Jaroslav Halak (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The New York Islanders have two potential starting goaltenders for next season, but Jaroslav Halak could be gone this off-season after Thomas Greiss’ impressive playoff performance. Trading Halak could be the best move for the Islanders, too.
On the surface, it seemed like horrible news. Jaroslav Halak, the New York Islanders’ $4.5-million goaltender, went down less than a month before the post-season began, thrusting backup netminder Thomas Greiss, he of 40 minutes total playoff experience, into the starting role as the first round approached.
The worries about Greiss' ability to handle the playoff workload and pressure were turned aside rather quickly, though, as the 30-year-old German netminder turned in stellar performances in the month leading up to the post-season and then proceeded to be one of the biggest stories of the first round. Through the six-game series against the Florida Panthers, Greiss posted a 1.79 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and only allowed two pucks get by him in the final two games, over which time he faced 90 shots.
And while Greiss stumbled in the second round, watching his SP fall to .923 and posting only one contest in which he allowed two goals or fewer, it seemed as though the Islanders had discovered in their one-time backup a goaltender who might be able to shoulder the load of starting duties as the franchise seeks to move forward. And for Halak, who watched from the sidelines as he battled through a groin injury, that could mean his time is up in New York.
In speaking with the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis, Halak said the goaltending situation for the Islanders, which sees Greiss and Halak as the 1A and 1B with youngster J-F Berube as a potential backup, is “not ideal.”
“I’ve tried to tell [management], and this is not up to me,” Halak continued, via Cyrgalis. “I like it here, but they just have to decide which way they want to go for next season. J-F is a young goalie, Greiss played well all season long. So we’ll see.”
Halak is right, too: Islanders GM Garth Snow will have to decide which direction he wants to go in for next season, and that could mean it’s the former playoff hero, Halak, who is the odd man out. There are a few major reasons why that could be the case, too, and it goes well beyond his potential dislike for being part of a possible three-man crease in New York.
First and foremost, statistically, Halak and Greiss are similar, and this season it was Greiss, not Halak, who performed best. That may be hard to fathom given Halak’s track record, but his marvellous post-season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens has a way of skewing the perception of Halak. He’s a good goaltender. Is he significantly better than Greiss? From a purely statistical standpoint, it doesn’t look that way.
Over the past three seasons, Halak and Greiss have had different workloads, to be sure. Halak has played more than 6,800 minutes at 5-on-5 since to Greiss’ roughly 3,800 minutes, but, per Puckalytics, Greiss has outperformed Halak while facing a similar in-game workload. Greiss has averaged 28.7 shot against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 in the past three seasons and turned in a .933 SP. Halak has faced exactly one shot less, but boasts a .923 SP. You could call that a wash, but those numbers lean in Greiss’ favor.
There’s also a matter of health. As mentioned, Greiss hasn’t seen the workload Halak has, but Greiss has been somewhat of an ironman having missed only 17 NHL games in his career, five of which were caused by the mumps outbreak last season. As for Halak, well, he missed 28 games to end this past campaign thanks to a groin injury, and his difficulty with groin injuries isn't a recent occurrence. Since the 2012-13 season, Halak has missed 49 games due to groin and lower-body injuries. No one can be certain, of course, but there has to be at least some concern that these injuries will hamper him moving forward.
Most importantly, however, could be the cap space that moving on from Halak would open up for the Islanders. The $4.5 million Halak currently costs the Islanders could be used for a number of things, including re-signing Frans Nielsen and helping cover the costs of restricted free agent deals for the likes of Ryan Strome, Shane Prince and Alan Quine. And the extra cap space could also help the Islanders go out and acquire a scoring winger to compliment captain John Tavares, which New York will need assuming Kyle Okposo walks this summer.
The Flames are absolutely looking for help in goal with no NHL goaltenders under contract for next season. You could add Carolina to the mix, too, as the Hurricanes are likely saying goodbye to Cam Ward this off-season. And if the Stars get exceptionally bold and move on from both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, Dallas could come calling. Halak would be an upgrade there. And because of a relatively weak free agent goaltending class, there will definitely be suitors for Halak should Snow choose to move him. That might be the best decision this off-season.