The most compelling thing that happened at the Calgary Flames/New York Islanders game Thursday night was what didn’t happen.
Kris Russell didn’t play for the sixth straight game despite being cleared by the team’s medical staff to do so. It made everyone in the press box go ‘hmmm.’
The defenceman was pencilled in by head coach Bob Hartley after the morning skate but he didn’t appear for warmups and moments before puck dropped a tweet was sent out the by the team that he was a scratch.
Kris Russell (lower body) won't play tonight. He remains day-to-day. #NYIvsCGY
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) February 26, 2016
Conspiracy theorists immediately went to work.
If he’s healthy enough to play and doesn’t, it must mean the Flames are not risking further injury to protect an ‘asset’ for a trade in the next couple of days.
The 28-year-old is the top target of teams looking to Calgary for help prior to Monday’s trade deadline. He’s a good defenceman who will become an unrestricted free agent when his $2.6 milion per year contract expires on July 1, making him an attractive rental.
The fact that Hartley said he was good to go and he didn’t play sounds a bit weird. Russell comes from a tough Alberta rodeo family and would probably play even if his arm was hanging by a thread.
“Kris Russell is a real tough read,” Hartley told the media after the 2-1 overtime loss.
“He would be basically playing with two broken legs if you’d let him. He declared himself fine. But I watched him through the morning skate and there was a little hesitation in his skating.
“When we sat with him, right away we knew,” he said. “Usually he doesn’t want to talk about injuries . . . but just in the way he was answering our questions. I cut it short and said ‘You’re not playing.’ Just because I knew he wasn’t 100 per cent. There is no sense on putting him out there. It’s just a nagging injury that’s getting better.”
Hartley said there’s a good chance Russell will play at home against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, the team’s final game before the deadline.
There’s also a good chance he’ll never play for the Flames again.
Russell was well aware of what may be coming when he fielded questions after Thursday’s pre-game skate.
“Obviously, you hear it from time to time but I don’t get involved,” he said. “I don’t read what’s going on. Obviously names come up. I want to be a Calgary Flame, I’ve said that. But sometimes you don’t get what you want. I just look forward to getting back and helping this team as much as I can until I hear differently.”
Russell didn’t have to worry about who would be watching him skate or not skate Friday morning since the team had the day off. He may or may not be part of the Saturday morning’s pre-game skate and he may or may not be in the lineup that night. He may or may not be traded.
The answer to what may or may not happen is coming real soon.
"I feel pretty good. I’ve had a few good skates and every day it seems to get better." – Kris Russellhttps://t.co/U12EmiCF4F
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) February 25, 2016