Numero uno deserves a shot to be Numero Uno for Los Tiburones de San Jose.
In English? Thomas Greiss, San Jose's backup netminder from this past season, wears the number one on his back and, moving forward, he deserves a chance to match his jersey number with his position on the depth chart.
The 24-year-old German-born goaltender played in just 16 games during this past year's regular season behind San Jose starter, Evgeni Nabokov.
And while Nabokov played seemingly every game as the Sharks went all the way to the Western Conference Finals, Greiss was all but forgotten.
The Sharks played 97 games this season. Greiss started 11 of those contests.
In other words, he was only allowed to develop his talents in 11.3 percent of his team's games. Not nearly enough action to judge his potential as a starter.
And had the German native failed to perform in his limited action, he most likely would have lost any chance to start for an NHL team.
Now, it clearly wouldn't have been fair for such a small sample size to define Greiss' future. But in the world of professional sports, opportunities are not given based on fairness—they are given based on production.
Luckily for Greiss, he was able to post tremendous numbers in limited action this past season.
Throwing out his poor play in mop-up duty (because, in all honesty, the Sharks skaters had often stopped playing in those games), Greiss performed admirably when given a chance to start.
During his 11 games between the pipes, from the opening faceoff to final buzzer, Greiss made 326 saves on 352 shots, which equates to a .926 save percentage.
His overall record for the season ended up being 7-4-1, with four of his wins coming against playoff teams: the Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators, and Colorado Avalanche.
Over those 11 games, he let up three goals or less in all but one of them, including six games in which he allowed no more than two.
Those numbers combine into a 2.35 Goals Against Average (GAA) for those 11 starts.
Quite an impressive season for a backup, right?
Well, five years ago, the Sharks were left with injuries to both Nabokov and Vesa Toskala.
San Jose was left with their third string goaltender, Nolan Schaefer, to start between the pipes and, for a couple of weeks, Schaefer was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
In seven games, Schaefer went 5-1 with a 1.87 GAA and a .920 save percentage.
Pretty noteworthy for a seven-game stretch (which included five starts), but Schaefer hasn't played a minute in the NHL since and, barring a miraculous change of events, that will never change.
So, even if you've done nothing but shine at the NHL level, there are no guarantees that you will be rewarded with a fair shake.
In Schaefer's situation, when the two big dogs returned from injuries, there was no spot left for him in the pros. And, since returning to the minors, Schaefer hasn't played well enough to earn a second trip back up to the big time.
He has subsequently bounced around to multiple different teams and spent this past season in Russia's KHL.
The good news for Greiss is that he is locked up going into next season, meaning he will at the very least keep his current role as the backup for the Sharks.
That being the case, hopefully Greiss will continue to perform at a high level at the start of next season and then be rewarded with at least 25 starts during 2010-11.
Why? As a Sharks fan, why do I hope Greiss gets his fair shake?
Because the NHL proved this season that a lack of postseason experience doesn't prohibit a goaltender from performing well in the playoffs.
Who would have thought that both starting netminders in the Stanley Cup Finals would have had no previous playoff experience between them?
Who would have thought that both of them would have even been playing in the postseason after neither one began the regular season as his team's starter?
Who would have that three rookie goaltenders would combine to win six playoff series, with one winning the Cup? Or that all goalies without any previous postseason experience coming into 2010 would combine for 42 playoff victories?
The inexperienced goaltenders, young and old, were the ones getting it done this past postseason.
So why can't Greiss do the same for the Sharks?
He has the potential; he just needs to be given the chance he's earned with his solid play from last season.
I mean, if Antti Niemi can win the Stanley Cup as a rookie, so can Greiss.
After all, there really isn't any difference between where Greiss stands now and where Niemi stood before last season started.
Just give the guy a chance.
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