oilers would love to move his contract to open up a spot for the younger, cheaper, and more mobile Jones. There will be teams that will be willing to trade for Russell. We just have to hope that Holland can make it happen!