Why Gamble on Greiss Will Pay Off

By: Chris Boyle

The Islanders have solidified their position in goal after giving Thomas Greiss a contract extension.

It may seem like a significant commitment to a goaltender who has never played more than 41 games in a season, but it is a solid gamble and could be a good value play. His new contract would barely register him in the top-30 of highest paid goaltenders in the league, sitting behind James Reimer, Eddie Lack and Ondrej Pavelec.

Goaltender value is a tricky thing because, in general, they are among the most underpaid in the league. The removal of a player like Carey Price last season resulted in an absolute team collapse because of his value above and beyond an average replacement. Yet, he only costs the Canadiens $6.5 million per season against the cap.

Goalies, in general, are underpaid because of the risk involved in misidentifying true talent. Some goaltenders are insulated from high-leverage scenarios and teams blindly invest in them based on inflated save percentages. These misses create a fear in a lot of organizations and can lead to cap-crippling decisions.

Greiss is a strong value play because the risk is relatively low at $3.33 million per season and the Islanders haven’t invested the funds in a goaltender that needs to carry them. The Islanders have essentially paid Greiss to deliver league average goaltending. In an absolute worst case scenario, they carry a slightly overpaid backup who has established that he can deliver league average results if provided a stable environment. They also get the gamble on the high end that he is slightly better than league average.

Early in the season, goaltending was one of the main reasons that the Islanders found themselves in an early hole. The Islanders were playing at a .478 pace through Dec. 1 with Jaroslav Halak receiving the majority of the starts.

Greiss_vs_Halak_SV

Greiss outplayed Halak in almost every category.  The 31-year-old has been brilliant since taking the No. 1 goalie position, going 10-3-3 in his last 16 games. The Islanders have played .620 hockey during that stretch, a pace that would easily qualify for a playoff spot.

The question is if Greiss can sustain his above average play like he has for the last season and a half. Greiss’ playoff sample was exceptional and it has continued through this season.

Greiss struggled with clear-sighted shots early in the season, but his numbers have normalized since and it is the primary reason for his recent dominance.

Greiss_xSV

If we placed an average goaltender in Greiss’ environment, Greiss would outperform the norm in every category outside of slot-line passes. The main differentiator I have noticed during this study between high-risk goaltenders and low-risk ones is their ability to stop the shots they are supposed to.

The ones who I tend to red flag with risk over larger samples are those with sub-average performance on clear sight. Through my 1,000-shot sample, Greiss has been consistently strong in this category and above average in general. If we check his environment, we can find out more about his risk factor.

Greiss_Distribution

Looking at the shot distribution, we can see that Greiss faces a more difficult workload than an average goaltender in regards to pre-shot movement. The Islanders consistently surrender more slot-line feeds than average defensive coverage. This lack of clear-sighted opportunities allows offenses opportunities to deceive Greiss. Location-wise, the Islanders have provided Greiss with a stronger environment. This is generally where a goaltender is exposed as fraudulent because of strong defensive coverage.

Looking at his profile, the risk level on Greiss is fairly low. The Islanders have placed themselves in a position where it is more likely that he outperforms this contract than otherwise.