Islanders Face Goaltending Decisions During Offseason
It is expected to be a summer of change at the Barclays Center, with multiple unrestricted and restricted free agents for general manager Garth Snow to deal with on top of the Islanders impending ownership handover.
The clubs has also been given food for thought between the pipes this summer. With No.1 Jaroslav Halak sidelined for significant time due to injury, the door was opened for Thomas Greiss in 2015-16, while the organization also made further improvements to its overall goaltending depth during the past 12 months.
Halak missed the final seventeen games of the regular season and all eleven playoff games due to a groin strain, with upper body injuries also taking him out of the line up for a total of nine games earlier in the year, ultimately limiting the Slovak stopper to just 36 appearances during the campaign.
Still widely considered to be the organization’s go-to goaltender right now, Halak posted a respectable .919 save percentage as he went 18-13-4, but poured further fuel on to an already smouldering situation at the clubs end of season wrap up:
Jaro Halak says he wasn't ready to dress or play. Said he's mentioned to GS that 3-goalie situation isn't good, "but it's not up to me."
— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) May 10, 2016
That Halak had not recovered from his troublesome groin problem comes as no surprise, but his comments on the club’s decision to carry three goaltenders this season is likely to raise eyebrows simply because it was made so publicly.
While Halak and Greiss were always likely to carry the bulk of the workload this season, the arrival of Jean-Francois Berube in October, claimed via waivers from Los Angeles, seems to have unsettled the franchise’s first choice goaltender.
Berube is among nine RFAs Garth Snow must make a decision on during the offseason. The Islanders are said to be keen on keeping the 24-year-old, but with Christopher Gibson, acquired from Toronto last year, Stephon Williams, Eamon McAdam, Linus Soderstrom and Ilya Sorokin, who was among the KHL’s best performing netminders last season, in the system, the Islanders depth chart is much more crowded than it used to be.
Soderstrom and Sorokin may choose to stay in Europe for another year, but Berube requires waivers to go down to Bridgeport and the risk of losing him on the waiver wire led to the Quebec native remaining with the Islanders all of last year, so the mid- to long-term future of the teams goaltending line-up seems somewhat unclear.
Greiss, who will join Germany at the IIHF World Championships in Russia this week, is under contract for another season at a bargain $1.5-million salary. After posting a career best .923 save percentage in 41 games, almost double his previous highest single-season workload, the Fussen native has seen his stock rise considerably, to the point where some believe he could be a potential starter for the Islanders.
The former San Jose and Arizona netminder certainly impressed during his spell as the organization’s number one, most notably in the Eastern Conference quarter finals where the Islanders were able to top Atlantic Division winners Florida in six games. While it seems too early to truly elevate Greiss to starter status, this emergence as a serious option for the Islanders heading in to next season and beyond, combined with their increased prospect pool, makes parting with Halak a more palatable idea than it might have been 12-18 months ago.
Under contract until 2018 at $4.5-million per season, there have been multiple rumours circulating in the goaltending community that Halak has not enamoured with the overall situation in New York this season. If the veteran is truly unhappy with the Islanders, and with the apparent shift in the clubs goaltending options over the past year, the former Montreal and St. Louis goaltender may be considered a moveable asset in the near future.
Much still hinges on the development of the clubs top prospects, with Soderstrom highlighted as the club’s goalie of the future in InGoal’s recent Future Watch post, while Greiss will also need to show this year was no fluke and that he can be a legitimate starter for the franchise. But where once Halak was seen as the saviour for a franchise starved of a legitimate number one, he may soon be a surplus to requirements.