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Behind The Numbers

Stars looking for Russell hustle

Dallas hopes veteran defenseman can tighten up blue line

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

The Dallas Stars made the biggest trade at the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline, acquiring defenseman Kris Russell from the Calgary Flames for defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka, forward prospect Brett Pollock and a conditional second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Based on the underlying numbers, the outcome of this trade likely will depend on how Russell is deployed for the remainder of this season and if he can be a major part of a deep march in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With 83 points in 64 games, the Stars are in a tight battle with the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues for first place in the Central Division and the Western Conference. The Blackhawks also have 83 points in 64 games, and the Blues have 81 points in 65 games. Dallas and Chicago, the reigning Cup champion, have flip-flopped places at the top throughout the month of February.

Acquiring the right player can make all the difference for a team in this position. According to three separate statistical models, the Stars' odds of winning the Stanley Cup are between 7 and 8 percent, which puts them on top of a tight pack behind only the Washington Capitals and the Blackhawks.

Video: Stars acquire Kris Russell from Calgary Flames

A potent offense led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn is Dallas' strength, as demonstrated by a League-leading 2,074 shots and 204 goals scored. The Stars have a 9.8 team shooting percentage, which ranks fourth, and a power-play percentage of 21.7 percent, which ranks sixth.

In terms of possession metrics, Dallas ranks second in the NHL with a 53.4 SAT%, which is the percentage of all shot attempts taken by the Stars.

The Stars' key weakness is at the defensive end of the ice.

They have allowed 184 goals, No. 25 in the NHL, and last among teams in a postseason position. Although some of that responsibility falls to the goaltending tandem of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, it's clear Dallas needed to acquire a good defenseman at the deadline.

Unfortunately, there were very few defensemen available this season. The trade package required to acquire Russell from the Calgary Flames is considered steep by some, but is consistent with the rate of return for an established NHL defenseman in such a tight market.

Video: CGY@SJS: Russell puts home rebound on PP to tie it

Since being acquired from the St. Louis Blues on July 5, 2013, Russell has scored 78 points in 198 games with the Flames, a level of secondary scoring similar to Jason Demers, who scored 80 points in 212 games for Dallas and the San Jose Sharks during that same period.

Russell's key strength is his status as one of the League's best shot-blockers, a reputation that can be confirmed by the numbers. With 174 blocked shots this season, Russell ranks second to Francois Beauchemin of the Colorado Avalanche, who has blocked 195.

When taking opportunity into account, Russell has blocked 14.3 percent of all on-ice shot attempts faced, compared to 11.2 percent for Beauchemin.

In theory, Russell's shot-blocking talent should make him a valuable penalty-killing addition to the Stars, who rank No. 24 in the League with a 79.2 penalty-killing percentage, and No. 15 among those currently in a postseason position.

However, the Flames rank last in the League with a 72.6 penalty-killing percentage this season, and No. 28 with a 79.0 penalty-killing percentage during Russell's entire time in Calgary.

Statistically, the real concern with Russell's play is highlighted by his poor shot-based possession metrics. Among the 211 defensemen to play at least 20 games this season, Russell ranks No. 198 with a SAT% of 43.7 percent. Even when measured relative to a player's team, Russell still is No. 195.

Video: CGY@NSH: Gaudreau sets up Russell for OT winner

Even if the numbers are set aside, there are still doubts about whether Russell can effectively play a top-four role on a Stanley Cup contender. After all, he never was higher than fifth on the depth chart with the Columbus Blue Jackets or the St. Louis Blues, and the Flames ranked No. 24 in goals allowed in the three seasons he was used as Calgary's No. 3 defenseman.

The key to Russell's success in Dallas will be how effectively he will be deployed by coach Lindy Ruff. After all, Russell was highly effective in Columbus and St. Louis, where he played on a third pairing used primarily in the offensive zone and against secondary competition.

Specifically, from 2010-11 to 2012-13, Russell lined up for 690 faceoffs in the offensive zone, and 521 in the defensive zone, for a 57.0 zone-start percentage that ranked No. 24 out of the 304 defensemen to play 20 games during that span.

In what role would Russell be successful in Dallas?

Obviously, anyone would be successful playing alongside John Klingberg, who gets the most ice time along with forwards Seguin and Benn. Sharing the ice with such talent will easily compensate for any concerns about Russell's puck-possession game. However, Ruff is unlikely to separate Klingberg from Alex Goligoski, nor deploy any other pairing with the Stars' top forward line.

As previously established, it would be risky to play Russell on the top shutdown pairing with Jason Demers or Johnny Oduya. That leaves him in a secondary role on a third pairing with Jordie Benn, Jamie's brother, which can be used primarily in the offensive zone and against secondary competition.

When there's a hole to fill, it's not always easy to find the right player at the right time, especially with a tight window like the trade deadline approaching.

In acquiring Russell, general manager Jim Nill is hoping a little bit of added defensive depth will be enough to help propel one of the League's top offenses to the franchise's second Stanley Cup, and its first since 1999.

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