Since I started blogging about the New York Islanders back in 2008, I always write at least one article a year stressing the importance of the backup goaltender for this organization. Around that same time I also began writing about the draft and covering it since the Islanders went into the rebuild and that I knew that it would another element for myself and prolong my writing about the Islanders into the summer. For this blog I’m doing both as The Islanders enter this years draft with very few picks, the lowest I’ve seen the Islanders start in years. So let’s go back in time and show you my rankings of the best Islanders backup goalies. My criteria for the top 5 is simple: Must have played at least 40 games for the Islanders; Of course I take the goals allowed average and the save percentage but I also take into account the years that the goalies played because just because their numbers were ok, didn’t necessarily meant that the team was.
Honorable Mention: Wade Flaherty 60 games played; 2941 minutes; 15 wins, 26 losses, 6 ties; 2.84 GAA and a .897 save percentage. Played from 1997-01
Just look at the years he played for the Islanders again. If you’re old enough to remember, those years were at the height of the “Dark Ages” for the Islanders. Any goalie who can post a 2.84 GAA for those Islanders teams during those times, deserves some credit.
#5: Garth Snow 127 games played; 6718 minutes; 44 wins, 52 losses, 13 ties; 2.76 GAA and a .903 save percentage. Played from 2001-04, 05-06.
No, this not a “Sucking up” moment because I’m not the one who hired him to become the GM of the Islanders. Snow was originally signed by the Islanders to be the starting goalie, but became the backup to Chris Osgood when the Islanders claimed him off waivers by the Detroit Red Wings. Snow would eventually become Rick DiPietro’s backup but could have been a starter if Rick had gone out with an injury. Snow had a decent record from 01-04 but a combination of the 05-06 team and injuries to his knees brings his record down. But here was a backup goalie the Islanders had during their playoff runs of the early 2000’s.
#4 Al Montoya 52 games played; 2873 minutes; 18 wins, 16 losses, 10 ties/OTL; 2.82 GAA and a .905 save percentage; Played from 2010-12.
The hair alone would’ve ranked him higher. The reason I have Montoya on my list is because all these numbers look really good during another tough time for the Islanders when three-headed goalie monsters were popular (Nabokov, DiPietro, Montoya) and the testing of young goalies like Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson during the rebuild. Here’s my bold prediction: If the Islanders had signed Montoya to an extension, the 2013 playoffs may have been a longer one and the playoffs would have been a lot closer for the Islanders in 2014 with Montoya on the team and this is coming from (at that time) a Kevin Poulin fan.
#3 Roland Melanson 136 games played; 7639 minutes; 77 wins, 34 losses, 14 ties; 3.14 GAA and (roughly) a .902 save percentage. Played from 1980-85.
The all time back up leader in wins had a lot of help. Take a look at those years, look familiar? That’s because Melanson was around for the dynasty years and found a lot of success with them as he’s a three time Stanley Cup Champion. Unfortunately the years after were not to kind to him.
#2 Mark Fitzpatrick 129 games played; 7396 minutes; 51 wins, 53 losses, 17 ties; 3.41 GAA and a .891 save percentage. Played from 1998-93
I rank Fitzpatrick higher because, like Montoya, the late 80’s and early 90’s were not necessarily a rebuilding time, but certainly a transitional one (Lafontaine for Turgeon) as the players and hero’s from the Dynasty were retiring or moving on to other clubs while the drafting in the mid 80’s by the Islanders (Scott Scissions anyone) were well below everyone else’s standards that caused the team finally fall from grace. Had there been some better drafting or some changes made to improve the club, Fitzpatrick’s numbers improve and the Islanders are at the very least more competitive during this time period.
#1 Thomas Greiss 41 games played; 2274 minutes; 23 wins 11 losses 3 OTL; 2.36 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Currently on roster.
Why am I suddenly proclaiming him as the best Islanders backup of all time? First, he was signed to backup Jaroslav Halak. Second, he had never played this many games in the NHL before coming here. Third, despite multiple slumps, regression, and injuries from the team, he managed to put up the numbers above and when it came to the playoffs, he helped John Tavares and the Islanders get past the first round of the playoffs, something not done since Mark Fitzpatrick was around back in 1993.
So there they are, my top five Islanders backups of all time. Now, some may ask why I did not put Chico Resch on this list. My reasoning is simple, I don’t consider Resch a backup, never did. When a team like the Islanders have two goalies who could start for any other team, and literally split season after season together by each averaging close to 40 games a year, you have something special. Yes, when one goalie gets hot you run with him so there is some discrepancy, but I’m my humble biased opinion, Resch and Islanders Hall of Famer Billy Smith were the best one-two tandems in the League during that time. After the 1980 season, the Islanders declared Smith the full-time starter for the Islanders. Wanting to be a starter was also a reason why Resch wanted to leave. This is why I bring up this backup story now.
The Islanders now have Halak and Greiss as their goalie tandem, a tandem not seen since Resch and Smith. but here lies the dilemma: Halak has played this broken record before. He and Brian Elliot had shared a few seasons together with the St. Louis Blues and when Halak became a free agent he signed with the Islanders because he knew he would be the everyday starter. Now with Thomas Greiss emerging as a number one goalie, Halak is right back in a situation he does not want to be in (Hello Resch). Here’s another dilemma: J.F Berube. The Islanders claimed Berube off waivers (Hello Snow) last year and since being on the team has earned the respect of both players and coaches, yet Halak now faces a three-headed goalie monster (Hello Montoya) and has expressed his displeasure about it. With the team in a smaller transitional period (Hello Fitzpatrick), could the Islanders keep all three goalies again and try to make it work? I don’t think so. Enter the draft.
The Islanders now hold a first, fourth, sixth, and two seventh round picks for this year’s draft. This could be an agreement by both parties that Halak wants out (Hello again Resch) and that the Islanders will hopefully make an attempt in Buffalo to trade Halak for a mid level pick or two in either this years or next years draft. Of course Halak’s injuries will be a sticking point as to whether he will be able to be traded, so time will tell. If they can’t trade him on draft weekend, they could buy him out. I’ll save that for a later piece. If the Islanders do move on from Halak, the goal for Berube will be this: Enter into a better transitional period than Fitzpatrick, knows his role and does not have to worry about a goalie carousel like Montoya did, win on a team once again aiming deep for the playoffs like Snow was, rack up more wins than Melanson and become an emerging number one goalie like Greiss achieved last year. No pressure.
PK Twitter: @Netminder39