New York Islanders Starting Goalie Battle Extends Beyond The NHL
Kim Klement, USATSI

The stage is set for Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak to battle over the New York Islanders’ starting position.

On Mar. 8, 2016, Jaroslav Halak suffered a groin injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third period. The injury forced the goaltender to miss the remainder of the 2015-2016 season and Thomas Greiss entered the fold as the undisputed No. 1.

In 41 games, Greiss posted 23 wins, a goals against average of 2.36, as well as a save percentage of .925, his career best percentage and the third highest in the NHL. In 11 post-season games (his first playoff appearance as a starting goalie) he went 5-6 with a .923 save percentage and a 2.46 GAA.

Many have been swayed and are ready to pass the reigns of starting goaltender to Greiss. However, with Halak now 100 percent healthy he’s ready to prove his worth and show fans why he was inked as the starter in the first place. He has voiced his displeasure in the three goalie system before, and he always seems to be at his best with a chip on his shoulder.

This fall, in the World Cup of Hockey, the two goalies will enter the tournament as teammates for Team Europe, but contenders for New York’s starting job.

The Good, The Bad, and the Uncertain:

This entire debacle came to be when management inked Jean-Francois Berube to a 1-year, 1-way deal. When the youngster was brought into the organization about one week before the season opener, he was supposed to be a temporary stop-gap while Halak was healing.

Management saw future starter potential with the rookie and has not let go since acquiring him. The signing solidified the team’s backup position and immediately insinuated one of the goaltenders would be on his way out, whether it is now or sometime down the line this coming season.

There are pros and cons to keeping or shipping out either goalie, but the essential points are these:

  • If the Islanders keep Halak, they have a goalie who is oft-injured and can play about 50–55 games a season posting quality starter numbers in that time.
  • If they keep Greiss, they are putting their faith in a goalie who is coming off of a career year and is unproven outside of a good run (just like the New York Jets are doing with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick).

If both are kept, it would essentially mean that there isn’t really a clear number one goalie and would cause tension with Halak to escalate even further. However, the largest benefit on either side is a solid $4.5 million is freed up if Halak is moved.

The Islanders are dangerously close to the cap ceiling and helping alleviate it would benefit them greatly. This would also open the possibility for New York to acquire another expensive piece to play alongside Tavares.

Through all of those “move Halak” pros, I would sell Greiss while his return is at an all-time high.

It is simply too risky to enter the season without a proven No. 1 goalie. Greiss did not showcase consistent starter potential. What he has proven, however, is that he’s easily a top five selection when compared to backup goaltenders.

While there isn’t a tremendous market for starting goalies, the backup market is all but dry after Jhonas Enroth inked a deal with Toronto. Should the need for a backup arise on any team, I’d attempt to package Greiss with a dead-weight contract (see Bailey, Kulemin, Grabovski) and help free cap space in that fashion.

I want to believe that Greiss can retain the kind of play from last season but nothing in his history indicates that he will be able to do so.

Remember Andrew Hammond? A similar story but on the more extreme end. In short, I’d stick with the Halak/Berube tandem assuming Halak is back to his old self during the World Cup of Hockey.

One thing is for sure, the eyes of Islanders fans and some NHL General Managers will be watching Team Europe’s net with much interest this fall.

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Grew up a diehard Islanders and Mets fan based out of Northern New Jersey. Concluding my Broadcast Communications degree at William Paterson University. WP Sportsdesk member, Stan Fischler correspondent, music buff and total Star Wars freak. Follow my social media handles to learn more. Matt Di Giacomo is a Staff Writer for the Islanders on Elite Sports NY. He encourages team discussion. Tweet him @mdigiacESNY and check out his reviews on YouTube.