On any top 10 team in the NHL (and that’s what the Oilers
are) there are stars and there are role players. There are over and underrated
players. For a team like Edmonton that hasn’t impressed anyone with a playoff
showing in a decade, a lot of skaters have been underrated. Ask fans from other
teams around the league about trade values and you’ll see that many don’t even
recognize Draisaitl is all but untouchable. That’s just the nature of life.
Sometimes your value isn’t recognized for what it should be.
I think there is one Oiler who is really being ignored and
it dates back to when he joined the team last season as well. Eric Gryba is a
big meat and potatoes 3rd pairing defender. It’s not a sexy role and
his player type is definitely not going to attract a lot of fanfare either.
This is probably especially true here in Edmonton when this player-type has
been synonymous with the term “Coke Machine”. It’s the term used for hulking skaters
who can’t play a lick.
The difference here, though, is that I think Gryba plays his
role very well. There’s no question that he fits the bill of a stay at home,
physical defender when he stands 6’4”, 230 pounds, and has never scored more than
12 points in an NHL season. Hell, HockeyDB lists his highest scoring season AT
ANY LEVEL as 20 points and he’s never scored more than 5 goals. This is not a
sexy player (and my wife thinks he needs to grow his beard back). That said, he
shows up in other metrics.
Look, he’s a physical player so it would be a weird omission
if I left out hit and hits per game (as they’re recorded by the NHL). Even
though Gryba has only appeared in 28 games this season, he’s 2nd on
the Oiler defense in total hits (105) and 1st in hits per game
(3.8). He was ranked exactly the same a year ago on the Oilers in those
metrics. So it’s safe to say that when he’s in the lineup, he is consistently the
most physical of Edmonton’s rearguards.
Now, as it happens, the only way to get credited with a hit
is if you yourself do not have the puck. So players who rack up a huge number
of hits might be doing so because their teams never have the puck when they’re
on the ice. Of course, that is not always the case and with Gryba I think he’s
hitting to separate attacking players from the puck so his partner can
retrieve. That’s what my eyes tell me when I watch Gryba, but he has some
support from the fancy stats too.
As a member of the Ottawa Senators, Gryba was at or near the
bottom of the defense in shot attempt percentage year in and year out. There
might be some explanation there with various bottom of the barrel defensive
partners, but that’s a story for another day. As an Oiler, however, Gryba has
fared much better by the metric.
In 2015-2016 Gryba was 3rd on the blueline in raw
Corsi For percentage (49.5%) and 3rd in Corsi For Relative to
Teammates (1.2%). This season he is 3rd again in Corsi For
percentage (52.8%) and 2nd in Corsi For Relative to Teammates (2.4%)
among the defense. As an Oiler, the team has seen a boost to shot attempt
metrics when he’s been on the ice. On top of that he’s added that physicality
we mentioned earlier.
So he’s been their most physical player and this year the
team has been well above 50% in shot attempts with him on the ice. That has
value! I would be lying if I said that I expected him to go through the heart
of the Free Agency period as a RHD who can play without getting a contract, but
he did and the Oil re-signed him at $950,000. For what he does on the ice, that’s
a decent bargain.
— Eric Gryba (@grybes02) February 15, 2017
I’m not saying that Gryba should be making $4 million for 4
years or something that nobody in their right mind would pay for a skater with 4 points
in 28 games, but I am saying that the Oilers are paying minimal dollars for
someone who is doing a hell of a job in the role he’s been given.
The biggest catch with Gryba is his penalty differential.
That’s the number of penalties drawn versus taken and unfortunately he is no
favourite of the officials. He is -11 on the season which is the worst of any
Oiler defender. His partner, Davidson, is 2nd worst. I wouldn’t be
doing my job without mentioning that. To me, it’s not the end of the world, but
he is a target for the Refs.
Will that be the case come playoff time?
I’m looking forward to finding out and I think unsung
contributions from players like Gryba are helping the team get to a place where
they will get that chance. He’s not flashy. He’s not sneaky good on offense. He’s
not playing a ton of minutes. But when given the opportunity he’s playing his
part pretty damn well.