Thomas Greiss was always well aware this would be the likely outcome.
The goalie’s five-season tenure on Long Island ended on Saturday — the second day of NHL free agency and the second straight quiet day for the Islanders — when he agreed to a two-year, $7.2 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
The 34-year-old German completed a three-year, $10 million deal and the Islanders have Semyon Varlamov, entering the second season of a four-year, $20 million deal, and highly-touted incoming Russian prospect Ilya Sorokin, on a one-year, $2 million deal, signed for next season.
"It’s always in the back of your mind," Greiss said in his introductory Zoom conference call as a Red Wing. "You think about it. But, during the moment in games, you focus on the games."
Greiss went 16-9-4 with a 2.74 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage last season but played in just four of the Islanders’ 22 postseason games. He did have a 16-save shutout as the Islanders beat the Flyers, 4-0, in Game 7 of their second-round series to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993.
Greiss became the first of the Islanders’ unrestricted free agents to sign a new deal. Defenseman Andy Greene and forwards Matt Martin, Derick Brassard and Tom Kuhnhackl are also UFAs and it’s believed president and general manager Lou Lamoriello has kept in touch with all of them.
The Islanders have approximately $9 million available under the flat, $81.5 million salary cap but can exceed that ceiling by 10% in the offseason.
Lamoriello has broadly indicated he wanted to re-sign all his free agents but acknowledged in late September, "I think our goaltending situation is pretty obvious."
Greiss said there had been communication with Lamoriello since the team’s postseason run ended on Sept. 17 but knew a return was not likely.
"We always talked," Greiss said. "There were no secrets on either side. In the end, that’s how it played out for us."
He finishes his Islanders’ career first on the franchise’s all-time list with a .915 save percentage and fifth with both 101 wins and 193 appearances. He is sixth with 10 shutouts. Greiss also started all six games against the Panthers in the first round of the 2016 postseason as the Islanders won their first playoff series since 1993. He held the Panthers to four goals over the last three games, including a 2-1 win in double overtime in the deciding Game 6.
"My time on Long Island was the best portion of my career," Greiss posted to his Instagram account shortly after the deal with the Red Wings was announced. "From the fans to ownership, I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Although there were ups and downs, New York became my home."
Greiss added he owed a "heartfelt thank you" to coach Barry Trotz, director of goaltending Mitch Korn, goalie coach Piero Greco and Lamoriello for "pushing me and developing my skill to a new level. I’ll forever be grateful."
He also thanked late Islanders owner Charles Wang for "giving me the opportunity."
"Most of all the fans who supported me throughout," Greiss posted. "I’ll see you all on my return to The Island."
Filing for arbitration
Restricted free agents Josh Ho-Sang and defensemen Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews all elected for arbitration before Saturday’s 5 p.m. deadline for filing.
All three had received qualifying offers. Pulock, whose base salary was $2.65 million last season, was qualified at 100% while Toews ($750,000) and Ho-Sang ($874,125) were qualified at 105%.
Negotiations toward a new contract can continue until each player’s salary arbitration hearing, which will be conducted from Oct. 20-Nov. 8. By filing for arbitration, Toews, Pulock and Ho-Sang can now not accept an RFA offer sheet from another organization.
Top-line center Mathew Barzal, qualified at 105% of his $832,500 base salary from last season, is eligible to receive an offer sheet.
Minor-league defenseman Kyle Burroughs is the only other of the Islanders’ eight RFAs who is arbitration eligible. The deadline for club-elected arbitration is Sunday at 5 p.m.