The New York Islanders are finally facing a problem that they haven’t had in years. The team known best for goaltending struggles now has two goalies that deserve to be the #1 start in New York. Two offseasons ago the Islanders signed Jaroslav Halak to a 4 year, $18 million contract to be the starter of going into the future. However, this past offseason New York inked a 2 year, $3 million deal with Thomas Greiss to backup Halak. The pair of moves were made to solidify the long-term weak spot for a team on the rise, and the moves have been successful.
Perhaps too successful.
Both Thomas Griess and Jaroslav Halak have been members of goalie controversies in the past. Halak split time with Carey Price in Montreal, Brian Elliott in St. Louis, Braden Holtby in Washington, and now has started only 30 of the Islanders 55 games this season, in large part due to injury. Thomas Griess pushed Mike Smith when playing for the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2014, leading to Captain Shane Doan needing to address the situation.
[Greiss is] an incredible goalie that’s willing to do whatever it takes.
“All of that being said, [Mike Smith] is obviously one of the world class goalies. I don’t think it’s a controversy, it’ s just one of those things that we’re lucky right now and we’re going to go with whoever the coaches think gives us the best chance to win.”
Now Greiss has put together the best season of his career and continues to push Halak for starts. The Islanders are in the midst of a heated battle for the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division, making it even more vital the right goalie gets the net on a nightly basis.
Since the All-Star break, New York is 4-3-0. Jaroslav Halak is 1-3-0 in that stretch with a 0.842 save percentage, while Thomas Greiss is 3-0-0 with a 0.957 save percentage. To expand the parameters, since January, Halak is 3-6-1 with a 0.896 save percentage compared to Greiss, who is 5-1-0 with a 0.917 save percentage.
The basic numbers, including Halak’s 13-12-4 record and 0.914 save percentage on the season compared to Greiss’ 16-6-2 record and 0.931 save percentage support playing Greiss over Halak, but the decision isn’t that simple.
First, with Halak, the Islanders have scored 2.4 goals per game compared to 3.4 goals per game with Greiss. The Islanders have played better in front of Greiss both offensively and defensively by a wide margin, helping inflate the career backup’s numbers.
New York must keep this in mind, along with the fact that Greiss has never topped the 25 games played mark in the NHL — a number he’s already reached this season. Halak is experienced in playing a heavy workload annually, playing in 59 games last season.
Another factor worth considering, is that Halak was signed to be the starter for a reason. Halak makes more money and has more experience starting important games than Greiss, making him the more reliable option of the two historically.
Greiss is under contract for next season as well, and the last thing the Islanders need is a goalie controversy over the next 12+ months. New York would be wise to tell Jaroslav Halak he is their number one goalie, but that he must perform like one to maintain that position.
The best goalie tandems include one goalie pushing the other. Even last season, New York Rangers backup Cam Talbot pushed Henrik Lundqvist when he returned from injury, despite Lundqvist’s storied history with the club. The Islanders must conserve Greiss’ energy by playing him enough where he can make an impact, but not enough to threaten Halak’s role as the starting goaltender.
There are 27 games remaining in the season and Greiss has already tied his career high in games played. The best way to manage egos, contracts, and talent on the ice would be to give Halak 20 of those starts to Greiss’ 7.
Jack Capuano must make it clear to the players that Halak requires the same support Greiss does, or the team will fall into turmoil from the net out. If Capuano can juggle the different pieces of the puzzle successfully, New York will have a top goaltending tandem leading them into the playoffs.