Defenseman Eric Gryba still sits without an NHL contract. A depth blueliner, Gryba played last season with the Edmonton Oilers and while he provided as much, if not more, than was asked of him, it wasn’t quite enough to guarantee him another year of employment. Injury struck the defenseman toward the end of the 2015-16 season and that was all it took to send him to the back of the line, where he’s currently waiting for his former team to renew interest.
For Gryba, there may be good news. Recently, rumblings have come down that he has been offered PTO’s by as many as three NHL clubs, but he’s potentially waiting on one being offered by Edmonton, where he wants to stay another season.
Eric Gryba wants to return to Oilers and if he takes a PTO anywhere it’ll be in Edm because they know him best
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) August 25, 2016
It doesn’t appear as though the Oilers and Gryba have come to any terms on a PTO, but if the rumours are correct, it likely means that Edmonton has struck out on the trade market or free agency and their hunt for an offensive defenseman that can help quarterback their powerplay, has turned up empty.
Rumours of D Eric Gryba signing a PTO with #Oilers at this point are unfounded, according to agent. He’s still on the market.
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) August 25, 2016
What Gryba Is
Gryba is an under-appreciated talent. He’s never going to be a top-four defenseman on a good team, but his underlying numbers for the minutes he plays are quite good. He’s a career plus +/- player on less than sub-par teams and last season, playing alongside Brandon Davidson — where he’d likely slot again — they managed a combined 54% Corsi. He played very little with other defensive combinations, but when he did, he fared nicely there as well.
He’s right in the prime age for defensemen at 28-years-old and he’s comfortable with and understanding of his role as a bottom-pair defenseman. In that role, he’s quite useful, playing an average of over 17 minutes per night. He’s a big, gritty and fairly reliable veteran. Most importantly, he would fill a hole on Edmonton’s roster as a right-shooting defenseman.
What Gryba Isn’t
Chiarelli made mention earlier in the summer about potentially revisiting the idea of signing Gryba to another contract. It’s taken some time to circle back to Gryba as an option simply because the Oilers have more pressing needs than what Gryba routinely delivers. Edmonton lacks a power play specialist and Gryba isn’t that. He’s not going to score goals or get assists, at least not enough to warrant playing time in a position where offense is both important and required. Thus, the Oilers hesitation was likely related to the Oilers desire to add a more offensive weapon.
There’s no real evidence that the Oilers were truly close to landing any of their rumoured targets. If they were ever in, they clearly struck out on players like Tyson Barrie, P.K. Subban, Kevin Shattenkirk and other potential options like James Wisniewski who the Oilers also invited to camp, but ultimately chose the Tampa Bay Lightning. Gryba doesn’t offer a similar set of skills these players do and signing Gryba still leaves Edmonton lacking a key offensive component and potentially gives away a valuable roster spot.
All that said, the Oilers inability to fill their number one need, may be Gryba’s gain. While Gryba isn’t offensively gifted, he has intangibles that make him a safe bet and there are far worse options than to go with a veteran who can steadily provide what management and coaching know he’s capable of. With Gryba, you know exactly what you’re going to get and in a lot of cases, particularly in this one, some things are better safe than sorry.
The Oilers have just signed college free agent and right-handed defenseman Matthew Benning. This may be even more reason to look at Eric Gryba because Benning may or may not be NHL ready. It gives the Oilers and Benning time to get comfortably involved and find a role without rushing him to the professional ranks and we know what happens when the Oilers rush college free agents into the NHL. (Justin Schultz was nothing short of a disaster for Edmonton).
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”