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Where do third-string NHL goalies go when they’re not needed? Europe

Oct 22, 2010, 3:49 PM EDT

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Erik Ersberg

The life of a backup goalie is sometimes an inglorious one since you’re playing sparingly and sometimes having to deal with mop-up duty. What’s it like to be an NHL-caliber goalie that lost their backup job though? If you asked Thomas Greiss or Erik Ersberg, you might find out that the answer is “infuriating” mixed with “planning to move to Europe.”

Recently, Greiss landed a transfer out of Worcester after being sent there by the Sharks when they signed Antti Niemi to split time with Antero Niittymaki in goal. The catch with going to Worcester for Greiss is that he went there and didn’t start a single game. Instead, Greiss is now headed to Sweden to play for Brynas of the Swedish Elite League. The official explanation from the Sharks puts a nice gloss on things.

“We’ve always had a commitment to goaltender development and we feel that Thomas has a great chance to play a lot of games and continue his improvement with Brynas,” stated Wayne Thomas, the assistant general manager of the San Jose Sharks who also works with the team’s goalies.

That’s putting things nicely and it’s good that the Sharks have this sort of friendly arrangement to deal with, but you can’t help but wonder how skunked out Thomas Greiss feels. After all, he started the off-season thinking he’d be backing up and challenging Antero Niittymaki for work and now he’s out of the NHL completely.

If this sort of situation sounds familiar to L.A. Kings fans, it’s because incumbent backup goalie Erik Ersberg landed in the same spot. Ersberg lost his job backing up start Jon Quick to up-and-coming rookie Jonathan Bernier. Ersberg was sent down through waivers and appears to be headed to the KHL according to Rich Hammond of Kings Insider. If that sounds like a massive violation of his agreement with the Kings, that’s because it is.

Technically, in NHL terms Ersberg has violated his contract, and after he clears waivers, the Kings will be able to terminate his contract and cut ties with him.

Remember, the NHL isn’t exactly on friendly terms as far as transfer agreements go with the KHL. Sometimes players can go to Russia and have it be kosher contract-wise with their NHL teams. Nikita Filatov of Columbus and Victor Tikhonov of Phoenix both landed there last year with their team’s blessing, but it appears that the same cannot be said of Ersberg.

This makes Ersberg’s situation similar to that of one-time Hurricanes forward Matt Murley who spurned riding the NHL-AHL shuttle to play for Amur Khabarovsk in the KHL for guaranteed money. Murley hasn’t returned to the NHL since sticking it to Carolina at the last minute. With the glut of available goaltending in North America, it’s possible that Ersberg may be saying his last good-bye to the NHL.

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