We tried to warn you, Boston. And yet despite all the proof otherwise, the Bruins organisation are putting themselves in a position to make a COLOSSAL free agency mistake anyway.
Rumors are growing that the B's are in serious contract talks with Kris Russell, late of the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars.
Not only are they in contract talks, but more-they're in what is being described as a bidding war.
The @NHLBruins are reportedly one of the teams involved in the risky bidding war for Kris Russell: https://t.co/afuioGY0yq— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) July 3, 2016
The first reports of this began to run yesterday night, and while the sources they came from weren't exactly top drawer (Joe Haggerty, whose rumormongering we've discussed at length) and Shawn Hutcheon (who once showed a lack of grasp of basic anatomy when claiming Chris Kelly skated off the ice on a broken femur)...they are coming and being picked up upon.
More to the point...with the way the Bruins organisation has acted up until now and the biases player-wise shown by players Neely and Sweeney like to recruit, they're terrifyingly plausible.
Let's bear in mind first of all that Jason Demers, considered the top UFA defenseman available, went for $4.5 million, then look at the offers being made to Russell according to league sources.
After all, maybe the offers being made are sensible, bearing in mind the last contract Russell was on paid him $2.6 million a year...
Vancouver's last offer for Kris Russell is believed to be in excess of $25MM.— Travis Yost (@travisyost) July 1, 2016
Oh. Oh dear. Surely the holdup must be that no other team wants to get near offering that much and are balking at the price.
The hold up on Russell is if clubs like @CanadiensMTL @MapleLeafs @VanCanucks go 6 yrs on ballpark 5m aav. #SigningSeason— Nick Kypreos (@RealKyper) July 1, 2016
Oh. My. God.
So, what we have here are at least three teams competing to offer Kris Russell (KRIS RUSSELL) $5 million a year until he's either 34 or 35.
And this is a bidding auction that the B's are now reportedly in on alongside teams that have more cap space, and can thus afford to drive the price up without actually paying it.
In fact, that is, apparently, once again according to Haggerty, after a deal which has already seen him turn down Demers-equivalent money. We're into uncharted territory with the bids now.
I'm hearing Bruins are in on D Kris Russell. Perfect candidate for B's to massively overpay. Word is he turned down 4 yrs, $17M+ w/Leafs— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) July 3, 2016
When one of the biggest fans of the "underrated, gritty" defense of players as a signing justification is throwing shade at your FA strategy, it's a bad one.
It's even worse when other prominent Boston media members are outright disowning defending the move before it's even happened:
I can't & won't spin this one if they go Russell but left Demers on the table.— Kirk Luedeke (@kluedeke29) July 3, 2016
But this is where we are under Don Sweeney and Neely now...the overvaluing of certain narratives and player attributes (real or imagined) has locked the Bruins into a mindset where players like Kris Russell are being valued for far, far more than they actually are. It's a mindset that will drive them to destruction in this changing NHL, where speed and skill are holding sway. It's a mindset that makes them do things that all research and indications show are utterly indefensible.
Let's make no bones about this...paying Kris Russell north of $5 million a year is an atrocity of a contract - a contract that more than many others will show that the likes of Sweeney and Neely are propogating an environment where mediocre players can somehow be paid stupid amounts of money based on perceived and possibly imaginary strengths. It has previously happened with Adam McQuaid to name just one Bruin, and that contract has been part of handcuffing the Bruins defensively.
Paying Kris Russell that kind of money for that term would be arguably the biggest mistake Don Sweeney has made - up to and including trading Dougie Hamilton.
Here is the statistical breakdown of Russell's play through the wonders of the HERO chart.
That is utterly horrific but this bears repeating once again...
IN EVERY STATISTICAL CATEGORY MEASURED, KRIS RUSSELL IS A BOTTOM PAIRING DEFENSEMAN.
He doesn't score goals, he doesn't set them up, he is HORRENDOUS in possession, and when he's on the ice, things happen. Usually bad things.
Yes, he may hold the shot-blocking record. But the flipside of this which his defenders either don't seem to consider or wilfully ignore is that this means teams take a lot of shots when he's on the ice. This means that his team are under pressure a lot and giving up chances while he is on the ice.
That is not how good defense works.
The Great Kris Russell Mind Trick continues to go on, and it's utterly baffling that somehow he is now in like to be paid more money and likely more term by teams that somehow are still clinging to some sort of outdated narrative in which the terms "grit" and "intangibles" figure heavily.
Want more reasons why this is truly a horrendous mistake if the Bruins allow it to happen? Let's take a look at a comparison of Russell with another FA defenseman this offseason. We've blanked the name out for now...
Which of those two players would you rather your team pay north of $5 million a year-Kris Russell or mystery player A? Which of these players, in your eyes, is more worthy of a massive contract and likely top four icetime?
If you answered Kris Russell, then you're probably Jim Benning, Marc Bergevin, or Don Sweeney...and that's not exactly exalted GM company to be in right now.
If you answered B, then congratulations - you've used actual statistical data to decide that an anonymous FA defenseman is worth far more than Kris Russell and is a much better player both defensively and going forward.
But of course, you're asking...who is that player A? It must be one of the league's better defensemen, one of the more under-rated ones? Presumably they're on a decent contract themselves, right?
That player, dear reader, is currently being paid less than a fifth of what Kris Russell is demanding...$800k a year.
That player is new Colorado Avalanche signing Patrick Wiercioch. In case you think we've manipulated the charts...here's the proof.
So there you are, dear readers. Conclusive proof that NHL GMs could have got a far better player this off season, both offensively AND defensively, than Russell for less than a fifth of the price.
And that is what makes it so shocking that the B's are in on him here. Russell is, by no measure imaginable, worth the money that he is about to command in free agency.
And fans know it, thanks to the increased availability of analytical tools. Look at any comment thread related to a Russell signing - look at the almost unanimous horror in the comment threads from fans all around the league. The outcry against the move at the rumoured money would be at a level of fury rarely seen by the team who signs him front office.
The Bruins are in danger of making the most catastrophic move of the off-season - one that is almost indefensible. They are staring into the cap abyss right now, teetering on the edge.
If they step into it, expect the anger against Sweeney and Neely to be long, loud, lasting...and deserved.
This is a move that, for their own standing if nothing else, the Boston front office simply cannot allow to happen.