There are going to be a lot of Oilers fans that are going to be confused and annoyed at the Kris Russell extension whenever it is officially announced. @PuckPedia has reported that the Oilers are close to signing Russell to a one-year, $1.75 million contract. The left side is stacked and Russell is least mobile and the least adept passer of them all, so I understand the frustration at the Oilers bringing him back for one more year.
The biggest reason for this extension is the Seattle expansion draft. I wrote a piece about the expansion draft scenarios for Edmonton recently, and the problem the Oilers were facing was that they would have had to leave one of Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, or Caleb Jones exposed because they were the only three defencemen signed through 2021-22 that had played enough games to fulfill the exposure requirements for the expansion draft. I speculated that Jones would be the guy to expose because he has the least value of the three in the trade market. The Russell extension would mean that he would also fulfill the exposure requirements. Russell would be the obvious choice out of the four to leave exposed.
Now that Russell can be exposed, the Oilers will have options for how they approach choosing which players to protect. Being able to expose Russell means that the Oilers can protect however many defencemen that they want to protect. They could choose the 8 skater route and protect any or all of Nurse, Klefbom, Jones, Ethan Bear, and Tyson Barrie. The forwards protected in this scenario would be Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If the Oilers only protect 4 defencemen, then they could choose to protect one of Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto as well.
I’m going to draw your attention to one specific note in the expansion draft rules as stated by the league:
*Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than 60 consecutive games (or have otherwise been confirmed to have a career-threatening injury) may not be used to satisfy a team’s player exposure requirements unless approval is received from the NHL. Such players may also be deemed exempt from selection.
The only Oiler that this could possibly apply to is Klefbom. The “60 consecutive games piece” could be a thing because the season might not even be 60 games long this year, but the important thing here is that the Oilers might not have to protect Klefbom because there’s a chance that he might be exempt due to his injury. Should the Oilers choose to protect 4 defencemen, that list would include Nurse, Bear, Barrie, and Jones should Klefbom become exempt.
The other possibility that exists is the idea of protecting 3 defencemen and 7 forwards. McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins will absolutely be protected barring something awful and unforeseen with Nuge. They could protect both Puljujarvi and Yamamoto with this protection strategy. They could also protect 2 of Tyler Benson, Tyler Ennis, Kyle Turris, Zack Kassian, James Neal, and Josh Archibald. I was originally leaning more towards this route because of the lack of forward depth that the Oilers possess, but that was before they signed Barrie. There are simply too many important defencemen to justify only protecting 3 of them now.
This would be my updated protected list given what we know about the roster today and the coming Russell extension:
Forwards: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi
Defencemen: Darnell Nurse, Tyson Barrie, Oscar Klefbom, Ethan Bear
Goalie: Mikko Koskinen (NMC)
*should Klefbom be deemed exempt from the expansion draft because of his shoulder issue, I would then pivot to the 7F and 3D strategy instead:
Forwards: McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, Benson, Turris
Defencemen: Nurse, Barrie, Bear
Goalie: Koskinen (NMC)
I have chosen to leave some good players exposed, the most important of which are Yamamoto, Jones, and Benson. I’m sure that I will receive some criticism for choosing to expose Jones in any scenario, but I feel that his loss would be the least noticeable on the depth chart due to Philip Broberg, Dmirtri Samorukov, and William Lagesson all still being here along with Nurse and Klefbom on the left side. It would suck to lose Jones for nothing, but the Oilers are well positioned to abosorb that loss.
Holland could leave impending UFAs Nugent-Hopkins and Barrie exposed if it becomes likely that they will not re-sign, but I feel like it’s safe to go out on a limb and predict that both players will want to re-sign in Edmonton. Either way, good players will be exposed.
There’s no other way to put it: the Oilers will lose a quality player to the Seattle Kraken. I said it before, but I would BEG Seattle to take James Neal. It would definitely cost the Oilers an asset to get Seattle to take Neal over one of the good young players that will be available, but getting Neal’s $5.75 million off of the books and creating the cap space to go big game hunting in free agency in 2021 would take some of the sting out of losing a quality young piece or a draft pick.
While the Russell extension does solve one problem, it creates another. Exposing Russell in the expansion draft does not ensure that the Kraken will select him. There is no scenario where the Kraken will take Russell unless Holland includes him in a side deal. Russell will still be in the way in 2021-22 unless Holland can trade him next summer. I believe that the big reason that Russell wasn’t moved this October was because of the Klefbom situation. Whether you like him or not, he can defend decently well and he blocks a ton of shots, which are useful skills that will be assets to the Oilers with Klefbom on the shelf. I’m not suggesting that it would’ve been impossible to move him with his current deal, but it will be easier to move his one year, $1.75 million contract after next season. I predicted that Russell would get traded before this coming season when he signed his contract originally, and I was wrong. I’ll be shocked if he isn’t traded next summer because I expect Broberg to force his way onto the roster by the start of the 2021-22 season, if not sooner.