This past regular season saw a pretty even split in goal for the New York Islanders. The timeshare between veteran Jaroslav Halak and the somewhat inexperienced Thomas Greiss began right from the get-go. In fact, Greiss started the first Islander game of the season. He finished the year seeing action in 41 games. This, after having started just 70 total games in the six prior years of his career. Halak played in 36 games. Overall both goaltenders had solid if unspectacular seasons for New York.
When the playoffs rolled around, Halak was sidelined with a groin injury that had kept him out for the end of the regular season. Greiss started all 11 playoff games for the Islanders before they were eliminated. After that elimination, Halak went under the knife to have sports hernia surgery. He should be recovered for the start of the 2016-17 NHL season; that is, if the Islanders want him.
There are a couple factors at play when discussing the Islanders’ goalie situation for this coming season and moving forward beyond that. First, the particulars: Halak is signed for two more years at a $4.5 million cap hit per season. Greiss, 30 years old to Halak’s 31 – even though he seems like the much younger player – is under contract for one more season at $1.5 million against the cap. Second-year man Jean-Francois Berube will also be around for at least one more year as he’s a restricted free agent after this coming season, though the team may still see him as just a backup for the time being.
So Halak is the (slightly) older player, with a considerably larger cap hit, coming off of a pretty major injury that required surgery. Greiss played well in his first year with the Islanders, but he will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-17 season unless a new deal is agreed to. Then there’s the factor of the coming NHL expansion.
Greiss is Germany’s starting goaltender for the 2016 IIHF World Championships. Greiss has been average, recording a 90.38% save percentage in five games, allowing 10 goals on 104 shots on goal. It is a very short sample size, but Greiss’ GAA increased and his save percentage decreased when you compare it to last season’s NHL stats. Greiss had a 2.36 GAA and 92.5% save percentage last season and now has a 2.50 GAA and 90.38% save percentage in the World Championships. Is this a sign for things to come this upcoming season? Islander fans hope not.
With a new team in Las Vegas set to join the league, there will be an expansion draft in 2017. In that draft, current teams can only protect one goaltender. This could very well play a part in what New York decides to do as well.
After the Islanders were knocked out of the playoffs, Halak was quoted as saying of the three-goalie system, “it’s not ideal… I’ve tried to tell [management], and this is not up to me.” Now, a couple months later, a cap squeeze may force the organization to agree with him. Arthur Staple of Newsday specifically points to Halak as a possible cap casualty and trade piece, calling his an onerous contract, as the team attempts to create more space under the $73 million salary cap.
It seems like Berube would be the guy the team would stick with for the long haul, through the expansion draft that is, if it really believes in his future. Him having six and seven years experience on his current positional teammates only heightens that belief. However, he was extended only one year by the Islanders this offseason, and he is still an unproven asset. Though Berube found great success in the AHL, he never made it to the NHL with the team that drafted him. 2015-16 was his first ever NHL action.
Greiss is probably the number-one guy for the Islanders for this coming season whether or not Halak stays. If Halak does stick around, it leaves that less-than-ideal timeshare scenario that Halak mentioned in his interview; a situation that is useful for the team but may be personally detrimental to all goaltenders involved. Quite a precarious predicament indeed.