A few weeks ago I took a look at what the Oilers defence might look like next season if the team decided to re-sign Eric Gryba. In his first season with the Oilers, Gryba has been a good bottom pairing defender for the team and so I wouldn’t have a lot of issues with the team bringing him back next season on a deal comparable to the one he’s on right now to be the team’s 6/7 defender. In that scenario I see the defence looking something like this:
Andrej Sekera - Acquisition X
Oscar Klefbom - Acquisition Y
Brandon Davidson - Darnell Nurse
With that in mind my first reaction to the news that the Oilers had claimed Adam Pardy off waivers from the Jets was that he’s a placeholder, just a body to fill a roster spot until the end of the season, after which he and the Oilers would go their separate ways. Since then I’ve thought about it a little more and then read what Arctic Ice Hockey had to say about Pardy after the waiver claim, and I think my initial assessment might have been a bit premature. Pardy might actually be a good option for the Oilers next season, taking Gryba’s theoretical spot on the roster
These two are very similar players in that both can be effective on a team’s bottom pair and neither brings much in the way of offence. Gryba is four years younger - he’ll be 28 next season, meaning Pardy will be 32, obviously - but we shouldn’t be expecting either to improve at this stage of their career. Gryba makes a little more money, having signed a two-year deal worth $1.25M per season; Pardy re-signed with the Jets last summer for one-year and $1M.
There are some differences though as you can see in the table below which provides a summary the last three seasons (all data is for 5-on-5 situations and comes from War On Ice):
Over the last two seasons they've played basically the same amount per game and have scored at nearly the same rate. Over 82 games that difference in points/60 works out to be about three points, so for the purposes of deciding between the two, nothing. There are a couple of things here that point to differences between the two and to Pardy being a more effective player in recent seasons, starting with a positive CorsiFor% relative to teammates and three fewer scoring chances against per 60 minutes of play. Both of those are pluses for Pardy.
One thing I wanted to look at more closely was penalties because Gryba tends to take a lot, in fact he leads the Oilers in total penalties and has the worst penalty differential on the team this season. And a lot of those penalties are obstruction penalties - interference, hooking, holding. By comparison, Pardy takes fewer than half as many penalties as Gryba. Given that Gryba's penalties tend to be the result of positioning or foot speed and not aggressive play, this is another check mark in favour of Pardy.
That aggressive style of play is something Gryba is know for though, so to be fair to him I included that in the table as well. Gryba absolutely throws more hits but not a lot more, the difference works out to be about one hit per game. Given the relatively minor difference between the two, past issues with building to building variances in how the NHL's real-time stats are counted, and a lack of data showing a correlation between hitting and winning hockey games, this isn't something that I would be too worried about.
A comparison of the two using the "Warrior" charts available from Own the Puck tells a similar story, Pardy is likely a better option for the Oilers' bottom pairing.
So where does this leave us?
Looking at these numbers I think it's reasonable to conclude that Pardy has been the more effective defender over the last three seasons; he does more to keep pucks away from his team's net and doesn't force his teammates to kill as many penalties while he watches from the penalty box. At 32 years old he's closer to the end of his career than Gryba is but that shouldn't be a concern on a one-year deal. And his being cheaper today should mean that the Oilers can get him re-signed for less than what Gryba would have cost.
With 17 games left in the season, Pardy is basically auditioning for a job next season, whether it be with the Oilers or another NHL team. If he plays well down the stretch it will probably be in the Oilers' best interest to talk to him about a one-year extension before finalizing anything with Gryba. Or at the very least use the option of Pardy to lower Gryba's asking price.