After last season’s disappointing results, Steve Yzerman and the Wings’ brass needed to have a busy off-season. A flurry of signings and releases has meant the Detroit Red Wings’ roster is going to have a different look this upcoming season. Every hockey player has a past, present and, most importantly for Wings’ fans, future. Although the future is impossible to predict, markers in a player’s past can indicate a projected path. Let’s examine some of those clues.
14,999 out of the 15,000 residents in Füssen, Germany have never played goalie in the NHL, making Thomas Greiss the lone goalie hailing from this beautiful German town that lies just north of the Austrian border. Greiss got his start in 1999 when he took part in the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee hockey tournament – a tournament that has seen the likes of Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky and Patrick Roy – with his Munich team. Following this, Greiss worked to develop his skillset and made his DEL debut in 2003 before being drafted 94th overall by the San Jose Sharks. After a brief stint in the AHL, Greiss started his first NHL game with a disappointing 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in 2008. While he has spent the majority of his career as a backup, his hard work paid off when he appeared in both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. A countless number of variables, scenarios and a little bit of luck are needed to catapult a goalie from backup-to-starter in the NHL and opportunity came knocking in 2016 when the Islanders waived Jaroslav Halák and thrust Greiss and Jean-François Bérubé into a 1A and 1B rotation. The young German seized the opportunity and stood on his head, achieving a career-high 52 saves in a win against the Montreal Canadiens in January 2018.
2020 will be remembered for many, many…many things, but in hockey terms, it will be remembered as ‘the year of free-agent goalies.’ Greiss was one of those players who were able to reap the benefits of numerous teams looking to strengthen their crease. Other big names, like Robin Lehner, Braden Holtby, and Jacob Markström, were signed early but, frankly, the Wings weren’t in the market for one of these expensive goalies. This is why signing Greiss to a 2-year, $7.2 million contract, with a cap hit of $3.6 million per year was ideal for both the Wings and Greiss: the Wings got a solid 1B goalie that can link up with Jonothan Bernier to form a formidable 1A/1B duo and Greiss got a payday that he was unlikely to get during his free-agency the following year. The German netminder finished last season 16-9-4 with a 2.74 GAA and .913 save percentage for the Islanders. Impressive, however, it must be noted that Barry Trotz and the Islanders were one of the strongest defensive teams last season and consistently limited high-percentage opportunities and forced opponents to fringe shots. As a result of Detroit’s lack of defensive depth and experience, it is likely that Greiss will see a decline in these numbers. Nevertheless, the Wings are banking on the 34-year-old Füssen native to seize the opportunity to play more games, make more saves and potentially shed the 1B label to establish himself as Detroit’s true number 1.
Steve Yzerman continues to make the same shrewd, cost-efficient, logical roster moves that he did in Tampa Bay. Greiss is not the goalie for the future, he’s the goalie for now and that’s what the Wings need. I don’t think I’m talking out of school by saying Wings’ fans aren’t anticipating a Stanley Cup next year…it would be nice, but they recognize that, being amidst a rebuild, it’s unlikely. As such, the real hope is that Greiss will be an upgrade from the ageing Jimmy Howard. With the addition of Greiss as a new competitor, Bernier will be made well-aware that if he wants a 1A/1B tandem he will need to show he’s able to shoulder 30+ games. Having two goalies on short-term deals will leave Yzerman with some flexibility next season, just in case, the duo doesn’t perform to their expected potential. This goaltending ‘stop-gap’ approach will allow prospects Keith Petruzzelli and Filip Larsson more time to develop and ideally join a defensively responsible and talented Wings’ team over the next 2-to-3 years. The Seattle expansion draft has added a new dynamic for General Managers and Greiss’ acquisition gives Yzerman options for which goalie to protect. The future is certainly bright for the Red Wings and, while Greiss may not be around for 5 more years, we can anticipate that he will be part of the last line of defence for the Wings for the next 2.