Here’s what we know about Islanders goalie Jean-Francois Berube, whose continued presence on the roster could force the Islanders to trade Jaroslav Halak:
- He’s 25-years old.
- He’s a good-lookin’ dude.
- He’s got a cool French Canadian name.
- He’s not related to former NHL tough guy and Flyers coach Craig Berube.
- I don’t think he is anyway. I’ll check on that.
- He practices hard, which the Islanders coaching staff keeps reminding us.
- He won a Calder Cup with Manchester of the AHL while he was property of the Los Angeles Kings.
- He’s 3-2-1 with a .914 save percentage in seven career NHL games, all with the Islanders last season.
At least half of the above list is just me being glib, but it underscores the risk at the heart of a situation the is rapidly coming to a head. The Islanders have moved heaven, Earth and other players in order to keep three goalies on the roster despite one of them being an unknown commodity for two years running.
The Islanders added Berube at the beginning of last season when Halak went down with an injury. When Halak came back, the team had so fallen in love with Berube that they kept him on the roster, fearing they would lose him on waivers. Along with Thomas Greiss, who emerged as a reliable starter for the first time in his career, the three goalies lived an uneasy existence that has carried over to this season.
Halak was great at the World Cup of Hockey, making the Islanders reconsider the idea of trading him, which first came up during the offseason.
Now, after agent Allan Walsh publicly called the team out for its goalie confusion, reports have the Islanders putting Halak and his $4.5 million AAV on the trading block in order to go forward with Greiss and Berube.
But how good is Berube? Would he be better or worse than Halak? Why are the Islanders treating putting Berube on waivers like they’d be leaving a brown bag full of cash on a bench at the Port Authority?
Berube’s AHL record is pretty strong (67-29-6) but his save percentage is a mediocre .913 in each of his two full seasons. He had a very good conditioning stint last year with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport last season (4-1, .960 sv%) but along with his minuscule NHL sample size, that doesn’t tell us much about what kind of goalie he’ll be going forward. Berube’s most memorable performance, to me anyway, was a loss in the second game of last season, when he was the only Islander to show up in Chicago on the second half of a back-to-back against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
Halak on other hand has many NHL seasons to draw data from. He also has had many injuries, which is why the Islanders like having Berube around as an insurance policy.
Greiss, who only has one half season as a starter under his belt, has just enough games to get a sense of how good he is. I’ll let smart guy and goalie watcher Nick Mercadente of HockeyGraphs break them down even further:
Halak provides elite performances (high WT%), but isn't very consistent (avg LT%). Greiss has been consistently elite in a smaller sample. pic.twitter.com/vWn2CHe43A— Nick Mercadante (@NMercad) October 30, 2016
Even among goalies, the sports world’s equivalent to Stonehenge, Berube is a mystery.
And now to the soapbox
If a lot of this sounds familiar, that’s because we hashed this out ad nauseum over the summer.
We expected Halak to be traded then. But then the World Cup happened and Halak was back to being the starter and the three-goalie experiment was extended for another season.
GM Garth Snow had a chance to put Berube on waivers before the season started and goalies around the league started getting hurt. We have no idea if Berube would have been claimed, but the chances are much higher now that there are half a dozen goalies on the shelf.
Yes, there are teams that could use a Jaroslav Halak right now like the Kings, Senators, and Bruins. But they’re not going to pay a premium when their usual starter will be back from injury soon. And that $4.5 million ticket for this year and next is either going to scare teams off or cause the Islanders to retain salary just to get rid of Halak.
In trying to play things safe, the Islanders have backed themselves into a corner from which there are no simple escapes.
This season has not started the way they wanted, to put it mildly. They’re 3-5 before today’s game, their home arena is once again under fire for bad ice conditions, and their two big free agent acquisitions haven’t scored a goal yet while the guys that signed elsewhere (or were waived in order to keep Berube and rookies Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal on the opening 23-man-roster), have already paid dividends for their new teams.
Does all the mean the season is over a month in? No. But it does mean they’re going to have to overcome a lot of obstacles to get back on track before it’s too late. And for a team that looked like it had the makings of being a real contender as recently as January of last year, that’s not a comfortable place to be.