Heading into the 2018-19 season, there were few expectations for New York Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss, who had struggled greatly as the Isles’ backup the year before. Yet, in the system implemented by new head coach Barry Trotz, Greiss excelled. He enjoyed the best season of his career, posting a .927 save percentage and 2.28 GAA in 43 games and sharing the Jennings Trophy with Robin Lehner. Yet, following the departure of Lehner this summer and the signing of Semyon Varlamov to an expensive, long-term contract, the only new expectations for Greiss were of the pessimistic kind. Many assumed that he could not possibly replicate last season, either due to a drop-off in performance or a lesser role. However, that has not been the case thus far. In fact, Greiss currently leads the league in both save percentage and goals against average through nine appearances.
The only real difference between this season and last for Greiss is what is at stake. The red-hot keeper is in the final season of a three-year, $10MM deal with New York and he knows that every game this year matters a little more when it comes to negotiating his next deal. For that reason though, Greiss tells Newsday’s Andrew Gross that he will save contract talk for the off-season. Although he could take advantage of his strong start, he also acknowledged that a slump could just as easily shift the status quo of those talks. The veteran netminder would rather play out the year and be able to take everything into account before negotiating a possible extension with the Islanders. This will also include the play of Varlamov, who has three years and $15MM remaining on his contract, and the status of Ilya Sorokin, the KHL keeper expected to be the Isles’ future in net. Like Greiss, Sorokin’s numbers are stunningly strong so far this season with CSKA Moscow and the team may feel the time has come to bring him over this summer. If so, Greiss would be unlikely to re-sign with New York, at least not at the price point he could command on the open market, and will become an intriguing free agent option this summer. However, for now the league’s top stopper wants to remain focused on the season: “It is what it is. Contract year or not, you’re working and you want to do your best so you can have success as a team.”
- The situation in Los Angeles is complex, and probably even more so than what has been released to the public. Veteran forward Ilya Kovalchuk has been benched and there has been no indication from the Kings that his status will change any time soon. Yet, Kovalchuk has a $6.25MM cap hit this year and next and a 35+ contract which does not allow for any salary cap relief from a buyout. Unless Kovalchuk becomes desperate enough to move on with his hockey career that he is willing to negotiate a mutual termination of his contract (doubtful), a trade is likely the only way for the two sides to part ways. Yet, as TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports, there is little interest in Kovalchuk right now and his camp is concerned that there never will be if he does not get back into the lineup. LeBrun notes that agent J.P. Barry has been in constant contact with GM Rob Blake and the Kings about how to solve this situation, but L.A. does not seem willing to put Kovalchuk back on the ice just yet. In fact, as Brian La Rose discussed in his most recent mailbag, the team may be willing to wait another month before making a change, as Kovalchuk is due a considerable signing bonus on December 15 and his value on the trade market could shift once that has been paid. A team with financial limitations may be more willing to take a chance on the veteran scorer, or even just to eat his salary, once some of the real money is off the table. Barry and company will no doubt campaign for Kovalchuk to bet back in the lineup prior to late December, but can do little about it if the Kings continue to feel that they do not benefit from having him on the ice.
- Tyler Moy, a former Nashville Predators prospect, is trying to reinvent himself in Switzerland with an eye on a return to the NHL. Moy, 24, was originally a sixth-round pick of the Predators in 2015 as an overage prospect out of Harvard University. After a four-year collegiate career, including a breakout senior campaign, Moy turned pro and enjoyed a solid if not unspectacular first pro season with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in 2017-18. Last year, he failed to get off to a strong start and eventually requested his release from his entry-level contract in November. Moy, a California native, ventured to Switzerland, the other country of which he is a citizen, and made an immediate splash with Lausanne HC of the NLA. Now in his second season with the team, Moy continues to play well and Axel Jeroma writes for NHL.com that he has shown improvement in every area of the game since crossing the Atlantic. While Moy is currently focused on winning a title with Lausanne, he admits that he would like to return to North America in the “foreseeable future” and plans to talk to NHL teams this summer. Without game-breaking offensive ability, Moy may not be able to jump directly into the NHL, but as he continues to develop a mature, complete game, the young forward would be more prepared to succeed in the AHL the second time around.