On July 1, 2015, with many big names being signed on the first day of free agency, the New York Islanders made a typical low-risk move by signing Thomas Greiss to a two-year contract extension. At the time, there were a couple of big-name free agents that the Islanders were unable to sign, but the addition of Greiss is one of the rare successful moves that general manager Garth Snow made that year, though his time with the Islanders seems to be finished.
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With the uncertainty of the season coming back, Greiss is in his final year with the Islanders. While he certainly has earned himself a big contract, it is likely going to be elsewhere as goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin is expected to come to play in the NHL next season. Also, the Islanders have Semyon Varlamov signed for the next three years, which certainly means Greiss will be heading out.
Going into the 2015-16 season, the Islanders had never had that consistent backup goaltender. In 2015-16, Chad Johnson and Michal Neuvirth had the role to back up Jaroslav Halak and did not perform well. While Halak won a franchise-record 38 games that season, he was not a goaltender best fit to start 60 or more games and it seemed like Greiss could fill in as a capable second goaltender.
Greiss had never started more than 20 games in a season with the San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes or Pittsburgh Penguins, but was putting up solid numbers. He consistently had a .900 or better save percentage and allowed less than 2.50 goals per game without receiving much attention across the league before becoming a member of the Islanders.
While Greiss was the clear backup to start the season, the German-born netminder received the start on opening night in 2015 as Halak suffered his first injury of the season in training camp. It was also the first game ever played at the Barclays Center, and Greiss played well, allowing just two goals in regulation. Unfortunately, the Islanders went on to fall 3-2 in overtime despite his 32 saves.
With J.F. Berube starting the second game, Greiss earned his first win as an Islander in a 4-2 decision over the Winnipeg Jets in the next game. With Halak back, Greiss saw occasional playing time and earned his first shutout with New York on Dec. 13 against the New Jersey Devils. Nearly two weeks later, Halak went down with his second injury of the season after starting the season on fire, leading to Greiss taking over as the number one goalie until Halak returned.
Halak suffered his third injury of the season on March 8 and Greiss took over with the Islanders up 2-1 on the Penguins, playing the final 4:22 to help earn Halak the win. Despite the team losing seven of their next nine games, New York already cemented themselves as a playoff team and finished as the first wild card team, and was set for a matchup with the Florida Panthers.
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With Halak still out with his injury, Greiss was given the start in the series and was the star along with John Tavares to help the Islanders win their first playoff series in 23 years. He earned a win in Game 1, making 42 saves in a 5-4 victory in Sunrise. Greiss then earned three more victories, with all three of them coming in the extra session, including two games that went into double overtime. In those three wins, Greiss played a total of 257:42 minutes and allowed five goals to help advance the Islanders to the second round of the playoffs. Despite another win in Game 1, the Islanders lost their next four games as their historic season came to an end.
From Last to First
The following season, the Islanders narrowly missed out on the playoffs in a year that featured longtime coach Jack Capuano getting fired. Doug Weight took over and never had much of a plan in the defensive end. The Islanders went on a short run to close the season out, but just missed the playoffs. Greiss played well throughout the season, winning 26 games and earning himself a three-year contract extension with the Islanders.
The lack of a defensive strategy hurt the Islanders the next season under Weight as the Islanders allowed the most goals in the league. It was also Greiss’ worst season in the NHL as he allowed 3.82 goals per game and had a save percentage under .900. While the goaltenders got some of the blame, the team played very poorly in their defensive zone, leading the Islanders to another coaching change. They brought in Barry Trotz who was coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Washington Capitals in 2018.
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The Islanders also hired Lou Lamoriello to be their new general manager and brought in Robin Lehner to split time with Greiss. Not only did the Islanders go on to sweep the Penguins in the playoffs that year, but both Greiss and Lehner won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL.
Greiss had five shutouts during the regular season and finished in the top-10 in both save percentage and goals-against average. He ended up not seeing time in the playoffs as Lehner took off with the Islanders, but had one of the more memorable years in net than any Islanders goaltender has ever seen.
With the Islanders surprisingly not bringing back Lehner for a second season, Lamoriello went out and signed Varlamov. The two goaltenders alternated in net through the first 33 games of the season, which featured a 10-game winning streak and a 17-game point streak. Before the suspension of the NHL season due to COVID-19, both goaltenders were given cracks at the starting job and had the Islanders in a position to make another playoff appearance in 2020.
Regardless, for such a low-risk signing back in 2015, Greiss will always be a fan-favorite on Long Island. The Islanders would not have had anywhere close to the success they had over the past few seasons if it wasn’t for number 1. With a limited number of available goalies on the market this summer, Greiss is set up to receive a big contract and potentially serve as the starter for a contender.