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Capellini: Islanders Cannot Let Greiss Get Anywhere Near Free Agency

By Jeff Capellini

In Greiss they trust. And that should continue for a while longer.

While it's no secret that the Islanders have done a poor job putting together a powerhouse team on the ice over the last six-plus months, they do have a chance to do something that could, at least temporarily, put them back in the good graces of some of their disgruntled fans.

And, no, this move wouldn't be considered lateral, regardless of what is potentially coming down the road at the position.

Unlike the long-term deals general manager Garth Snow recently gave to role-playing forwards Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, inking goaltender Thomas Greiss to an extension should be considered a no-brainer. The Islanders simply play much better in front of him than they have for others who have worked between the pipes of late.

That includes, obviously, recently demoted veteran Jaroslav Halak.

Halak is currently trying to play his way back into the Islanders' good graces at AHL Bridgeport, but there is no guarantee he will ever be trusted again. It seems he's still in the organization because he is owed such a huge chunk of change through next season that the Isles simply are in no position to eat right now by granting him his outright release.

Full disclosure here: I've been a big fan of Halak's game for some time. He has always had the potential to be a bona fide No. 1 goalie. If you need more proof than just my word for it, think back to the World Cup of Hockey in September when he was arguably the tournament's best netminder. But while he has shown flashes of the spectacular, he has also tended to unravel at an inopportune moments. Why? More than anything, he just seems to struggle to establish the mental consistency to be reliable on a nightly basis.

Greiss has no such problem, even if he's not as physically gifted or experienced.

Islanders G Thomas Greiss
Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

When the debate raged early last season over who should be the Islanders' starter, my concern centered around the fact that Greiss had been a career backup up to that point. We had no idea if he could handle the rigors of nightly calls to action, often in hostile arenas. But his play during Halak's injury-related absence spearheaded the Isles' run to the second round of the playoffs. He has since proven that what we saw late in the regular season and during the opening-round win over Florida was in no way an aberration.

Greiss is a No. 1 goalie, regardless of his relative lack of a significant workload through seven-plus NHL seasons.

And now the Islanders need to pay him as one.

What's more, the clock is ticking.

Greiss is one of just two potential unrestricted impact free agents on this roster. The Islanders have all of their main forwards and basically all of their defensemen signed for next season, save for veteran Dennis Seidenberg, who has been really good, but could very well end up getting moved prior to the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

Greiss cannot be allowed to test what's out there this summer. No way.

Save for one bad outing when his defense totally left him out to dry, the 30-year-old German has been tremendous in net for the Islanders since Halak was put on waivers on Dec. 30, posting a 2.27 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. The fact that the Isles won just three of those seven games speaks to a troubling problem that has been much debated, but has next to nothing to do with Greiss.

Greiss did allow six goals on 43 shots in New York's eventual 7-4 loss at Carolina on Saturday. Though he was pulled with around six minutes to play in the third period, the outcome was in no way a reflection of anything Greiss had done wrong. The Islanders simply abandoned him in their own end, playing even-strength defense that was a disgrace, to put it mildly.

The Islanders as a team rebounded Monday, posting a 4-0 win over the Bruins, the first time in the franchise's 45-year history it recorded a shutout in Boston. Greiss stopped 32 shots and was named the second star of the game.

"Yesterday he said he felt really good, and he's an honest kid. If he was tired, he would say it," Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said of Greiss on Monday. "But he said he wanted to get right back in there. He said he was mentally focused and he was ready to go."

The Islanders (17-17-8) are in last place in the Eastern Conference, but have games in hand on a good percentage of the teams in front of them. So it goes without saying that they're going to need Greiss to keep his edge, especially with a six-game homestand staring them in the face that should, for all intents and purposes, determine if they will get back in the playoff race.

Signing Greiss to an extension would be a very smart move by Snow. While the Islanders do have Russian sensation Ilya Sorokin waiting in the wings, he still has one more year left on his KHL contract. Greiss' age and ability suggest he would be the perfect stopgap and would almost certainly force Sorokin to earn his playing time, assuming he actually comes here. I say that because we know how weird the relationship between the NHL and KHL can be at times.

The Islanders need to ask themselves how much that peace of mind is worth. I think paying Greiss to keep him away from free agency, where a market could exist given the oft-tumultuous nature of goaltending across the league, should be the order of the coming days. It would fit into the "kill two birds with one stone" department. They'd have a solid veteran goalie for a few more years to not only mentor the potential next coming, but also to give them a very good chance to win on a daily basis.

I'm not sure what gets it done, however. I'd think at minimum the Isles would have to give Greiss three years, but as for compensation, it's not up to me to determine what is or isn't fair or worth it to Greiss to forego what could be his last real chance to get paid.

Either way, it would behoove Snow to start making amends for his failures since July by locking up one of the few sure things the Islanders currently have.

Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @JCapWFAN

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