PHILADELPHIA — Thomas Greiss deflected the inquiry, just as he has with so many shots since the start of last season.
“I’m in a contract year?” the Islanders goalie playfully asked.
Yes, and a timely one for the German-born Greiss, 33, who is in the final season of a three-year, $10 million deal.
Greiss made his ninth start of the season in the Islanders’ 4-3 shootout victory over the Flyers on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. He entered the game atop the NHL with a 1.88 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. He now has won his last seven starts and is 8-1-0 overall.
The consistent numbers he has posted in a strict rotation with Semyon Varlamov in the first 18 games suggest Greiss is one of the top goalies in the NHL.
“It’s early in the season,” he said. “Those numbers can go up or down real quick at this point, so you can’t put too much weight into that. I think I’ve been playing well and Varly has been playing great hockey, too. As a team, we’re playing good hockey and the most important thing is the success of our team. Everybody is chipping in.”
Still, Greiss figures to be able to truly cash in for the first time in his career.
This three-year contract represents the longest of his career, save for his entry-level deal after the Sharks selected him in the third round in 2004. And the $3.3 million average annual value of this deal is the highest of his career.
But Varlamov (6-2-1, 2.56 GAA, .917 save percentage) signed a four-year, $20 million deal as an unrestricted free agent after eight seasons with the Avalanche, so that $5 million AAV may well factor into Greiss’ next negotiations.
Again, Greiss deflected the topic well. “Obviously, you’re aware of it, but there’s not much worry about it,” he said. “I just focus on the day’s game, game by game. Do your best. That’s all you can control anyway.
“It is what it is,” he added. “Contract year or not, you’re working and you want to do your best so you can have success as a team.”
It’s the same attitude the laid-back Greiss had last season as he worked in a goalie tandem with Robin Lehner. Greiss went 23-14-2 with a 2.28 GAA and a .927 save percentage in the Islanders’ first season under coach Barry Trotz and his staff, which includes director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco.
Those statistics were very similar to Lehner’s 25-13-5 with a 2.13 GAA and a .930 save percentage, and Lehner was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie.
Greiss and Lehner shared the Jennings Trophy last season as the Islanders allowed the fewest goals in the NHL.
It was a vast improvement over Greiss’ 2017-18 season, when he went 13-8-2 with a 3.82 GAA and an .892 save percentage behind a porous defense in coach Doug Weight’s last season.
“I think both our goalies are as good as anybody in the NHL,” Trotz said. “But that goes hand-in-hand with our team play. We’ve had three goalies come through and their numbers are relatively the same and they’re all good goalies.”
Trotz said he always thought Greiss was a “very athletic goalie” but was unsure how to evaluate him before working with him.
“I would put Thomas in the same group I would our defense,” Trotz said of 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.”
Greiss’ next contract should reflect otherwise.