It’s Halak’s Time to Shine

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TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27: Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe leaves the ice from warmup prior to the game against Team Canada during Game One of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Images) 473w, 594w" sizes="(max-width: 594px) 100vw, 594px" />

When last season ended, the New York Islanders goalie situation seemed pretty clear. Jaroslav Halak, who started the season in net, winning 18 of 36 starts before being lost to injury, would most likely be traded to clear cap space while Thomas Greiss, who won 23 games (and five more in the playoffs) would be the top man in the crease. Jean-Francois Berube serve as the backup (and the future) while Chris Gibson would continue to develop in the minors. Islanders GM Garth Snow, someone who knows a thing or two about the position, had much praise for Greiss and said he was a starting caliber goalie.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the start of the 2016 season. Halak, not Greiss, became the starter for Team Europe in the World Cup and went lights out, with a 1.98 GAA and a .946 save percentage, leading Team Europe to the Championship Game before falling short to Team Canada. And he did all of this with a defense in front of him that was older than any other in the tournament. Greiss served as Halak’s backup in the tournament and was shelled (four goals on eight shots) in his lone appearance.

In short, Halak went head-to-head with some of the best players in the world and all but shut them down, almost single-handedly leading Team Europe to a championship, while Greiss showed that he still has some growing to do. Snow may like Greiss, but if he likes winning and the idea of skating with Lord Stanley’s Cup, the smart move is to reward Halak’s performance by naming him the starter and keeping Greiss as the able backup.

While the numbers seem to make this an easy decision, it isn’t that simple. If the Isles go with the Halak-Greiss tandem, they would most likely risk losing Berube. All three are signed to one-way contracts, meaning the Isles would either have to keep three goalies, as they did last season, or waive Berube and hope he clears, allowing them to resign him to a two-way contract, allowing him to be sent down. However, because he’s only 25 and has a huge upside, Berube would most likely be picked up by another team before the Isles could get him back.

If Snow decides that the Isles can win with Greiss while Berube continues to grow in a backup role until he is ready to take over full time, he could trade Halak. However, one of their best potential trade partners, the Calgary Flames, have already traded for Brian Elliott, leaving the market for Halak somewhat bare. Add to that the fact that trading goalies is hit or miss at best in terms of what you get in return, and it doesn’t make much sense to move a player who just had a world cup tournament like Halak did.

That leaves Snow in a precarious position because if he decides to back Halak as his starter, but then keeps Greiss and Berube, the Isles are back to the three-man rotation they used last season, something Halak expressed displeasure about during exit interviews last spring. In fact, Greiss and Berube weren’t crazy about it either.

All of this being the case, because the Isles have the 23-year old Gibson on a one-year, two-way deal, their best move, as long as Halak is healthy and playing well, is to name him the starter, have Greiss back him up and roll the dice on losing Berube. Because even if they do, they have Gibson as insurance if Halak is injured.

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