2011-2012 San Jose Sharks Season Review: Thomas Greiss

After a yearlong exile in Sweden, the Sharks' aggressive German netminder Thomas "Meth Squirrel" Greiss returned to the San Jose crease as a backup this season, his third year in that role (if you count his stunted stay in 07-08) and first behind Antti Niemi.

Greiss has long been one of the more energetic goaltenders you're likely to see manning an NHL crease. With a playing style similar to that of Winnipeg Jets starter Ondrej Pavelec, Greiss largely shuns conventional wisdom and the conservative technical play adopted by most of the NHL goaltending population to challenge shooters, position himself closer to the hashmarks than his own goal line and live (sometimes die) by the motto "when in doubt, pokecheck." In a lot of ways, he's the anti-Niemi (I'll be here all week) in that he relies heavily on his athleticism and lateral mobility to make saves. That's gotten him into trouble in the past, leaving him susceptible to some bad goals, but on the whole those types of tallies were largely diminished this season as Greiss posted some phenomenal numbers albeit over just a 19-game sample size.

San Jose's penalty kill left a lot of victims in its wake this year and unfortunately none of those were opposing power plays. The Sharks as a whole struggled due to their inability to keep pucks out of their net shorthanded with Greiss and Niemi both posting save percentages well below league-average on the PK. As we move forward in the offseason, an important thing to investigate will be the factors that resulted in those depressed save percentages. I'm firmly of the belief that team-to-team differences in shot quality are negligible at even-strength but the great JLikens of Objective NHL has shown that might not necessarily be the case on the penalty kill. PK SV% at the team level is reasonably repeatable and, perhaps more importantly, the league-wide spread in PK save percentages is actually wider than the spread in EV save percentages, strongly suggesting that there's more at work in creating the repeatability of those numbers than goaltending performance alone. But that's a discussion for another time - this is all just a long-winded way of saying that, even though Eric T. of Broad Street Hockey has demonstrated that with small sample sizes it's better to evaluate a goalie on overall SV% rather than EV SV% alone, I'll hold off on including penalty kill performance to highlight what was an incredible season at evens by Greiss. Here are the top ten goalies (min. 200 shots faced) in EV SV% during the 2011-12 season:

Brian Elliott 806 44 .945
Jaroslav Halak 979 61 .938
Mike Smith 1724 111 .936
Jonathan Quick 1479 99 .933
Henrik Lundqvist 1454 97 .933
Niklas Backstrom 1055 73 .931
Cory Schneider 750 52 .931
Thomas Greiss 377 26 .931
Roberto Luongo 1288 91 .929
Jimmy Howard 1213 86 .929

Not bad company at all. Especially impressive is that, although he only faced half as many shots, Greiss posted an identical EV SV% to Cory Schneider whose season is being held up across Vancouver as justification for trading arguably the best goaltender of the last decade in Roberto Luongo. As you can imagine, Greiss' season looks even better relative to his peer group of backup goalies. Bruce Peter of Eyes on the Prize recently looked at average save percentages over the past eight seasons for starters, platoon members, backups and replacement goalies. The average NHL backup in 2011-12 posted an EV SV% of .917 compared to Greiss' .931 and an overall SV% of .910 compared to Greiss' .915. Of course the main thing to keep in mind through all of this is that a 19-game sample size isn't particularly meaningful and we should probably expect Greiss' EV SV% to regress next season (although, by the same token, it's really unlikely his penalty kill SV% will once again be in the neighborhood of his abysmal 0.829). After the jump, we'll take a look at Greiss' updated career stats to gain a larger sample size by which to judge him.

Thomas Greiss Career Statistics

38 58 735 .921 20 154 .870 82 921 .911

38 games still isn't all that much but it's all we have to work with. Over his career, Greiss has been a slightly above average goalie at evens and slightly below average on the penalty kill. Which, taken in sum, is excellent considering his cap hit. Greiss posted an impressive .925 EV SV% in 09-10, the only other season in which he was a legitimate backup, but a bizarre performance while the Sharks were on the power play that year (he allowed 4 goals on 8 opposing shorthanded attempts) undersold his overall SV% a bit.

FTF Grade: B+. I'm not willing to lay all the blame for Greiss' .829 PK SV% at his feet but in my mind that prevents him from scraping an A. I'm not sure how Doug Wilson convinced Greiss to re-up with the team last summer after he was banished by the organization the minute Niemi wound up on the free agent market but that contract looks better every day. The evidence (however limited) suggests the Sharks have a well above-average backup goalie in Greiss signed for just $587,500 next year. With his play this season, particularly at even-strength, Greiss has certainly earned more starts next year although it remains to be seen whether Todd McLellan will give those to him considering the degree to which the coaching staff seems to prefer riding Niemi.

Finally, here's Greiss putting on a clinic in a shootout against the Penguins, highlighted by a particularly juicy save on Kris Letang:

How would you grade Thomas Greiss' 2011-12 season?