Graziano: 5 Best Islanders Goaltenders in Franchise History

Andy Graziano
April 29, 2020 - 3:21 pm

Today, we wrap up our series of the greatest Islanders at each position by diving into the one the organization still hasn’t gotten right since a playoff legend retired. We have covered the centers, the wings and last week, the defensemen. After this point, it’s hard to determine where we go from here. Do we start offseason content? 

There is still no concrete determination, predictably, from the National Hockey League on a potential resumption and completion of the 2019-20 season. There are many rumors going around, but all we know for sure is that commissioner Gary Bettman has organized a task force which will be responsible for setting and reviewing the contingency plans. 

I’m sticking to my long-standing opinion that you take the hit, call this season a wash and begin the new league year on time, starting with the draft in late June, followed by the opening of free agency. Can you imagine a scenario of restarting the season in the summer, to no fans, then one player is diagnosed positive of the virus, possibly having to shut the entire thing down again? With what we know of thousands being a-symptomatic, is the risk greater than the reward here? Are you going to institute a period of quarantine where players can’t see their families? Are players currently overseas even going to get back, considering all the limitations on travel? They can hardly be considered an ‘essential’ business, can they?

We all miss it. We all want to see hockey. Players want to play. Everyone disagrees on how to properly open states or local municipalities. Politicians are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. It’s an almost impossible situation sports are in, given what we know at present.

Now, with that out of the way, onto the goaltenders.

5. Thomas Greiss

Greiss has been a capable netminder for the Islanders during his five-year tenure, which likely could be over due to the pandemic. With Ilya Sorokin scheduled to finally appear if there is a training camp in September and Semyon Varlamov locked in, there is no reason to bring Greiss back for a sixth season. He finishes with 101 wins, fifth all time, a 2.70 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 193 games.

4. Jaroslav Halak

Sure, the Islanders could have used more clutch playoff saves out of Halak at crucial moments, but he did the job in four seasons, starting 170 games and winning 88 of them with a 2.69 GAA and .913 save percentage to go along with 12 shutouts. He was lights out against the rival New York Rangers, preserving his name on this list.

3. Rick DiPietro

Hey, he was OFFERED a contract and signed it, can’t comprehend much fault in that. Like or dislike DiPietro for his brash and cocky attitude, but all the man wanted to do was play. The injury he suffered at the All-Star Game in the skills competition was hardly his fault, but derailed what could have been a promising career. Now showing his skills on the airwaves, Rick finished with a record of 130-136-36, playing in 318 games for New York. A 2.87 GAA and .902 save percentage were mostly the result of playing behind some woefully deficient defensive teams.

2. Glenn Resch

‘Chico’ is, honestly, one of the nicest men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting through this media adventure I’ve been on the past six years. When he talks to you, you get the feeling you’ve known him for years, even though you just met. An Islander from 1974-1981, he formed an incredible tandem with the number one on our list. Resch appeared in 282 games with a 2.56 GAA and .911 save percentage with 25 shutouts in a time of run and gun offense, Resch was given his famous nickname by teammate Doug Rombough, after the character portrayed by Freddie Prinze on the 1970s sitcom Chico and the Man.

1. Billy Smith

Expansion drafts can be a killer. Unless you’re the Islanders and you end up drafting a goaltender who would spend the rest of his brilliant 17-year career with your organization and become, arguably, the greatest ‘money’ goaltender in history.

With 674 games, 304 wins and a goal on his resume, Smith didn’t earn his name in the regular season — where he had career marks of 3.16, .895. The playoffs were Billy’s time to shine, and shine he did, winning four Stanley Cups with marks of 2.72, .905. If you were arrogant and confident enough to get close to Smith’s crease, you were getting a stick to the back of the legs. Who can forget the infamous shot of Smith and Wayne Gretzky? Nobody. 

From his Wikipedia page, ‘Battlin Billy’ refused to participate in the traditional handshakes between teams at the end of a playoff series. A notable incident with Smith occurred in practice where Mike Bossy fired a shot at Smith to which Smith objected. Smith charged after Bossy with his stick but was tackled by teammates before Smith could take his frustrations out on Bossy. Bossy also noted Smith never liked being talked to in the locker room, and keeping an intense focus before and after games and practices, but is much more laid-back off the ice.