With Team Europe making a stunning advancement into the World Cup Finals against everyone’s favorite Cup winner, Canada, there’s been a name floating around in the hockey media for all the right reasons, New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Halak, along with a group of Stanley Cup savvy veterans, have beaten teams like Team USA and recently just defeated Team Sweden to advance to the Cup final. Then there’s former Islanders Miro Satan comment about Halak’s performance:
#europe Miroslav Satan on Jaroslav Halak:"it's the best I've seen him."
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) September 26, 2016
So let’s take Miro at his word and believe that Halak is playing his best hockey right now. What will the Isles do with the issue of having three goalies to start the season? Backup goalie turned starter Thomas Greiss, along with John Tavares, helped the Isles advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 23 years and made a strong statement to be the number one goalie with Halak being injured. The third goalie in this equation is JF Berube who the Isles picked off last years waivers at the beginning of the season because of a previous injury to Halak. Berube was coming off a Calder Cup (AHL playoffs) championship the year before and performed well enough this past season for New York to garner a new contract. So Instead of dissecting every possible scenario, I went around the Islanders blogosphere and rounded up some of their opinions on what should be done with the three-headed monster the Islanders created once again. Be sure to click on their website pages for full details of their respective pieces.
Eyes On Isles: The overall theme from the Eyes on Isles staff is: “If the price is right”. Which is absolutely fair. If the price is right any player is…in play. If the Isles can get a top six forward and some draft leverage with at least a second round pick, then maybe the deal can be done.
Islanders Point Blank Podcast: The Isles should only go with two goalies, waiving Berube and hoping he clears waivers. Halak’s trade value may never be higher. Somebody has to go.
WFAN.com: The fact remains the Islanders, as currently constituted, are not that much better on paper than they were at the conclusion of last season’s playoffs, which ended with a five-game loss in the second round to Tampa Bay. That’s not to say that they won’t again reach 100 points, make the playoffs and win a round. But they still need a substantial piece on offense if they want to be more, in my opinion. And until they get it, the last thing in the world they should do is weaken their defense, which is what would happen if Halak is moved for, say, a draft pick just to save some money.
IslesBlog: Greiss is probably the number-one guy for the Islanders for this coming season whether or not Halak stays. If Halak does stick around, it leaves that less-than-ideal timeshare scenario that Halak mentioned in his interview; a situation that is useful for the team but may be personally detrimental to all goaltenders involved. Quite a precarious predicament indeed.
Lighthouse Hockey: For everything Halak has been through with the Islanders – injuries, inconsistency, more injuries, being outplayed by Thomas Greiss (who is Team Europe’s third stringer), griping about the three-man rotation with youngster Jean-Francois Berube, questions of commitment and fitness, sports hernia surgery and the trade rumors that came up this summer as a result of all of this – they must be thrilled watching him take Team Europe this far. Either he’ll come back to Brooklyn healthy and ready to hit the ground running or he’s upped his trade value exponentially. (But seriously, don’t trade him, Garth)
The Hockey Writers: Making the playoffs is no longer a goal for the Islanders, nor is making it to the second round. To achieve their goal of reaching he Conference Finals or even the Stanley Cup, this team is better with both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss between the pipes.
Here’s the great part Isles fans: Every single blog is correct. First, Halak’s trade value is probably at an all-time high but the Isles will probably have an easier time if/when other teams have injuries to their own goalies during the regular season or if a team is lacking in goaltending talent and they become desperate. Second, we’ve seen the Chicago Blackhawks use the two goalie system in the playoffs in recent years and it’s paid off with them winning a Stanley Cup. I wrote back in the summer (see the highlighted Greiss) that I believe Halak and Greiss to be the best Isles goalie combination since Smith and Resch. Thomas Greiss needs to prove that last year was not a fluke and if he can do that and if Halak can accept splitting the season, the Isles could potentially go further than the second round.
So where does this leave Berube? Currently, there are no spots available for goalies in the NHL, but there’s a chance he could get picked up. If the Isles are that high on him, then it would be a mistake to put him on waivers as he will be the clear number two goalie when injuries occur to either Halak or Greiss. Getting as many preseason starts for Berube will be beneficial since he may only see 10 games again this year. Sending him down to Bridgeport may be a mistake in that it will hurt the development of both Stephon Williams and Eamon McAdam, although McAdam may start in the ECHL anyways just to get some minutes in. It would also be a step back for Berube as Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson already described Berube as a man playing among boys.
So here’s my take: I think the Isles will start the season with the three-headed monster. The World Cup has shown that Halak is healthy and ready to go, nothing more. The starter for game one should be Halak because it’s against Henrik Lundquist and the New York Rangers and Halak has dominated against Lundquist in recent times. After that, it should be how many wins do the Isles get behind which goaltender. Period. My reasoning is simple: In 2014-15 Halak had a save percentage of .914 and a GAA of 2.43 and won 38 (64% of his games). Last year, Halak had a similar save percentage (.919) and GAA (2.30) only to win 18 (50% of his games). Thomas Greiss had a save percentage of .925 with a GAA of 2.36 and won 23 (60% of his games). So with the stats being pretty even, if the team wins more with Greiss, you play Greiss. If the team wins more with Halak, you put in Halak. It’s not about making one person happy, it’s about the team and winning. Remember why players like Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera were brought in to the Islanders organization, to help in the locker room to go along with the overall improvement of the team. If Halak is discontent about splitting time with a no-fluke Greiss and a third stringer with a huge work ethic and the Isles are having a phenomenal year, then he’ll request a trade. The difference this time around will be that Halak will more discrete about it. In the end, it will always be his choice and no one else’s.