The New York Islanders have played 46 seasons in the NHL, and in that time 51 different individuals have suited up at the goaltender position. Throughout that history, goaltending has been the linchpin of the great Islander teams. So here we go, taking a look at the great goaltenders in Islanders history.
To summarize the career of Rick DiPietro in one word would be incredibly difficult. He is a polarizing figure amongst fans and will forever be known for his 15-year contract extension that he signed in 2006 and a long injury history that required multiple surgeries to his hips and knees.
DiPietro is also inextricably linked to future Hall of Fame goaltender Roberto Luongo, as GM Mike Milbury one year after drafting Luongo fourth overall traded him and Olli Jokinen to the Florida Panthers for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish, in a move considered one of Milbury’s worst moves as a GM.
It’s easy to forget that early in DiPietro’s career he showed quite a bit of promise that he was developing into a front-line goaltender. From 2003-2008 he played in over 200 games for the Islanders, posted save percentages (SV%) over .900 in each season, and won over 20 games in each of those seasons as well. He was an all-star in the 2006-07 season, when he was 25 years old and arguably entering his prime.
For all of his faults, it’s also important to note that DiPietro was always a incredibly loyal to the team. Throughout his playing career and into his retirement, he has always been a vocal supporter of the team and a proud Islander.
3. Thomas Greiss
Thomas Greiss is known to be a relatively low maintenance player and can fly under the radar at times. But in the history of Islanders goaltenders, his tenure, play, and playoff success rank him as the #3 on our list of greatest goalies in Islanders history.
Currently, Greiss is sixth in team history in wins with 85, and eighth all-time in games played with the Islanders. Assuming good health, by the end of the 2019-20 season, he will move to fifth place all-time in games played, and potentially fourth all-time in wins.
Aside from just looking at wins and games played, it’s important to note that when Greiss has played for the team, he’s played really well. In his four seasons with the team, he holds a .916 SV% and a 2.69 goals against average (GAA). Statistically speaking, his 2017-18 season was an aberration and to be fair to him, the Islanders were the worst defensive team in the league.
In 2015-16, Greiss also helped backstop the team to a first-round playoff win against the Florida Panthers, which was the first time the Islanders advanced into the second round of the NHL playoffs since the 1992-93 season. During that playoff run, he posted a .923 SV% and 2.46 GAA.
2. Glenn “Chico” Resch
Chico Resch joined the Islanders as an undrafted free agent in 1974. From 1974-1981, he formed one of the leagues best goaltending tandems with Billy Smith, and helped guide the Islanders from expansion team to a dynasty in that time period.
In 1975-76 Resch finished second in the Calder award voting, behind teammate and future Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier. He led the league in save percentage, and was voted to the All-Star second team. He was the yin to Billy Smith’s yang for many years. Considered friendly and quotable, he helped guide a young Islander team and prepare them for the sustained run that they had.
Over his career as a Islander, Resch finished with a record of 157-69-47, a .911 SV% and 2.56 GAA. He also played in 38 career playoff games with the Islanders going 17-17, and won his first Stanley Cup in the 1979-80 season.
1. Billy Smith
In the Islanders pantheon of all-time greats, Smith stands alone as the unquestioned greatest goalie in the history of the Islanders. His #31 is one of five retired numbers in team history. The NHL recognized him as one of the 100 greatest players of all time.
Smith started his career with the Los Angeles Kings, but was left exposed in the 1972 Expansion Draft, and GM Bill Torrey picked him up. He spent the rest of his career as an Islander, winning four Stanley Cups.
He was known for his combative style between the pipes, earning him the nickname Battlin’ Billy Smith. In his 17-year career, he amassed over 485 penalty minutes. He was known for protecting himself and his crease and often physically engaged any player who came near him in games, frequently slashing opponents.
Smith was also considered one of the most clutch goaltenders in NHL history. He played in 132 playoff games going 88-36. In 1982-83, he won the Conn Smythe award, and in 1981-82 won the Vezina trophy going 32-9-4. In his Islanders career, he played in 674 games, more than double the next closest goalie in team history. His playoff record and four Stanley Cups forever cement him as a team legend and the greatest goalie to ever don the blue and orange.
All stats come from hockey-reference.com
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