Since last Friday, Sharks faithful have been waiting for Doug WIlson to make a splash in the free agent market. With almost $7.5MM to burn after swapping Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat, many believed it was only a matter of time before the Sharks general manager would surprise with a signing.
There are some crazy scenarios out there, but today Doug Wilson made a signing more shocking than many of the rumors being floated around the NHL waters.
Thomas Greiss, a player who was given the cold shoulder by management just a year earlier, decided to let bygones be bygones and signed a two-year, $1.175MM deal with the franchised that promised him the sky yet sent him to Europe just over twelve months prior.
The situation we're referring to occurred last off season, when Greiss was the clear front runner for the backup role to Antero Niittymaki, who was brought in to replace Evgeni Nabokov as the team's starter. Greiss had handled the backup job in the past admirably, and all signs pointed to him taking on a bigger role in San Jose with Niittymaki less capable of playing the large number of games Nabokov requested.
Everything changed, however, when Wilson broke script and signed Antti Niemi to a one-year deal. Wilson had said all along that he wanted to keep the costs of goaltending down, but it appeared as if the allure of signing a Cup-winning goaltender at a discount was too much to pass up.
The addition of Niemi to the depth chart pushed Greiss out of the NHL, and with then rising-star Al Stalock starting in the minors, Greiss had nowhere in North America to get any consistent time. Playing in Europe was the only option, and he took it.
This string of unfortunate circumstances left many to believe that Greiss would leave San Jose after the season, looking for a team which would provide him with more playing time in either the NHL or AHL to continue his career. Instead, Greiss signed a two-year commitment with the team at an incredibly reasonable price, going so far as to agree to a two-way contract in the first year. Why would Greiss come back? There's plenty of theories of course, but we think the reasoning is much simpler.
Fact of the matter is that Greiss didn't have the best season in the Swedish Elite League, posting a meager .901 save percentage (10th) and a 2.92 goals against average (27th) in 32 games with the team. Like the Olympics (where he was the starter for Germany), it was a chance for Greiss to show that he was ready for full time NHL duty. His performance in either situation didn't inspire much confidence.
Because of this, Greiss may not have had many suitors. Perhaps Doug Wilson's offer was one of many, but we don't think that's the case. The Sharks may have been Greiss' only opportunity to sign a contract in the NHL, even if he was free to sign with any team he chose.
Greiss may not have to wait long until he gets another shot, though. Al Stalock, who looked to be the clear successor to Antero Niittymaki as San Jose's number two after this season, suffered a serious injury when his leg was cut by an opponent's skate. Now, with Stalock possibly on the mend until mid-season, Greiss has a chance to prove that he can still be a capable netminder on the biggest stage. If an injury occurs, it's likely that Greiss is the one called upon to fill in. He has skill, and has shown he can handle the duty in limited exposure. Experience is a luxury the Sharks didn't have last season, and wouldn't have had with Stalock on the shelf headed into next year.
For now, it appears as if Greiss is content to put the past aside; we have to admit that the amount of bad-blood may be blown out of proportion anyways. We hope so. Regardless, at just 25, Greiss will again be in a situation where he has something to prove.
Whether that situation is in the NHL or the AHL, we wish him the best.