New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss has been keeping himself pretty occupied as the NHL and all of sports continues to deal with COVID-19.
Those clips are a small sample of the fun, sprite, and interesting personality whom Isles fans have come to enjoy the past five years. And they could very well be the last of Greiss as a member of the organization if the season doesn’t resume. The 34-year-old is set to become an unrestricted free agent once this season was over.
Greiss has been with the Islanders since he signed a modest two-year, $3 million deal in the summer of 2015. Former g.m. Garth Snow brought in the German native to pair with starter Jaroslav Halak after Greiss had good stints in San Jose, Arizona, and Pittsburgh.
No one knew much about Greiss when he first arrived to the Isles other than he was one of the more consistent backup goalies in the NHL. Prior to signing, Greiss had three straight seasons of a save percentage of .908 or better. It didn’t take long for Islander fans to quickly realize just how underrated Greiss was.
In 2015-16 — his first season with the organization and as the 1B to Halak — Greiss went 23-11-8 in 38 starts. He posted a .925 save percentage, which was third-best in the league for any goalie who made over 30 or more starts, that according to quanthockey.com. Greiss’s consistently strong play earned him the nickname “Greisser”, a nickname his bestowed upon him from his teammates and a chant the fans would yell anytime he made a big save during a home game.
Late that season, Halak had gone down with an undisclosed injury that would have him miss the last six weeks of the regular season and more importantly the start of the playoffs. Greiss was now the de facto number-one in net for basically the first time in his career.
Greiss went 5-5 down the stretch but saved his best for the postseason; that’s where he immersed himself into the hearts of the fans and the storied playoff history of the franchise.
In game one in Florida, the Isles and Panthers went goal-for-goal in a 5-4 Islander victory. But it was Greiss’ 46-save performance, out-dueling future Hall of Famer Roberto Luongo, that stole them home-ice. In a pivotal Game Five, Greiss and Luongo duked it out again, matching save for save. Greiss came up with the most clutch stop of his career, and even more the past 23 years for the Islanders when he stoned Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov on a penalty shot in overtime. The Isles would win the game on an Alan Quine power-play goal in double-overtime and take the series two nights later backed by another stellar showing from Greiss and another OT winner by John Tavares.
Greiss and the Islanders would go on to lose in five to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round, but Greiss had etched his place in franchise lore.
The next season, Greiss, who was in another contract year, picked up right where he left off from the playoffs. He was fantastic as a backup again and even outperformed his counterpart, Halak. Dealing with the three-goalie conundrum, and Halak’s inconsistent play leading to his demotion to Bridgeport, Greiss was given the chance once again to shine as a starter. He did. Greiss took Halak’s job just before the new year and brought the Isles’ season back from the dead. His outstanding run earned him a new three-year, $10 million contract from Garth Snow.
“It’s the most success I’ve ever had playing hockey, so it’s been fun,” Greiss told Newsday after signing his deal back then. “It’s a great organization; we have great guys on the team. That makes you more comfortable on the ice, too.”
The Islanders would miss the playoffs by a point at the end of the season and the next season after that. That 2017-18 campaign was the worst of Greiss’s career and one to forget for the entire organization. It was also one of the bigger motivators — along with a certain former captain leaving — which fueled the fire for an unbelievable season a year ago.
Greiss had a career resurgence with fellow European Robin Lehner, with the two combining to win the William M. Jennings Trophy — the award is given to “the goaltender(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it … based on regular-season play. He also posted the best save percentage and goal-against average of his career.
Earlier this year, Greiss acknowledged that he would leave contract talks with the team until after this season.
“I just focus on the day’s game, game by game. Do your best. That’s all you can control anyway,” the veteran goalie said to reporters.
A quote from Islanders head coach Barry Trotz sums it up pretty well how vital Greiss was to the team’s turnaround even before he got here.
“I would put Thomas in the same group I would our defense,” Trotz told Newsday when he took over. “I thought our forwards were really good, our defense needed a lot of work and the goaltending I didn’t think was that strong.”
Well, Greiss has been strong, and it’s never once wavered since he first arrived on Long Island. If he signs elsewhere this offseason, Greiss will end fifth all-time for wins (101) and games played as an Islander goalie (193).
So, sure you’ll miss the awesome chemistry he had with retired MSG broadcaster Stan Fischler. You’ll miss the cool-looking masks that he brought out for each season and his hockey camp he ran out of Fort Bragg. And without question, you’ll miss his happy-go-lucky attitude and all those “Greisser” chants raining down from the Islander faithful at Barclays Center and now the Nassau Coliseum.
But the one thing you’ll miss most of all is that he was one of the better goalies in the history of the franchise.
That’s what Thomas Greiss’s Islander tenure was.
Fun and memorable.