The Greiss Is Wrong, Pitt!
Well, close enough.
This past offseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins went out and signed 28 year-old Thomas Greiss to a 1 year, $1 million contract. You see, when Tomas Vokoun retired after the 2013 NHL playoffs, the Penguins gave the backup role to 26 year-old Jeff Zatkoff who put up a .918 even strength save percentage (in my opinion, one of the better stats when it comes to analyzing goaltenders) in 18 starts last season. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford felt that they needed a more secure option at backup so they went after Greiss, a career second-string goalie who was coming off of a 25 start season for a mediocre Phoenix team and posted a pretty impressive .932 even strength save percentage.
At the time, it seemed to make sense. The Penguins understand the importance of a quality backup goalie. After Marc-Andre Fleury’s 2012 postseason debacle, they went out and acquired veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun just in case and, sure enough, they had to turn to Vokoun in the 2013 playoffs. Vokoun, in 11 starts, won 6 games with a .933 even strength save percentage in that postseason. Fleury, in those playoffs, only started 4 games and was lit up, giving up 17 goals.
Last year, Fleury had his best postseason since he won the Stanley Cup in 2009 but the Penguins still made it a priority in the Summer to upgrade their backup goalie, which they felt they did when they signed Greiss.
Thomas Greiss Struggles
This year has been one to forget for Greiss. After putting up good numbers in Arizona last year, he’s been a bit of a let down for Pittsburgh. In 17 starts this season Greiss hasn’t looked like the kind of quality backup the Penguins were looking for. His even strength save perception is a mere .910. The average for backups this year is a whole 6 points higher, at .916. His numbers aren’t terrible, but it’s definitely not what the Penguins were looking for when they went out and signed him.
Last year, Jeff Zatkoff posted a .918 even strength save percentage in 18 starts. That’s already an improvement from what Greiss has posted this season. And for a Pittsburgh team with one of the highest cap hits in the league, maybe an extra $1 million for Greiss wasn’t the best investment, especially when considering the Penguins’ lack of secondary scoring.
The bottom line is that if Fleury struggles in the playoffs again, I’m not quite sure we’d all be confident with Greiss filling in for him.
Looking to the Future
For the Pittsburgh Penguins AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the story of this season has been the emergence of 20 year-old rookie goaltender Matt Murray. Murray’s posted great numbers this year, leading the league in save percentage (.939 in all situations) and has won 20 games in 32 starts. Over the course of the season he has basically taken over the starting job from the aforementioned Zatkoff.
Are the Penguins going to rush Murray into the NHL to backup Fleury and groom him into the future netminder for the Penguins? Probably not. Another year or two of starting in the AHL might help him develop a bit more than sitting on the bench in Pittsburgh would. But with Greiss’ contract expiring at the end of the season and with Zatkoff still having one more year left in his contract, Pittsburgh’s best move will probably be giving Zatkoff another shot at the backup role.