The Bruins are kicking the tires on 29-year-old free agent defenseman Kris Russell as they continue to look for offseason solutions on the blue line, according to a league source. Russell is the biggest name still left on the free agent market for defensemen after the Florida Panthers signed Jason Demers to a five-year, $21.25 million contract earlier in the day on Saturday.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney didn’t rule out a free agent like Russell when speaking with the media on Friday following the first go-round of free agency, and the expectation is that the B’s will dangle either David Krejci or Ryan Spooner to get some defensemen help over the next few weeks.
“We’ve been in discussions with their agents and some of the players that did sign. So we just didn’t fit the right fit or haven’t found the right fit for those players at this point in time,” said Sweeney, when announcing the David Backes contract on Friday. “Feeling good about John-Michael Liles coming back and joining that group and providing some balance as I talk about having sort of guys that are able to defend and be hard but also having guys that can transition, get up and down the ice, get back on pucks and move pucks.
“Obviously we have to have Colin Miller take a step and emerge and Joe Morrow in the same vain. You know, Robbie O’Gara, Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo … Chris Casto is another player. He’s now played three years; he can really skate. So these guys should be, at some point in time, have sort of a whiff of the barn door here to say hey, is there an opportunity here.”
There were some reports on Friday that the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Russell had agreed to a contract with the Maple Leafs, but those reports turned out to be premature. One source told CSNNE.com that Russell’s camp turned down a four-year, $17 million plus offer from Toronto, and was looking for something richer than that in the secondary D-men market.
The Leafs went in another direction by signing Roman Polak to a short term, smaller money deal, so Russell is still left unsigned on the open market. Russell may have envisioned a contract offer in the neighborhood of a six-year, $30 million deal with D-men at a premium, but that kind of offer isn't in the cards for the nine year NHL veteran.
With many teams settling on their rosters or still waiting for a couple of D-men to break free on the trade market, Russell may not want to wait too long to sign coming off four goals and 19 points in 62 games with the Flames and Stars last season. The gritty, tough Russell has been a top-4 defenseman for each of the last three seasons mostly with the Flames, and enjoyed his best season in 2014-15 when he posted four goals and 34 points along with a plus-18 in 79 games for a Calgary team en route to the playoffs.
Without a contract in the next couple of days, Russell begins to take on the look of Cody Franson last summer, who was supposed to be a big ticket free agent D-man but instead waited for months to sign a reduced contract with the Buffalo Sabres.
The Bruins should be cautious with the solid, but unspectacular Russell, who is marginally better than the D-men they already have while still representing an upgrade to Boston’s back end. The aforementioned four year, $17 million deal would represent an overpay for the Black and Gold, who must be very careful with the next move they make to upgrade their back end.
Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs