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Friday, October 14, 2011
Faceoff: What does future hold for DiPietro?

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun


Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun break down today's news on Rick DiPietro being sidelined with a concussion and what it means for the Islanders:

Burnside: Well, my friend, the news out of Long Island on Friday is that netminder Rick DiPietro is out indefinitely with a concussion after taking a puck off his mask in practice Wednesday. The former No. 1 overall pick was coming off his first healthy summer in years and was part of an intriguing mix with the New York Islanders, who entered the season with three healthy goalies in Al Montoya, Evgeni Nabokov and DiPietro (he hasn't played yet this season). Now the three-headed monster is a manageable two-headed beast, but one wonders, again, just what will become of the oft-injured DiPietro, who has played in just 39 NHL games since 2008-09.

LeBrun: This is why GM Garth Snow was wise to keep all three goalies around coming into the season. You just never know with DiPietro. I honestly feel bad for the kid because, when his body allows him, he's a good goalie in this league. But that's rarely been the case. Knees, hips, head injuries -- it's all piling up.

Remember, DiPietro was out six weeks last season after his fight with Penguins goalie Brent Johnson. After this season, there are "only" nine more years on DiPietro's contract at $4.5 million per season. Mercy. If DiPietro can't pull it together later this season, one has to think the Islanders will need to think long and hard about a buyout, as they did with Alexei Yashin. Yes, owner Charles Wang is very fond of DiPietro, but he also remains friends with Yashin to this day.

Brent Johnson, Rick DiPietro
Rick DiPietro was also hurt last season after a fight with Pittsburgh's Brent Johnson.

Burnside: I agree that it's hard not to feel sorry for DiPietro, but his tenure with the Islanders is bound to go down as one of the worst hockey decisions ever made. You have to wonder where this franchise would be in terms of competitiveness had then-GM Mike Milbury not dealt Roberto Luongo to Florida in June 2000 and not taken DiPietro with the first overall pick at that draft. It's a question Isles fans have asked again and again for the past decade. But that's past history (well, except for the nine more years of wondering about DiPietro, of course).

Let's look at the current Isles without DiPietro. I know you thought the plan was for Nabokov to get enough starts to showcase him for a trade. Now, with Montoya playing all three games to start the season (1.35 goals-against average and .953 save percentage -- wow!), do you think the Nabokov plan changes?

LeBrun: I will say this for Milbury: He didn't sign DiPietro to that 15-year deal, Wang did. It is also important to note that we will have a new collective bargaining agreement next season. Who knows what the rules for buyouts will be, whether there's going to be some kind of special, one-time buyout provision for teams to get rid of one bad contract, etc. Obviously, the NHL Players' Association will have a big say in that. Under the current CBA rules, a buyout next summer would cost Isles $1.5 million a year (cash and cap hit) for the next 18 years.

And again, I'm not even sure the Islanders want to go that route. They may believe that, given a chance if he's healthy, DiPietro could turn his fortunes around. As for Nabokov, I think the Isles must play him enough to showcase him. I believe they will still move him before the trade deadline regardless of DiPietro's health. Why allow Nabokov to walk away July 1 without getting anything in return?

Burnside: The DiPietro deal isn't an issue if the misguided notion that he would be a better franchise goalie than Luongo wasn't a factor to begin with. But again, ancient history.

Sure, the Isles would want to move Nabokov if there's a buyer, but what about this: What if the Isles are in the thick of it in the Eastern Conference and DiPietro isn't available? And even if DiPietro is available, how much confidence does the team have in him? Let's assume Montoya carries the bulk of the workload; the Isles still need a capable backup. Nabokov proved he could deliver quality starts during the regular season during his long tenure in San Jose. The playoffs were a different story.

But we're pretty sure the Isles would love to have that debate mid-April if they can hang in there and play meaningful games in late March and beyond. I'm just not so sure Nabokov is used as straight trade bait, given DiPietro's continued health problems and the Isles' potential to be a playoff dark horse.

LeBrun: Excellent point on the Isles' possible playoff chances. It's so rare for us to bring that up, but the fact is it could very much be a reality. This is a young team that is blossoming before our eyes, which is why it's sad in many ways that DiPietro has had yet another setback. He's supposed to be at the center of this Isles' renaissance, along with John Tavares and the rest of the lineup.