Unsung

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.

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.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    I have no problem with Gryba on our club.
    he is honest , tough ,mistakes are minor.
    Great in the room so I hear. NHL D man for sure.

    Keep the Gryb’s !

    Wouldn’t trade him for Doiglas Hamilton or what ever his name is. 🙂

  • McPucker

    His physical play helps the overall defense be more effective.

    He has his warts but I like what he brings. I also like that the Oilers are in the position that they don’t have to play him every game.

  • Bills Bills

    He’s a number 7. That’s it that’s all. Hits great but can’t make a decision with the puck but off the glass and out. The Oilers are done playing that kind of hockey and don’t have much room for a guy at $950k to sit upstairs for 50 games.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think he’s a great team guy but as the Oilers d improves there is less and less space for Eric Gryba.

    • Keepyourstickontheice

      He’s a 950k insurance policy, I’d rather have him here to plug holes caused by injuries than Oesterle or Reinhart. Is there a 1M player out there that you would rather have instead of him?

      I think we will always have room for a player of his calibre and cap hit. In salary cap terms his cost is negligible.

      • Bills Bills

        It is not. Roster management is going to be key going forward. You can’t afford to play a number 7 guy too much money. Even if it is only 4 or 500k. You have Osterly and Reinhart on the 50 contract list. Why would you not want to see those guys getting a chance rather than an overpaid number 7? Makes zero sense to me. Like I said, I like the guy but he’s spare parts. Arguing that he deserves a spot over drafted younger players is ridiculous. Especially when he’s overpaid for his role.

        • Keepyourstickontheice

          Young promising players should be playing big minutes in the AHL until they are ready to play up here full time. It is a huge waste of development time to have them sitting in the pressbox, when they could be in Bakersfield building their game and their confidence.
          Gryba is who he is at this point.

        • Keepyourstickontheice

          The two most likely replacements for Gryba are Reinhart and Oesterle. Oesterle is signed at 585K, Reinhart is making 833K. So we are talking about a cap difference of 117-365K.

          Worrying about overspending miniscule amounts like that, while ignoring real cap situations big money players create(Benoit Pouliot for example)is like buying one ply toilet paper to be frugal but driving a Ferrari.

          The Oilers currently have about 5M in cap space, depending on bonuses. “Overspending” less than a 10th of that isn’t breaking the bank, or preventing us from pursuing players. We will be in a difficult cap situation in the future, but if you think Gryba’s contract is the problem you are out to lunch.

          • Bills Bills

            I never said it was a problem but he is overpaid for a 7th defenceman. He needs to be resigned and he is what he is. He’s 28 years old and the Oilers have younger players with more potential upside than Gryba. Why use one of your 50 contracts to pay a guy a million bucks to play 30 games when there are cheaper options that already have a contract? You think it will make that big of a difference having Oesterle in instead of Gryba for 12 minutes a night over 30 games? Sorry but Gryba just isn’t that valuable. Besides it is not like PC is satisfied with the right side D. I suspect he is going to find a way to upgrade that position which pushes Gryba down further and makes that 500k and contract more valuable.

            Those are facts. You can gripe about it all you want but the truth is Gryba really isn’t that important to the success of the team. He’s a bit player and if he wants a million dollars on his next contract. He’s easily replacable.

          • Keepyourstickontheice

            Yes, I think we need NHL defencemen with a resume of NHL experience. He is a great injury replacement, which is what a #7 is supposed to do.

            Championship teams have rosters with no weak points in them, everybody is important to the role they play.

            Take your alternative facts home.

            Anyone making that little can be replaced, but when you have him for less than 1M a year why do you need to replace him?

          • Bills Bills

            Because his contract is up and they have replacements in the system that need to get NHL ice time if they are ever going to make the next step. Nothing alternative about that.

          • MessyEH!

            You realize if the Oilers have enough depth, or if Gryba isn’t the best option at #7, his entire salary can be buried in the AHL. No Cap hit at all. And he’s likely to clear waivers.

            He’s actually a bona-fide NHL defenseman. Playing a depth position on a contract that is able to be buried. That has value.

            Plus he’s got a mean streak.

          • Explicit

            I’m not gonna call this the dumbest comment I’ve ever read, I’ll just say that I whole heartily disagree with everything you’ve said.

            1 million dollars for a steady physical veteran depth defenceman. I’ll take 2 more please

          • Bills Bills

            Really? Cause this team used to have a bunch of 6-7 guys. In fact the whole d core was almost made up of them. What did 10 years of that get them?

            You want more of that and call my comment dumb?

            I certainly don’t think they need more bottom pairing players no matter how cheap. They need to continue to develop drafted players and create a wealth of guys that can play top 4. It is called depth on a championship team.

          • crabman

            The article isn’t about Gryba’s next contract. It is about the job he is doing this year. And 925k for an experienced, big tough defenceman on this team this year is perfectly exceptable. Out of all the playoff teams right now only 4 pay their defenceman less than the Oilers. Colombus but with the impending Werenski bonuses they will pay more, Pittsburgh by about 500K, Chicago by less than 1M and Toronto and toronto still pays their 7th dman 925K. With Sekera being our highest paid d at 5.5 we can afford to pay a couple hundred thousand more for a 7th d like Gryba. Sure his spot on the team may very well be gone next year. But for now I’m perfectly happy with him and his compensation.

    • STIXLER

      Seems to me a guy at almost league minimum is the perfect guy to have sitting in the press box. Not to mention when he draws in he doesn’t hurt you on the ice.

      • Bills Bills

        League minimum is $575k so he’s closer to double the league minimum. Second no, I want to see a guy on the bubble and nothing to prove in the AHL in the press box and practicing with the big club getting to play 30 or so games. Not to mention $400k cheaper.

      • Bills Bills

        Yup it is a limit on what you’re allowed to pay someone. Everything in relative and everything is proportional. Paying a number 7 guy 40% more than he is worth is not a lot different than paying a number 4 guy 40% more than he’s worth. You need to manage every position properly or things get out of control before you know it.

        The fact that you are arguing that much about a number 7 guy shows how far your mind is away from the big picture. The number of contracts you have and the amount of money you spend in a SALARY CAP matters at every position. Manage correctly and it is the difference between the Blackhawks and the Penguins. Win once every 8 years or 3 times in 7. Which would you prefer?

    • btrain

      You act like a number 7 role is an easy job. In some ways he has the toughest position amongst all the D men. You think coming in and out of the line up is easy? He has to shake off the rust every other week. Yet he minimizes his mistakes, keeps it simple, and punishes guys with massive hits. He is also great on the PK and is no where near over his head as a 3rd pairing NHL caliber d man. I’m not sure you would find many better options for that role at that price point.

  • Cheesums

    “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, ”

    Verrrrryyyy sneaky jab at #4 Mr. Henderson.

  • Spydyr

    Having a player like Gryba in the bottom pairing or as a seventh defenceman along with this years new found depth on defence may help carry the team on a nice playoff run.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    8 hits against Philly, took a lot out of Philly’s cycle game. Took Jordan Weal out of the game with a legal hit and took a player out in the Yotes game as well–legally. In the NJD games he took Hall off his game effectively, and he’s played well on the PK earlier this year, especially with Nurse–which was a fairly effective high contact pairing.
    Is he top 4-5? No. But he’s effective and game ready when called upon, not withstanding getting beaten on some outside rushes and a few D-zone errors like last night’s over the glass penalty that gave Philly a 2 man advantage. He’s hard not to like when he’s playing well.

  • He has more puck moxie than people want to credit, little plays that show a certain competence but to use the fave term of the analytics crowd, his gritensity beckons a certain branding that is hard to shake.

  • Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89

    My favorite Gryba moment was in 2013 when Lars Eller caught a suicide pass and Gryba hit him with a monster hit.

    That should NOT have been a 2 game suspension, Eller was skating with his head down and paid the price

  • Aendayana777

    Anyone not liking Eric given all needs to understand more than just stats. The willingness to win at all cost. Bit of Sean Brown, Igor Ulanov or Steve Staios from the 90s. You absolutely need them

  • Explicit

    I am also a fan of Gryba. I’m also a big fan of Russel and I liked the Hall
    for Larsson trade the day it happened, so I’m not sure where this leaves our relationship Mr. Henderson.

  • Bills Bills

    You want to talk unsung. Adam Larsson has been a beast all year. His numbers do the talking and he has clearly been our most solid and stable guy back there. He’s not flashy but he has been more valuable to this team on more nights than Hall would have been. He’s pushed everyone on the right side down and moved a guy like Sekera into a position where he can play the left side more often and have more of an impact.

    Yet he is talked about with a hush because he was traded for Hall. Take a look at the standings and any money says Jersey would undo that trade in a heartbeat right now.

    Gryba has played 28 games for 12 min a night on the third pairing being a non factor most nights. Unsung, gimme a break.

    • crabman

      I agree 100% that Larsson was a great addition to the Oilers and is a much greater factor to why they are playing as well as they are than Gryba. But he is expected to be. We traded an allstar leftwinger, former 1st overall for him. He is supposed to be a top line defenceman and is tje player we wanted him to be. He gets lots of credit for playong that role as well. If you watch games on sportsnet not a game goes by that they don’t talk about his play in game. This article is about a player who doesn’t get much credit for doing tje job he does. Nothing else. Pumping up and giving props to one player doesn’t deminish the good job other players are doing.

      • Bills Bills

        I watch “Off the glass Gryba” turn the puck over to the center line every game he plays 80% of the time he actually gets control of the puck. That doesn’t count the blatant giveaways. Something like 51 in 81 games as an Oiler.

        Then they write an article about how he’s the unsung hero? Give it up.

  • llong33

    It’s funny you say no one in their right mind would pay a defenceman 4 million a year for 4 points. Yet when Kris Russell’s name is floated at that price point we jump all over it. Russell is a steady D and what not… But he’s not a 4 million dollar man. Not when we can expect less than 10pts from him a season.

    • Hemmercules

      Who’s jumping all over 4 x 4 for Russel?? I know I’m not and I thought that was the general consensus around here. I could handle Russel for 2 x 4mil if thats what it ended up but ideally you don’t want to pay him over 3.5 for more than 2 years. I think Russel largely depends on other available options, if Chia has other options he wants to pursue on D then Russel likely walks for nothing or gets a pick/rental at the deadline. Always the expansion draft to consider as well.

      Like to see them keep Gryba, great depth dman for cheap. Nothing flashy but tough and useful.

  • toprightcorner

    Gryba is the type of depth dman that becomes valuable in the playoffs against big tough teams. He is the only guy on the back end that can drop his gloves and that is important, not that he would fight in the playoffs, but he will not be intimidated.

    I would take a big, tough, aggressive veteran dman that hits everything as my #7 dman over a smaller offensive less experienced player.

    If a dman is injured in the playoffs, Gryba is not a weak spot when entering the lineup.

    Oilers need to add 2 more right shot dmen before I would consider moving from Gryba. A 2nd pairing and a replacement for Gryba.

    • Oilerchild77

      He was never going to put up those kind of boxcars in Edmonton. His confidence was completely shot because of an incompetent GM that called him a potential Norris trophy winner before he even played a game and was force fed top pairing minutes he wasn’t ready for. Thanks Craig and Dallas.

      • btrain

        I mostly agree except to say Schultz would never have put up the stats he has in Pittsburgh had he stayed in Edmonton. With the D as it now is in Edmonton he wouldn’t have to worry about first pairing minutes. He could be used exactly as he has been this year in Pittsburgh. I think he would have done just as well and I regret jumping on the band wagon of goat chasers. It was a poor move to send him off before we encorporated an actual NHL D to share the heavy work load with him. I don’t think that this is one of those haunting us for the rest of time level mistakes but we always talk about that need for the RHD who can put up points yet we gave one away last year for almost nothing.

    • Seriously Bored

      Not sure why people constantly bring this up now. He didnt do any of that here and got traded to a pretty decent team with a PP that isnt too shabby.

      I think a lot of fans forget his ridiculous contract is why he got traded. In order to sign him again the oilers would have needed to qualify him around 5 mil. Do you want him on the team as your third pairing pp specialist at 5 mil?

  • Pouzar99

    Gryba deserves another one-year deal at the same price. He is a 7th/8th D man whose physicality makes him quite valuable. It is rare that a team doesn’t have at least one D man sidlined by injury and there are games where his toughness is needed. We will almost certainly lose Davidson to Vegas and Russell’s future is uncertain. I suspect we will see Reinhart in the NHL next season because he is improving and unlikely to clear waivers. That would give us 7 or 8 D men, give or take Russell.

  • O.C.

    Putting both Nurse and Russell in when they have been out so long isn’t a good option. Nurse should take a bit of a stint in the A. I don’t think they need or can send Russell however.

    Eric has a role and fills it well. Dependable.

    He needs less minutes (like Letestu) to perform. There are teams where he is the better option. There are teams where others are.

    Between him and Larsson, wingers need be careful carrying the puck in. Opposition energy bang and crash guys would rather not have Gryba in their lineup AND Larsson, (AND Nurse), when they have to bang and crash.

  • O.C.

    Weird. I just did a post showing that Boston, with horrible numbers at the bottom of the league in PP and 5 on 5, and in danger of missing the playoffs…

    …had the best Corsi in the league on Feb 7.

    …I posted it and it disappeared.

    Anyway, point being… Corsi is proving to be irrelevant.

      • camdog

        Team plus/minus aka goal differential actually correlates to where teams are in the standings. Weird hey? The plus minus stat is more relevant than team Corsi.

      • O.C.

        No Matt, not because they are struggling. If the gauntlet of analytics is acceptance of Corsi, Boston is the poster child in the flaws to that goal. The question is WHY are they struggling?

        I.E. Team Good Corsi should be better than Team Bad Corsi if Corsi is to be accepted.

        Boston was dead last and third worst in the league, in two key categories. PP and 5 on 5,… And struggling to be a playoff team.

        But look, they had league best Corsi!

        What voodoo mathematics is this that Corsi is the beat all, end all?

        This is not simple baseball analytics. You can’t score a run in the dirty area, block a pitch, screen off a second baseman to allow your guy a clear path home. That game is binary. Strike / Ball. Hit / Miss. Safe / Out. It is largely 9 individual players making individual plays dictated by ball path.

        Corsi measures performance equally whether it’s a bullet of the rebound or a soft icing attempt to the opposition goalie.

        Corsi has no accounting for system play, such as forward pressure, back pressure, deep pressure, trapping, dump and chase one or two or even three in, defence jumping up,

        It does not account for penalties, or the fact one team impedes better than others.

        If I hear sample size, I say cop out. 2/3 of a season is a damn big sample size.

      • Bills Bills

        What does that have to do with the price of rice in China?

        Boston is certainly not the only team with a good corsi out of the playoffs. There are also teams with a bad corsi in the playoffs. Corsi, while it can be useful in determining what a team does possesion wise, it doesn’t corrolate to scoring or winning games. I don’t care how much time you spend with the puck. If you dont score goals, you don’t win.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    Just gong to join the chorus here. I liked what Gryba brought to the team both last year and this year. The list of jokers that the Oilers have iced as supposed D-men over the past ten years has been pretty horrible and to have a solid and inexpensive guy like Gryba waiting in the wings now as our seventh shows that the team has really turned a corner.

    For sure he’s not the best at passing out of the zone and takes the odd bad penalty… Guess what haters – that’s why he’s the seventh D and doesn’t draw in every night.

    The guys on the farm will draw in with injuries or be assigned spots once they can out- perform one of the top six… That’s natural progression. To my mind there’ll always be a spot for Gryba on the roster and I’m glad the Oilers have him.