Friday, 22 February 2013

Highly-Touted To Highly-Doubtful

I'm not sure there has ever been a first-overall pick from any draft whose stock has plummeted more than Rick DiPietro's stock has. You could make a case for Patrik Stefan, but at least he played a few games in the NHL after being discarded by the team that drafted him. Rick DiPietro, though, was placed on waivers today with the intention of sending him down to the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers if no team grabbed him off the waiver wire. As expected, none did. So the former first-overall pick will continue to be paid a handsome sum by the Islanders to tend net for their AHL affiliate as he works towards recapturing an NHL roster next season.

It appeared that Mike Milbury and the Islanders were prepared to put all of their eggs into DiPietro's basket after trading away Roberto Luongo to give DiPietro the starting role on Long Island. The Boston University star came into training camp full of confidence in terms of trying to win the starter's spot in his rookie season, but he suffered a setback almost immediately as his Islanders career started. He pulled a groin muscle during his first practice in full pads, causing him to miss four preseason games, and was subsequently sent to the AHL's Chicago Wolves to get some work.

After playing for the US World Junior team, DiPietro is called up by the Islanders from Chicago for the third time, much to the happiness of veteran Wolves goalie Wendell Young. Young tells Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber, "Ricky's going to need two seats on that plane: one in coach for his body and one in first class for his ego."

While he may have been good, his brash confidence may have rubbed a few the wrong way. In his first Wolves exhibition game, he started a 5-1 victory over the Manitoba Moose, but didn't finish it. DiPietro was excused from the October 2, 2000 game after brawling with Moose goalie Stanley Reddick."I have three kids," Dan Plante, a 29-year-old right wing who played 159 NHL games told Farber. "A four-year-old boy, a five-month-old girl and Ricky."

DiPietro would finally find the blue paint in the Islanders' zone on January 27, 2001 for his first NHL game. He would record the loss in a 2-1 game against the Buffalo Sabres, but picks up his first NHL assist. He would remain with the Islanders for the remainder of the season, appearing in 20 games while posting a 3-15-1 record with a 3.49 GAA. The Islanders would finish last in the NHL that season. DiPietro had nowhere to go but up. It would take seven starts, but DiPietro would record his first NHL win on February 16, 2001 in a 4-2 over the Edmonton Oilers.

The 2001-02 season saw DiPietro start the season in Bridgeport as the Islanders opted to keep veterans Chris Osgood and Garth Snow as their netminders. It appears the stint in the AHL does wonders for DiPietro's confidence in adjusting to the pro game as he leads the AHL in wins with 30, and posts an excellent 2.32 GAA and .913 save percentage.

The 2002-03 season would start the same as DiPietro was platooned behind Osgood and Snow, meaning he started the season in Bridgeport once again. He was recalled from Bridgeport where he was selected to the AHL All-Star Game after playing well, and proceeds to post a 2-5-2 record with a 2.97 GAA and an .894 save percentage in ten games with the Islanders. The Isles would make the playoffs, but fall in five games to the Ottawa Senators in the opening round. DiPietro would play fifteen minutes in Game Two and would not be the goaltender of record in that game.

It appears the Rick DiPietro show was here to stay in 2003-04 as he and Garth Snow form the Islanders' goaltending tandem. DiPietro posts his first NHL shutout in a 6-0 win over Buffalo on October 12, and things were looking up. However, after struggling mightily through the month of December, DiPietro requests a demotion to the AHL. He plays well in Bridgeport and returns to Long Island where he promptly outplays Snow and becomes the Isles' starter. DiPietro would finish the season 23-18-5 with a 2.36 GAA, and help the Islanders earn the eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference. They would fall in five games, and it was announced after the playoff series that DiPietro would require arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

With the lockout taking over the 2004-05 season, DiPietro accepts an invite to play with Team USA at the World Hockey Championships in Vienna and Innsbruck, Austria. Despite playing well as the team's starter, Team USA would fall in the quarterfinals at the hands of the eventual gold medal winners, the Czech Republic, by a 3-2 score.

The 2005-06 season saw DiPietro play his best hockey yet. DiPietro compiled a 30-24-0-5 record with a 3.02 GAA and a .900 save percentage, including a league-best eight shootout wins, but the Islanders would miss the playoffs. DiPietro's year also included a starting netminder role for the American squad at the Torino Winter Olympics. He played well on the larger ice in Italy, but the Americans faltered and DiPietro left Italy with a 1-3 record and no opportunity to play for a medal as Finland bounced the USA by a 4-3 score in the quarterfinals. However, DiPietro's game was getting stronger, and it appeared he was turning a corner in becoming an elite goaltender.

The 2006-07 season starts with DiPietro signing a monster 15-year, $67.5 million contract. The statement made at the time by GM Garth Snow is almost comedic if not so ironic: "It's a great deal for the team because we get a flexible number that we can work with and add players as we need, it's a great deal for Ricky because he has term, and the big bonus is for our fans because they get to see a player that everyone loves for many more years to come."

DiPietro plays well throughout the season, becoming the first Islanders goaltender to record back-to-back 30-win campaigns. His 32-19-9 record had the Islanders on track to earn a playoff berth, but a collision with Montreal's Steve Begin results in a concussion for the Islanders' netminder. He missed the final seven regular season games, but returned for a playoff date with the Buffalo Sabres. He didn't seem like the same goaltender, though, as the Isles fell to Buffalo in five games.

The 2007-08 season began to show some of the wear-and-tear that DiPietro was suffering. Despite playing in more than 60 games again, he has off-season surgery on a torn labrum in his hip, a knee sprain in December during pregame warm-ups, and tweaks his hip again during his first NHL All-Star Skills Competition in Atlanta which would require season-ending surgery with nine games to play in the campaign. He still posted impressive numbers despite the ailments: 28-28-0-7, a 2.82 GAA, and a .902 save percentage while being selected to his first NHL All-Star Game. The Isles, however, finish last in the Atlantic Division and miss the playoffs.

The 2008-09 season saw another off-season surgery before the campaign started as DiPietro's left knee was under the knife again. He logs one period in the team's first five games before undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on the same knee on November 27, 2008 that causes him to miss the next 27 games. Swelling in the knee prevents him from playing regularly, and he decides to sit out the remaining 41 games. His total appearances in the '08-09 season is five games, posting a 1-3-0 record with a 3.52 GAA.

More off-season surgery to the left knee causes DiPietro to miss the first 27 games of the 2009-10 season. His first game back is January 9, 2010 where he takes a 4-3 loss against Dallas, but his left knee doesn't swell, giving the Islanders and Rick DiPietro hope that their star goaltender will make a triumphant return. The swelling, however, returns after a March 6 game, and DiPietro misses the remaining 12 games of the season as the Islanders miss the playoffs again. Appearing in only eight games, DiPietro goes 2-5-0 with a 2.60 GAA and a .900 save percentage - solid numbers considering his changed goaltending style to help his ailing knee.

The 2010-11 season starts well for the beleaguered goalie as DiPietro goes 2-0-2, but the swelling in the knee returns on December 22, forcing DiPietro to miss the next three games. Upon his return, he pulls his groin in a January 3 game against Calgary, shelving him for another five games. DiPietro earns the start against the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 2, and he sees nothing but stars after he and Brent Johnson tangle during a melee.

A fractured cheekbone had DiPietro on the mend for another twenty games. As baffling as it seems, DiPietro actually led the Islanders in appearances with 26, posting a record of 8-14-4, a 3.44 GAA and a .886 save percentage. For as good as DiPietro once was, he was living up to his moniker of "Rickety DiPietro" as he failed to once again reach 30 games played, let alone a 30-win season.

The 2011-12 season saw DiPietro begin the season on the ice, but was quickly back on the injured list as a puck to the mask in practice on October 12 resulted in a concussion that caused him to miss three games with concussion symptoms. He would finally return to the Islanders net for a December 3 game against the Dallas Stars, but tweaked his groin once again. He is on the disabled list for almost a month with this tweak, but wouldn't make it off as the Islanders announced on January 14, 2012 that DiPietro has a sports hernia requiring surgery. This new turn-of-events sidelines him for ten weeks. His season was over once again.

During the past four years, DiPietro appeared in just 47 of a possible 328 Islanders games. Of those 47 games, he won just 14, resulting in a winning percentage of .298. Factoring in that he pulled down approximately $18 million during those four years, DiPietro's wins are costing the Islanders approximately $1.2 million per win. With eight years and $36 million remaining on the contract, that's a hefty price tag for a goaltender.

Sending DiPietro down to Bridgeport at this point in his career is practically charity. His 0-3-0 record, 4.09 GAA, and .855 save percentage is horrible, and there's absolutely no way one can justify his salary at this point. Much like the Rangers did with Wade Redden, Rick DiPietro's career in the NHL will hinge almost entirely on a buyout or a miraculous turn-around in his play. If you're a betting man, the former is where you're putting your money.

While I'm not here to celebrate the downfall of a goaltender, it's almost tragic how Rick DiPietro's career has played out thus far. I'd like to believe that he'll turn his career around and play some spectacular hockey in Bridgeport that will allow him to regain a roster spot with the Islanders next season. I'd also like to believe that DiPietro won't suffer further injuries that won't prevent him from playing more than a dozen games.

What's that old saying - "if you believe that, I have swamp land Florida to sell you"? Someone get me a real estate agent.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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