Doug Weight’s plan for this recently completed Islanders season was to de-emphasize blocking shots to allow his goalies a better look at incoming pucks.
The Islanders did allow an NHL-high 35.6 shots per game — giving up at least 50 shots in six games — even though their 1,263 blocked shots were a respectable ninth in the league.
But giving up 293 goals — the most for any NHL team since 2006-07 — was not part of the coach’s design.
Admittedly behind a shoddy defense, the Islanders still could never get a consistent enough performance in net from Thomas Greiss, Jaroslav Halak and Christopher Gibson, the latter two who will be unrestricted free agents on July 1.
The Islanders’ team goals-against average of 3.53 was the worst in the league. Only three teams had a worse collective save percentage than the Islanders’ .900.
Solidifying the net should be the team’s first offseason priority other than trying to re-sign John Tavares. There’s not likely to be any immediate help within the system.
The organization’s top goalie prospect, Russian Ilya Sorokin, is contractually bound to the KHL through 2020. Their other top goaltending prospect, Swede Linus Soderstrom, is coming to North America for this upcoming season and he likely will have to start in Bridgeport (AHL) to get used to the smaller rinks after playing on the larger European sheets.
Here’s a look at the Islanders goalies in 2017-18, with contract information provided by Cap Friendly:
Eight games, 2-3-2, 3.65 GAA, .908 save percentage
$650,000 cap hit, unrestricted free agent
A late-season, lower-body injury to Thomas Greiss gave Gibson an extended audition to show he could be part of the Islanders’ future. The 25-year-old Finn did have good moments but not enough consistency overall, making it likely the Islanders will move on from him for next season.
Gibson’s high point came as he made 50 saves in a 5-2 win at Calgary on March 11 as the Islanders snapped an 0-4-4 skid. At his best, Gibson displayed an economy of motion and strong positioning, allowing him to track pucks well through traffic.
But Gibson couldn’t build on his strong starts. He was pulled after allowing five goals on 12 shots in a 7-3 loss to the Capitals on March 15, the Islanders’ next game after their win at Calgary. And two days after a 36-save performance in a 4-1 win over the Penguins on March 20, he allowed six goals on 24 shots in a 7-6 loss to the Lightning.
Gibson is a Group 6 free agent as he is 25, has played at least three professional seasons but fewer than 28 NHL games.
27 games, 13-8-2, 3.82 GAA, .892 save percentage
$3.3 million cap hit, signed through 2019-20
Based on his contract and the fact that he may be the only returning goalie, Greiss almost certainly will play a crucial role in the Islanders’ fortunes next season. But the 32-year-old German has never quite shown the consistency to be a reliable No. 1 goalie in the NHL.
He began this season rotating with Jaroslav Halak and his longest streak of consecutive games was four. Greiss was pulled in a season-opening 5-0 loss at Columbus on Oct. 6 after allowing five goals on 26 shots and he had his best stretch from Nov. 11 to Nov. 24 when he started five of six games, winning them all.
Greiss suffered a lower-body injury late in perhaps his best start as he made 45 saves for his only shutout of the season in a 3-0 win at Carolina on Feb. 16. Greiss did not play again until March 31. He started three of the Islanders’ final four games.
Overall, it was a step back for Greiss, who went 23-11-4 with a 2.36 GAA and a .925 save percentage in his first season with the Islanders in 2015-16, then followed that by setting career highs with 51 games played and 26 wins (26-18-5, 2.69, .913) in 2016-17.
Greiss often shows the poise and physical ability to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. But he cannot be relied on as one until he cuts down the amount of bad goals he allows.
54 games, 20-26-6, 3.19 GAA, .908 save percentage
$4.5 million cap hit, unrestricted free agent
If this is the end of Halak’s time with the Islanders as he completes a four-year, $18-million deal — and that is certainly the expectation — the 33-year-old Slovakian’s tenure will be remembered for its extreme ups and downs.
Halak set a franchise record with 11 consecutive wins and 38 victories overall in his first season with the Islanders and was named an All-Star for the only time in his career.
However, by Dec. 30, 2016, Halak had been placed on waivers and he wound up playing 27 games for Bridgeport (AHL) that season.
Yet he reclaimed his role as the Islanders’ No. 1 goalie a little less than two months into last season, though he did allow four or more goals 22 times in 2017-18. Not that it mattered much, with the Islanders long eliminated from playoff contention, but Halak did end the season with two strong performances, stopping 33 shots in a 4-3 win at Ottawa on March 27 and 34 shots in a 2-1 win over the Rangers on April 5.
When Halak did get in trouble, it was often on rebounds, though the Islanders’ overall defensive performance last season certainly didn’t help. Halak still has value as a veteran backstop, but both he and the organization probably need to go their separate ways.
IN THE PIPELINE
37 games (Bridgeport, AHL), 12-16-2, 2.83 GAA, .897 save percentage
$650,000 cap hit, unrestricted free agent
The Islanders acquired the 6-foot-3, 218-pound netminder from the Lightning last July, but the 25-year-old Latvian had a less than memorable season with Bridgeport. There’s been little chatter about Gudlevskis being able to help at the NHL level. Like Gibson, he is a Group 6 UFA.
29 games (Worcester, ECHL), 13-10-2, 2.84 GAA, .910 save percentage
Nine games (Bridgeport, AHL), 5-2-0, 2.77 GAA, .903 save percentage
$925,000 cap hit, signed through 2018-19
The 23-year-old Penn State product, a third-round pick in 2013, has been in the organization since 2016 and he wound up spending the bulk of last season in the ECHL in order to maximize his playing time. The expectation is he will further his development in the AHL next season.
At 6-foot-2, 199 pounds, McAdam possesses good size in the net but has had issues with his positioning.
14 games (HV71 Jonkoping, Swedish Hockey League), 8-6-0, 2.79 GAA, .894 save percentage
$803,333 cap hit, signed through 2019-20
The Islanders believe the 21-year-old Soderstrom, a fourth-round pick in 2014, will be an NHL goalie, quite possibly a starter. The first step comes this fall as Soderstrom will play in North America and start his acclimation to the smaller rinks.
Soderstrom was slowed by a shoulder injury last season, but at 6-foot-4, 198 pounds, he covers plenty of the crease and plays the angles well.
37 games (CSKA Moscow, KHL), 25-8-4, 1.59 GAA, .931 save percentage
No NHL contract
The 22-year-old Sorokin, a third-round pick in 2014, is considered the top goalie prospect for the Islanders, but it will likely be a while before he suits up in the NHL, if he does. Sorokin’s KHL contract runs through 2020 and he’s the highest paid player for CSKA. Also, there were reports out of Russia this offseason that Sorokin wanted the Islanders to have stronger management before he considered coming to North America.
At 6-foot-2, 172 pounds, Sorokin possesses elite speed and agility in the crease.