The 2019-20 season is likely the last for Thomas Greiss in the blue and orange. With Semyon Varlamov signed long-term and Ilya Sorokin potentially signing an NHL deal, the German pending free agent is the odd man out. With his exit comes the argument of his Islanders legacy.
The question was posed on the Drive 4 Five Instagram account on Tuesday, March 26, and it received mixed reviews. One comment chain, in particular, started by yours truly, contained a heated debate over whether or no Greiss is a top-five goalie in Islanders history. Many other goalies, both old and new, were brought up as having better legacies than Thomas Greiss. In this article, I will bring up those players and explain why Thomas Greiss is a top-five goalie in Islanders’ history.
First, let’s take a look at where Greiss ranks in franchise history in some key goalie stats. He is 101-60-17 in 179 career starts as an Islander. The win total is fifth on New York’s all-time list. His 193 total appearances are also fifth. Longevity is an important part of a player’s legacy. The familiarity with the fans and organization helps build the bond that makes a player a legacy guy.
Greiss also ranks fifth in goals-against average and number one in save percentage. He also boasts a Jennings Trophy win which he shared with Robin Lehner in 2018-19 and was one of the heroes that helped to end the Islanders’ 23-year playoff series win drought. In the midst of his fifth season with the team (five seems to be his magic number), Greiss has put himself high on the stat lists in team history, but how does he rank head to head with other goaltenders? Let’s take a look at some of the goalies that were thrown my way on Instagram.
Definitely Above Greiss
We’ll start with the goalies above Thomas Greiss as he is certainly not the greatest Islanders goalie of all time. Billy Smith is of course on this list. The Hockey Hall of Famer has his number retired by the Islanders and is a Conn Smythe Trophy, Jennings Trophy and Vezina Trophy winner along with being the backstop of the dynasty. Smith leads the franchise in a number of goaltender categories as well. Glenn “Chico” Resch also gets a nod. He spent most of his eight years in New York in tandem with Smith. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in shutouts and goals-against average.
Same Level As Greiss
Kelly Hrudey is another goalie who played tandem with Billy Smith through his six years on Long Island. He also started some playoff games in the late-1980s as Smith was declining. Like Greiss, Hrudey won a playoff series. Like Greiss, Hrudey played tandem. These two are really close and interchangeable within the top-five of Islanders’ history.
Just Below Greiss
Jaroslav Halak played three seasons in a tandem with Greiss. His statistics are very close to Greiss in most categories but what gives Greiss the edge is the fact he won a playoff series, whereas Halak played fantastically against Washington but couldn’t pull it out. He also played two fewer seasons than Greiss. In a very close race, Greiss has the edge.
Evgeni Nabokov, another recent Islanders goalie to play in a playoff series, had a similar tenure to Greiss on Long Island: around 40 games played a season and a playoff appearance in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Unfortunately, Nabokov’s legacy was already sealed before he came to New York and that legacy was built in San Jose. Nabokov’s short stint won’t be enough to get above Greiss, despite solid stats while he was here.
Far Below Greiss
Rick DiPietro is an interesting case. The 2000 first-overall pick played 11 years with New York but battled injuries towards the end of his career. Overall, he was an average goaltender who played a lot less than many fans may remember. DiPietro only had four seasons of over 30 games played and was mostly average or below outside of his above-average 2006-07 season. The length of his tenure is his strongest case, although it’s a weak case overall. Yes, he played on some bad teams but DiPietro just didn’t make the impact necessary to be near Thomas Greiss.
Garth Snow was also thrown out as a name, which I hope was a joke but I’ll entertain it. Before becoming the general manager of the Islanders, Snow played the final four years of his career for the team. He did actually play in a playoff series, a five-game loss to Ottawa in 2003, but his tenure wasn’t very memorable. He played 40 games in a season just once but that’s about it.
Didn’t Play Long Enough
To have a top-five legacy with a team, outside of Vegas, you probably should have played at least three seasons with that team. These guys were brought up but they just didn’t play long enough to have the long-lasting impact on Long Island that Greiss has.
The first, and most interesting in this category to me, is Chris Osgood. Osgood played a season and a half with the Islanders. Much like Nabokov, Osgood’s legacy lives elsewhere. His 14 seasons and three Stanley Cup rings in Detroit contribute much more to his legacy than a first-round playoff loss and a trade deadline departure.
Semyon Varlamov’s name was also sent my way. He has played an average half-season. We can talk at the end of his deal.
The last, and most controversial, is Robin Lehner. In his one season on Long Island, Lehner took the league by storm with his incredible story and play. He took home the Masterton Trophy, shared the Jennings Trophy with Greiss and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. He will be remembered as a truly inspirational player in the organization and a figure of a magical season but his impact will lessen when he retires. His one season is not enough to cement a lasting legacy, despite the emotional connection to his inspirational story.
Thomas Greiss is certainly a top-five goaltender in Islanders history. His long tenure combined with playoff success vaults him above almost every goaltender to grace the crease for New York. His legacy will last a while, with the only foreseeable contender in the near future being Ilya Sorokin.