UFA of the Day: Kris Russell

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Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is …

Kris Russell

Kris Russell often feels like the inkblot test of NHL defensemen; opinions vary on him to a remarkable degree.

Around trade deadline time, TSN’s Bob McKenzie believed Russell could command a cap hit exceeding $5 million. Not longer after, when the Dallas Stars made the divisive trade to acquire Russell, some wondered if he was even superior to Jyrki Jokipakka (who was just a piece in the swap):

Some call him “incredibly overrated” and point to sometimes-horrific possession numbers, yet the talking points in his favor can generate a beefy contract: he scores some points, blocks shots and moves the puck.

“He just always seems to make the right play,” Alex Goligoski said shortly after the trade, according to Sportsnet. “There’s not a team in this league that guy wouldn’t help. So it’s a great pickup for us.”

Indeed, there are marketable qualities, yet even traditionalists will find him puzzling. He blocks shots like a stay-at-home defenseman, but he’s short of stature and was exposed badly in his own end during the playoffs.

Defending Big D captured that experience in a post that is relatively kind to Russell:

Russell and his partner that series, Jason Demers, were brutally victimized at the hands of the Blues. St. Louis had an obvious gameplan from the get-go, to use their big size and heavy forecheck to inflict punishment on the small Stars defenders, and it worked to perfection against the Russell-Demers duo. Dallas’ blueline had effectively countered heavy forechecks all season long by using speed, smart puck movement and proper defensive-zone positioning to get themselves out of trouble, but Russell had serious trouble executing all of these key points once the chips were down.

If there is one consensus, it’s that he’s headed for a raise above his $2.6 million cap hit. Some may wonder if he’ll be worth the raise, but it’s coming.

The first place to look is Dallas. The Stars paid a price for Russell and have a serious need on defense.

That said, Dallas is eyeing a youth movement on defense, especially with Alex Goligoski’s rights shipped off to Arizona. GM Jim Nill could very well allow Russell, Jason Demers and Jordie Benn to leave town, too.

Demand is strikingly high for defensemen who can keep things moving, so Russell would likely draw secondary interest for any team in that market.

The Boston Bruins seem like a reasonable mention in any of these discussions. Maybe the New York Rangers view Russell as a cheaper version of Keith Yandle. Russell makes sense as a Plan B for defense-starved teams that aren’t quite as swayed by possession stats.

Russell serves as a fascinating litmus test.

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.