Cross Checks: Rick DiPietro

The door to the NHL hasn’t opened wide for former No. 1 draft pick Rick DiPietro, but a professional tryout by the Carolina Hurricanes with their American Hockey League affiliate in Charlotte opens it a crack, and that’s a crack that didn’t exist last week.

"When he’s healthy and he’s into it, he can stop pucks," Carolina GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com on Sunday. "That’s what we’re hoping he can do."

DiPietro, a free agent after being bought out of the remaining eight years of his 15-year, $67.5 million deal by the New York Islanders in the offseason, had been working out with the Boston College hockey team when Rutherford inquired about his availability.

Rutherford hopes DiPietro will start two games for the Charlotte Checkers on Wednesday and Thursday, and then they’ll assess their options. The Hurricanes have been laid low by injuries to their top two goaltenders, Cam Ward, who is out for at least a month with a lower-body injury, and backup Anton Khudobin, who has been out for more than two weeks with what is believed to be a foot injury. Khudobin, who has been excellent for the Hurricanes, could take shots Monday, but his return timetable remains cloudy -- hence the interest in DiPietro.

The Hurricanes, tied for second with the Islanders in the mediocre Metropolitan Division with a 4-4-3 record, have been relying on Justin Peters, who has little NHL experience.

"But what happens if he goes down?" Rutherford asked.

Although the team examined a number of goaltending options, including a number of former NHL netminders currently without work, Rutherford liked the idea of seeing what DiPietro could do.

The veteran GM said he met DiPietro, 32, during last season’s contract talks and liked what he saw in DiPietro’s personality and attitude. The two main obstacles that have dogged DiPietro in recent years -- his health and his monster contract that had become, in the end, a kind of albatross -- are both gone, Rutherford noted.

"He's got a lot of things behind him," Rutherford said. Now, he’s back to square one. “It’s a very good opportunity for him,” Rutherford added, even if DiPietro doesn't end up signing with the Hurricanes.

DiPietro played only three games for the Islanders last season, losing all three before being put on waivers and sent to the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, where he played 18 games. Since 2008-09, DiPietro has played only 50 NHL games.


The free-agent class of 2013 might lack the star quality of last summer, when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise captivated the hockey world right through Independence Day -- spoiling picnic plans from coast to coast -- but what this year’s crop lacks in profile, it more than makes up for in motivation.

This year’s group of potential free agents is chock-a-block with players looking to make a statement, looking to prove a point and looking for one last chance at redemption.

Herein, then, Team Redemption:

GOAL

Tim Thomas
Easily the most intriguing character on the free agency landscape, Thomas is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, a Conn Smythe winner and a Stanley Cup champion. He also allowed his personal political views to sour his relationship with the Boston Bruins. The 39-year-old hasn’t played a meaningful game since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in 2012, having taken last season off to ruminate. So, of course, teams are chasing after him. With a suddenly very tight goaltending market, thanks to Vancouver’s trade of Cory Schneider to New Jersey and the signing of Mike Smith in Phoenix, Thomas’s value might be out of whack with reasonable on-ice expectations, but that’s the way of the NHL. Philadelphia is looking for goaltending help, as are the New York Islanders. It would be too much to expect the Canucks to sign Thomas just to reunite the tire-pumping society of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, but wherever he goes, Thomas is going to be a top-level story. Just not sure he’ll be a top-level goaltender.

Rick DiPietro
The longtime Islander netminder is the backup on our all-redemption team. Bought out of his ridiculous contract by the Isles this week, DiPietro will be looking for a place to prove that he’s not just the punch line to an oft-told joke. Hip injuries and other ailments have conspired to keep DiPietro off the ice for all but 50 games since the 2008-09 season. Hard to imagine a team would spend a one-way contract on the former first-overall draft pick who has never lived up to his billing or his monster contract to which owner Charles Wang signed him after the last lockout. But it’s not hard to see DiPietro signing a two-way deal somewhere and trying to work himself back into NHL shape at the American Hockey League level. Either way, it's a fascinating story should DiPietro find a team willing to open a door on a last chance at an NHL career.

Honorable mentions: Evgeni Nabokov, Ray Emery

DEFENSE

Mike Komisarek
The seventh-overall pick in the 2001 draft played just four games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, was eventually banished to the AHL and finally bought out by the Leafs. But there was a time when the easy-going, well-spoken Komisarek was a bona fide front-line defenseman with a physical edge. Now, has time passed by the 31-year-old? No question, he handled the situation in Toronto with as much grace and professionalism as could be expected, and he’s highly motivated to prove he still has game left. It's hard to believe there wouldn’t be a fit with the always frugal New York Islanders, and given that Komisarek is from Long Island, it would seem a good place in which to begin the rebuilding process.

Ryan Whitney
It feels like it has been long time since Whitney was part of an emerging Pittsburgh team that advanced to the 2008 Stanley Cup finals against Detroit. The next season, though, he was gone to Anaheim in the deal that brought Chris Kunitz to Pittsburgh. From there, he was moved to Edmonton, and after a couple of injury-plagued, unhappy seasons, Whitney is now an unrestricted free agent. Rumors had Whitney, a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team, headed to Boston at the trade deadline, but that never panned out. The Bruins have loads of depth on the back end and parted ways with veteran Andrew Ference for that reason. But if Whitney is healthy -- a big if, given his ongoing ankle issues -- he still has offensive up-side and is a big body. He chipped in 13 points in 34 games for the Oilers last season, and one would imagine that he would be highly motivated wherever he ended up this summer.

Honorable mentions: Tom Gilbert, Jonathan Blum

CENTER

Daniel Briere
While former Tampa captain Vincent Lecavalier garnered most of the buyout attention in the days leading up to free agency -- before he signed a four-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers -- former flyer Briere might be the most intriguing center on the market. Briere was bought out by the Flyers, and after a disappointing final season in Philadelphia where he scored just six times, the skilled pivot is still commanding significant interest and might end up signing before July 5. While his durability will be an issue, Briere remains the kind of player who can assist on the power play and would fit in nicely in any dressing room. Most intriguing for teams like Nashville or Montreal is that he is one of the most productive playoff performers of his generation, with 109 points in 108 playoffs games.

Honorable mentions: Derek Roy, Scott Gomez

RIGHT WING

Brad Boyes
Seems like a lifetime ago that the touted Boyes was the subject of a documentary by Leafs TV during his first training camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After being selected 24th overall in 2000, Boyes has struggled to find a permanent NHL home. It looked like Long Island might be that place after he signed there before last season and picked up 35 points in 48 games, playing often with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. But the team and Boyes couldn’t get together on a contract extension. Boyes hits the open market again and will be hoping that teams take notice of his recent production. Although he’s already had one tour of duty with the Bruins (he scored 26 goals there in 2005-06), their needs on the right side might make him an attractive option to slot in with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, given his success playing with top-end talent on the Islanders.

Honorable mentions: Michael Ryder, David Clarkson

LEFT WING

Matt Cooke
With Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero locking up key personnel Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz in recent weeks, the one incumbent who might be left out in the cold is Matt Cooke. Cooke was among the most consistent performers for the Penguins on their run to the Eastern Conference finals this spring, and in spite of his checkered past, has remade himself into a valuable player, who brought physicality and top-end penalty killing while chipping in offensively. The question remains, can he be that player somewhere else? Cooke remains such a polarizing figure outside of Pittsburgh (Boston broadcaster Jack Edwards compared Cooke to killer Sirhan Sirhan late in the regular season), one wonders how it might effect Cooke’s marketability.

Honorable mentions: Brenden Morrow, Ryane Clowe

More fun facts about Dipietro's contract

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
3:45
PM ET
Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro was put on waivers Friday.

He's currently in the 7th season of a 15-year, $67.5 million contract that runs through the 2020-21 season. DiPietro earns $4.5 million annually.

When DiPietro's contract ends:

• The Islanders will be completing their 6th season in Brooklyn (they move for the 2015-16 season)
• Penguins captain Sidney Crosby will be approaching his 34th birthday
• Former Islander great Denis Potvin will be nearing his 68th birthday
• A child born today will be in the 2nd grade


NEW YORK -- Rick DiPietro’s 15-year, $67.5 million contract might forever be used as the NHL’s cautionary tale against long-term deals, but the goaltender’s days as the franchise whipping boy could finally be ending.

The Islanders placed the 31-year-old netminder on waivers Friday afternoon, a move that indicates his injury-riddled time with the team is likely done.

As his surgeries, fractures and rehab assignments have piled up throughout the years, DiPietro has been the subject of ridicule and scorn from a fan base that is understandably maddened by the team’s decision to keep him around.

Little changed this season for DiPietro, who recorded losses in all three of his starts and has a ghastly 4.10 goals-against average and .855 save percentage.

Finally, it seems as though the Islanders have had enough.

DiPietro will report to the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Conn., once he clears waivers -- that’s right, once, not if -- and it is expected that the team will summon 22-year-old prospect Kevin Poulin from the minors to back up veteran starter Evgeni Nabokov.

The Islanders still must pay DiPietro’s salary while he is down in Bridgeport -- he is due $4.5 million annually through 2021 -- and his prorated cap charge (minus $900,000, per the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement) will remain, but this potentially paves the way for the team to buy him out this summer.

Each team is allowed two compliance buyouts -- to be used in the summer of 2013 and 2014 -- by the new collective bargaining agreement, although the team’s immediate plans on the matter are not clear.

A compliance buyout would take off DiPietro’s cap hit and pay him two-thirds spread out for the remaining years of his contract, although it’s possible the team might be more amenable to exercise the old buyout terms on DiPietro, thus keeping his cap charge to count toward the cap floor.

“You would think they will buy him out after this season," an NHL team executive told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun. "If they do, they might not use the transition buyout so that his buyout counts against the floor going forward."

"We haven't given that any consideration at this point," Islanders GM Garth Snow said when reached by phone Friday afternoon. "I'm not going to speculate what the future may hold."

The team, which has missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, has also routinely struggled to reach the cap floor.

That was, in fact, an impetus behind the team’s move to acquire veteran goaltender Tim Thomas and his $5 million cap hit in a trade with the Boston Bruins earlier this month. Snow said at the time he wanted to provide his team "flexibility" by adding Thomas’ 35-and-over contract. The Islanders do not have to pay Thomas a dime in actual salary while he is not playing -- he said this summer he is taking the season off from hockey to spend more time with his family -- although they still retain his cap hit.

A few other interesting points to consider:

If this is indeed an attempt to cut ties with DiPietro, it could be seen as a move to divest the franchise of the ill-advised contract to make the club more attractive to a potential buyer. Reports surfaced last week that team owner Charles Wang, who has hemorrhaged millions of dollars in recent years, is looking to sell the team.

Also, consider this:

Assuming DiPietro reports to Bridgeport and plays -- which he must do to collect the salary that, let’s face it, he is rightfully owed -- the team is taking a significant risk considering his laundry list of injuries throughout his career.

Why?

A team cannot buy out an injured player.

Until Snow divulges his plan for the former first overall pick, it’s hard to predict what will happen from here -- and with the Islanders, who knows? -- but whichever way this goes, hopefully it can provide closure for the Islanders and DiPietro, the latter of whom has been relegated to the team’s token punch line.

Maybe both the team and the player can finally move on.

Five things you need to know about Monday’s games:

1. The Maple Leafs got a scare when starting goalie James Reimer left Monday’s game early against the Flyers with a lower-body injury. Ben Scrivens was strong in relief, making 32 saves in Toronto’s 5-2 win over the Flyers. The better news for Leafs fans came after the game, when Randy Carlyle told reporters that the injury to Reimer wasn’t believed to be serious. Might not hurt for Canucks GM Mike Gillis to make an exploratory phone call to Leafs GM Dave Nonis anyway.

2. The Sharks have completely wiped out their fast start. The Sharks didn’t lose a game in January and have been just as streaky in February, losing every game this month. Monday night might have been the worst; they lost 6-2 to the Blue Jackets to drop them to 0-3-2 in February. Brandon Dubinsky scored his first goal as a member of the Blue Jackets. The players acquired from New York in the Rick Nash trade have now combined for 15 points this season.

3. If the Islanders want to make the playoffs, they might actually need Tim Thomas to be more than just a contract that keeps them above the salary floor because their goaltending isn’t cutting it. Rick DiPietro allowed five goals on 30 shots in the Islanders' 6-4 loss to the Hurricanes. Neither Evgeni Nabokov nor DiPietro has a save percentage above .900 this season. Former Leafs prospect Jiri Tlusty scored twice for the Hurricanes and has seven points in his last five games. Four of those points came in the third period Monday night.

4. Shane Doan can still will his team to a win. He scored twice against the Avalanche, his second goal coming in the final minute of overtime after a clearing attempt hit a referee; the puck went to Kyle Chipchura, who found Doan for the winner. After a slow start, Mike Smith is heating up, finishing with 41 saves in the win. He has won four of his last five starts.

5. Goaltending is an issue for the Blues, but not for the Wild. Jaroslav Halak’s triumphant return didn’t make it out of warm-ups. He was activated from the injured reserve but a groin strain meant Brian Elliott was thrust into starting against the Kings. Elliott allowed four goals on 23 shots, including a pair to Jeff Carter, dropping his save percentage to .849 on the season. Niklas Backstrom was strong for the Wild, leading Minnesota to their first road win by allowing one goal on 24 shots against the Flames. The Blues and Flames are in the group of four teams (Oilers and Stars) sitting at 13 points, tied for the No. 8 spot in the West.
  • The Detroit Red Wings haven't talked to Tomas Holmstrom about playing next season and expect the 38-year-old to retire, according to the Detroit Free Press.
  • Brandon Dubinsky had nothing but good things to say about the city of New York after learning of his trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but admitted he was surprised, according to the New York Daily News. "When deadlines like the trade deadline and the draft pass, those are sort of times when the trades go through, and July 1 goes through. So when all that was said and done, I was definitely caught a little bit by surprise. I don't think you ever expect to get traded," Dubinsky said, according to the report.
  • Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said that making a trade for Rick Nash would have required him parting with players like Johan Franzan, Valtteri Filppula, Brendan Smith or Gustav Nyquist in addition to a first-round draft pick, and he wasn't willing to do that, according to the Detroit Free Press.
  • Saku Koivu took part in the Olympic torch relay on Tuesday in the London Borough of Hillingdon, according to The Montreal Gazette. "It wasn’t very long, but as an experience it was phenomenal. It was fantastic to see the reaction of the people, how excited they were," Koivu said, according to the paper.
  • Rick DiPietro said it is an odd feeling to be part of the NHLPA's negotiation committee for collective bargaining talks, but he keeps in mind that he is there to represent the best interests of 750 other players, according to Newsday.


1. Goalies galore causing confusion for Islanders

New York Islanders fans are quick to point out the goaltending isn’t the prime reason the Isles are once again ensconced at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. And we agree -- but only to a point.

Yes, the talented collection of young forwards hasn’t gelled as expected or hoped. Calder Trophy nominee Michael Grabner has been slow off the mark with four goals, and Kyle Okposo has yet to notch a single goal. But for us, this is a team without an identity in large part because the Isles continue to wrestle with the three-headed goalie monster. From training camp, this loomed as a potential distraction, a detractor from the good things that were going on for the Islanders.

Until the team sheds one of the heads, it will continue to stutter step through the season and take yet another step toward irrelevance. Take Al Montoya, the young netminder who played so well down the stretch last season for the Islanders and earned a one-way, one-year deal for his efforts: Montoya was rewarded with the first three starts of the season and went 2-1 and allowed just four goals.

After a win by Evgeni Nabokov, Montoya lost 4-1 to Tampa on Oct. 20 and then disappeared. In the seven games since Montoya’s last start, the Islanders have won one game. We understand the desire to see what veteran netminder Nabokov has got and the practical nature of getting him games so his trade value might be enhanced. But throw in the human albatross, Rick DiPietro, and the goaltending situation is untenable.

DiPietro is 1-1-2 with a 2.67 GAA and .904 save percentage. He is what those numbers suggest, an average goaltender who is prone to injury and who has a contract that extends until the day after forever (actually the end of the 2021 season). Look around the NHL this season and teams have identified their best goalie and ridden him, even if their best goalie at the time happens to be the back-up. It has been so in Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa, even Buffalo.

The Isles, meanwhile, sputter around trying to find room for three goalies, which is at least one and more likely two too many. Until that gets rectified, don’t expect much more than what we’ve seen from the Isles, which is more of the same, which is to say, more junk.

2. Hard work pays off for Harding

Among the many refreshing stories this season has been the return to not just NHL action but NHL stardom for Minnesota Wild netminder Josh Harding. The Regina, Saskatchewan native missed the last part of the 2009-10 season with a hip injury and then returned to action last season only to blow out his knee in the Wild’s first preseason game.

He acknowledged in an interview this week he had no idea where his NHL career might resume, if at all. Yet the Wild gave him another chance in part because they were impressed with his dedication to rehabilitating from the knee injury. That faith has been rewarded in spades early in this season as Harding has gone 4-0-1 and was named the NHL’s first star of the week. His .965 save percentage is tops in the league and his 1.18 GAA is second. “It was a long road but I’m happy with where I’m at right now,” Harding told ESPN.com. “Definitely I had my doubts.

I wasn’t sure where I’d have to go to get back,” he said, admitting that the American Hockey League and Europe were options he thought he might have to consider. “Now my job is to make sure that they made the right decision,” Harding said. So far, no complaints from GM Chuck Fletcher. He thinks the adversity Harding faced in coming back from two significant injuries suffered in succession, really a battle for his career, has made the 27-year-old mentally stronger. “This is really a remarkable story,” Fletcher told ESPN.com. “There’s been no hesitation in his game.”

Harding was a rare bystander Tuesday, when the Wild blanked Calgary, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t get the call when the Wild take on San Jose Thursday. It has been an interesting start for the Wild, whose power play and special teams play need to be better (the Wild PP was tied for 26th heading into action Wednesday), while the team’s even-strength scoring has been in the top 10 in the NHL. That balanced production from the top two lines and the play of unlikely goaltending hero Harding have given the Wild lots to be optimistic about as they continue on an early but crucial five-game road trip. As for any friction between Harding and the team’s perennial starter Niklas Backstrom, Fletcher said that’s a non-issue. “Both of our goalies are uniformly liked and respected by their teammates,” he said.

3. Backstrom back to fine form

The Washington Capitals continue to be an interesting study what with the continued lack of Alexander Ovechkin-like production from the Caps’ captain. But one player who seems to have bounced back from an offseason production-wise is top center Nicklas Backstrom. After signing a whopper 10-year contract extension, Backstrom saw his point totals drop from 101 in 2009-10 to 65 last season. The playoffs were likewise a disappointment for the slick center as he seemed to be pressing too hard and accomplished little, failing to score and adding just two assists in nine postseason games.

We spoke with Backstrom during training camp and he acknowledged he had something to prove this season. So far, so good as he leads the Caps with 19 points in 13 games. Head coach Bruce Boudreau said he’s never had an issue with Backstrom’s effort and thinks people get too wrapped up in the stats as a true measure of a player’s worth. “He’s a good player. Last year, things didn’t go in for him,” Boudreau told us this week. And they didn’t go in for his linemates, either. That said, the Caps power play is cooking (they rank third in the NHL), which is good news given the power outage the unit has suffered at times over the past couple of years. Backstrom is a huge part of that success as he essentially quarterbacks the top man-advantage unit.

“He’s the focal point of our power play as he’s always been,” Boudreau said. Now, in classic chicken-egg fashion, you may ask whether the power play is more effective because Backstrom is handling the puck with more maturity and confidence (his 14 assists lead the league), or are Backstrom’s points totals back at a more comfortable level because the power play is working. Certainly Boudreau has adjusted the team’s approach to the power play, but it only works because Backstrom is more like Backstrom.

4. Laraque know all, apparently

Is there a player who has a more self-inflated view of his self-worth than Georges Laraque? After accomplishing next to nothing during his NHL career beyond literally beating opposing players, Laraque has become ubiquitous, pontificating on an endless string of topics -- some related to the game, some not. He has even penned a book about his inspiring life. But what is unappetizing about the book is Laraque’s assertion that many NHL players are taking drugs of various kinds.

Laraque was in a position to know after playing in 695 NHL games. We can't say with 100-percent certainty that the NHL is a 100-percent clean league -- and, at some point, it would be nice to get some clarity on the subject if the players’ association would institute a drug-testing policy that would take all guesswork out of its claim that hockey is the cleanest of the pro sports. Until then, though, what Laraque does by insisting there is a problem and then refusing to name names is to paint all players with the same brush.

We’ve read pandering interviews where Laraque proudly distanced himself from former Major League Baseball star Jose Canseco, who actually admitted he used PEDs and identified other players who also juiced. But not Laraque. No, he holds fast to the ill-defined "code" that precludes him from being honest. Of course, Laraque insisted he never used those performance-enhancers.

We’re all for free speech, Georges. But if he is truly interested in changing the culture, as he insists he is, then he should name names. Tell us who was/is cheating; tell us which players are tainting the game. If Laraque doesn't do at least that, then he should at least tell the league and the union, so they can take action to clean up the mess he insists exists. That’s assuming Laraque knows.

5. The price of Pekka

A lot of debate about whether the Nashville Predators paid too much, not enough or just right when they inked netminder Pekka Rinne to a seven-year, $49-million contract extension. No one disputes Rinne’s skills. He was a Vezina Trophy nominee last year, and his numbers thus far this season suggest he could well be in for another trip to Las Vegas next June for the NHL Awards. But does the deal make sense for the Preds, who hope to sign twin defensive pillars Ryan Suter and Shea Weber to long-term deals as well.

A quick scan of the top 10 goaltenders in terms of dollars paid out this season, suggests that only three, Cam Ward, Marc-Andre Fleury and Tim Thomas, have won Stanley Cups. (Actually Thomas is 11th on the list according to Capgeek.com, but we’re not counting Cristobal Huet who has not won a Cup and is playing in Switzerland). Of the remaining seven top-dollar earners, only Roberto Luongo has taken his team to a Stanley Cup final since the lockout.

The others, Ilya Bryzgalov, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Miikka Kiprusoff, Niklas Backstrom and Martin Brodeur have all failed to deliver meaningful playoff performances on a consistent basis in recent years. Does this preclude the Predators, who have won only one playoff round in franchise history (last spring) from having success with Rinne between the pipes? No. Of course not.

But history suggests paying whopper salaries for top goaltenders is not a proven path to the Promised Land, either.

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
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesRick 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.

Rick DiPietroMike Stobe/NHLI/Getty Images

In the moment before Pittsburgh backup netminder Brent Johnson unloaded a bomb of a left punch, it actually appeared as though Rick DiPietro was grinning.

It appeared as though the Islanders goaltender was enjoying his little skirmish with his counterpart, like it was all a big joke.

Or maybe it was a wry kind of grin, like, "OK, what can possibly happen next?"

Pow.

Johnson dropped DiPietro with one devastating left after DiPietro had gone after Matt Cooke in the final seconds of yet another Islanders loss Wednesday night. On Friday, the team announced DiPietro is gone for 4-6 weeks with facial fractures and swelling in his knees. The facial fractures were the direct result of Johnson's punch; the knee issues are just part of DiPietro's history.

"You don't really ever want a broken face to get extra rest," DiPietro told reporters Friday. "But you keep telling yourself everything happens for a reason. I'm not sure what that reason is yet, but hopefully, at some point, it'll come to the surface and make when we win the Stanley Cup that much sweeter."

Did he actually say "when we win the Stanley Cup?" Yes.

We admit the whole DiPietro drama has been more than a little hard to swallow, but you've got to love the man's chutzpah.

From the moment franchise-killer Mike Milbury traded away Roberto Luongo in order to draft the brash collegiate star with the first overall pick in 2000, to the moment DiPietro was awarded his peculiar 15-year contract by bizzaro owner Charles Wang before the start of the 2006-07 season, to his litany of injuries and uneven play, there have been plenty of moments to revel in the absurdity of it all.

But now this?

Despite the myriad jokes at DiPietro's expense that exploded around the hockey world and beyond (Friday's injury news was trending on Twitter.com), we can't even find it within ourselves to even chuckle as the stars again align to humiliate DiPietro and the Islanders.

In the same way we always wished Charlie Brown would just once make good on a kick without Lucy pulling the ball away, or that Wile E. Coyote would just once make a snack out of Road Runner, we wonder if we will ever see DiPietro do anything other than explain some sort of misfortune and the Islanders do anything but become the butt of cruel jokes?

"At this point, whatever bad just seems to happen, not just to myself, to the entire team," the 29-year-old said.

Yes, DiPietro will be well paid as he again heads to the disabled list, and goodness knows there are a lot of people who have it far worse than him. Still, this is a man who has played in just 34 NHL games since the end of the 2008 season. He's played 10 NHL playoff games in total (none since 2007) and has won just twice in the postseason.

Maybe he returns this season, maybe not; maybe the Islanders turn it around next season, but their history suggests they are unlikely to.

Instead, the legacy of a former No. 1 draft pick becomes a foolish grin followed by the big left coming out of nowhere to put out the lights.

Surely, even DiPietro and the Islanders deserve more than that, don't they?

Rick DiPietro out 4-6 weeks after goalie fight

February, 4, 2011
2/04/11
2:30
PM ET

New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro will miss 4-6 weeks with facial fractures and knee swelling, the team announced Friday.

DiPietro and Penguins goalie Brent Johnson engaged in a fight with 16.5 seconds left in Pittsburgh's 3-0 win against the Islanders Wednesday. Johnson knocked DiPietro to the ice with a clean left just about the right eye. DiPietro's face was visibly swollen with a welt after the game.

"It's frustrating, it's unfortunate and every other emotion you can throw in there," DiPietro told reporters. "I'm sick of losing, our team's sick of losing. You never go into a fight expecting you're going to get smashed in the face that hard, or with these kind of consequences, but it happens and you move on."

Despite the fact that postgame X-rays in Pittsburgh came back negative on Wednesday, a CT scan reportedly revealed the damage.

There is no indication the knee swelling was related to the fight, but DiPietro has had a history of injuries, including a torn labrum and a meniscus injury in a knee. Knee swelling kept him out for a week this past December.

DiPietro has a 7-10-4 record with a 3.36 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in 21 games this season.


Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun reminiscence about some of the more memorable goalie fights in NHL history, and also provide an update on Ray Emery's potential NHL comeback:

Burnside: Greetings, my friend. Well, it wasn't exactly Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon, but it's always interesting to see goaltenders involved in a dustup. The latest came in the final seconds of Wednesday's 3-0 Pittsburgh victory over the lowly New York Islanders. Brent Johnson followed up a solid 20-save outing with a one-punch knockdown of Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro. DiPietro had gone after Matt Cooke following the Pens' empty-net goal, and Johnson skated the length of the ice and dropped a bomb on DiPietro, who seemed to be smiling just before Johnson landed the punch.

It seems the Islanders can't even get that part of the game right. While I'm not a big fight fan and think the NHL should be taking a harder stand on the appointment fights that are a blight on the game, nothing rallies a team like a goalie who is willing to drop the mitts.

LeBrun: My favorite goalie fight was when Felix Potvin stunned Ron Hextall. What Hextall and many before him didn't know was that Potvin knew his way around the fisticuffs.

"It's funny because people are still surprised by it," Potvin told me for a piece I wrote on him in November 2008. "It's something that will follow me for a long time. It was a good memory. ... My three junior seasons in Chicoutimi, we had a pretty tough team. By the end of practice, guys were joking around and fighting. I guess it helped."

As for DiPietro, you can't blame him for feeling frustrated; another lost season on Long Island, another disappointing season for him. And losing to a Penguins team that had no Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin? Enough is enough. I don't fault DiPietro. (By the way, checked with the league and neither DiPietro nor Johnson face any fines or further discipline.)

Burnside: I happened to be in attendance at perhaps the greatest goalie fight of all time at Joe Louis Arena in March 2008, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche and Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon went toe-to-toe at center ice. That's the night Darren McCarty beat up Claude Lemieux in retribution for his hit on Kris Draper the season before and then came back to score the winner in overtime (how he was still in the game remains a giant mystery, but I digress).

The Red Wings often referred to that emotional win as a springboard to what would result in back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. Not saying this is anything close, but I think Johnson's jumping to Cooke's defense (and remember, it's a long way for a goalie to travel from crease to crease) suggests this is a very tight-knit Penguins team. And you're right, no Malkin, no Crosby, and the Pens again earn two points to keep the pressure on Philadelphia for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. They are a very tough team to play against, on all levels.

LeBrun: Speaking of goalies who like to drop the gloves, Ray Emery appears close to returning to the game. I wrote last fall about his courageous comeback from a hip surgery/condition that should have ended his career.

Late Wednesday night, my "Hockey Night in Canada" colleague Kevin Weekes tweeted that he wouldn't be surprised if Emery ended up with the Anaheim organization. Weekes, a former NHL goalie himself, is tight with Emery. I texted Emery before going to bed, and the former Philadelphia and Ottawa netminder told me he couldn't say anything about any team just yet. His agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, had this to say to me via e-mail:

"He is ready to play. He has worked amazingly hard and feels ready. He wants to join a team next week.'"

The Ducks appear to be in the mix and, given GM Paul Holmgren's fondness for Emery, I'd be surprised if the Flyers didn't at least return a phone call. Having said that, the Flyers have a lot of goalies. I'm told a couple of others teams are also sniffing. Emery would likely begin his comeback in the AHL.

Burnside: Well, that's a nice segue given that we started talking about the Islanders, the new NHL home of Evgeni Nabokov. It was, after all, the Detroit Red Wings that started the Nabokov derby by signing him to a one-year deal. The Islanders then scooped him up, but Emery would not have to pass through waivers since he hasn't played this season. Would the Wings take a chance on Emery? They won 7-5 in Ottawa on Wednesday night, but GM Ken Holland is clearly worried about his goaltending depth because Chris Osgood is on the shelf with a groin problem.

Emery's playoff experience would be a nice addition for the Wings, and if he can stay healthy, he is the kind of goalie who would thrive in Detroit. And what about the Avs? Last in the league in goals against and lots of cap room, plus they wouldn't have to give up any assets to take a run at Emery. If he is healthy, this could be the feel-good story of the season.

LeBrun: Jimmy Howard appears to have lost some of his confidence after a brilliant rookie season. His .904 save percentage is 29th among NHL goalies. Not what the Wings want to see in what is shaping up to be another run at the Cup, and not what Howard wants during a contract year. I agree with you -- Emery could be nice insurance behind Howard and Osgood, especially with Ozzie on the mend. I texted Wings GM Ken Holland this morning and he said they had no interest in Emery. Oh well. Until tomorrow, my friend.

Ranking the best goalie fights

February, 2, 2011
2/02/11
10:54
PM ET

Brent Johnson missed out on a shutout after taking down Rick DiPietro in the final minute of Wednesday's game, but where does this fight rank among some of the best goalie fights in history?

Brent Johnson vs. Rick DiPietro


Felix Potvin vs. Ron Hextall

(courtesy: hockeyfights.com)


Patrick Roy vs. Chris Osgood

(courtesy: hockeyfights.com -- oh the glory days of ESPN2!)


Patrick Roy vs. Mike Vernon

(courtesy: hockeyfights.com)

Got some angry folks this week! Good posts this week, puckheads, couldn't publish them all but a really good selection this week.

courv: PROTECT YOURSELF!!!!

We hear it almost everyday in NHL chatter when it comes to boarding calls and hitting from behind, and there was another prime case [Sunday] night at MSG. Watch the replay where Crombeen hits Stepan into the boards. Stepan looks over his shoulder to see what's coming, see's two or three players right there and instead of putting himself in a good position to take a hit, HE DECIDES TO BEND OVER AND KISS THE BOARDS INSTEAD!!!!

What a moronic play and what a moronic position to put yourself in KNOWING that there's someone right behind you. Crombeen gets five minutes in what could have been a game changing power play in the third period for Stepan's absolute stupidity. These players need to get smarter.

My take: This is indeed a concern from people around the hockey industry, even more so for younger players entering the league. Why? Because the zero tolerance to head shots (which is a good thing) is producing junior-age players that play with their head down way more than generations before (not a good thing). I don't like blaming the victim, but you can't discount what you just described above. Players have to aware of their surroundings on the ice. And I fear that's going to be a huge issue as the years go on and younger players arriving from junior/college ranks skate down the middle of the ice with their head down, not fearing a head hit. The crackdown on head hits is the only way to try and combat the litany of concussions in the game. But a byproduct, for better or worse, will be a generation of future players that put themselves in vulnerable positions on the ice that players of past decades would have never done.

fladtheimpaler76: OMG I have had it with Rick DiPietro! I no longer want to hear that he is "Rusty"! Drafting him No. 1 overall and trading Luongo has set this franchise back on so many levels. It is time to cut bait with this fragile piece of Swiss cheese and pay him to not play in the NHL along with Alexei Yashin. I would much rather ride Roloson for the remainder of the season and give Mikko Koskenen a chance to gain some experience behind him. This Islanders team needs Rock Solid goaltending on a consistent basis to have any chance at success this season and Rick simply cannot provide that. Enough is enough. ARGH!

My take: It's indeed a precarious time right now for DP. To be fair, you can't discount that the dude has barely played in two years. But now that the season is five weeks old, and he's got seven games under his belt, the trend so far is scary. His .854 save percentage and 4.21 goals-against average are ugly, ugly numbers. Sure, he's not playing for the 1976 Montreal Canadiens, but he just has not looked confident at all in net so far. Here's the thing: DiPietro after this season still has 10 more seasons on his NHL contract which pays $4.5 million a year. As a franchise, you've got to give this guy every single possible chance to figure it out because you're on the hook for a lot of cash and term. As a franchise you're already on the hook for Alexei Yashin's contract. You can't do this again, can you? Certainly from the conversation I had with Isles head coach Scott Gordon a few weeks ago when the team was in Toronto, it was clear his marching orders were keep the long-term picture in mind with DP and understand that this season is critical in salvaging his career.

Check Republic: It's time for Darcy Regier to go! He may not be the worst GM in the league, but his lack of results this postseason should be the last straw. Drury, Briere, Campbell, McKee, Lydman, Spacek, Tallinder, Paetsch and the list goes on. Being conservative year in and year out has done nothing but eroded the once excellent Sabres team. The 2006-07 Sabres were one of the best teams we've ever had. What happened Darcy? Need another year off like you had at the lockout, because I have a feeling a "vacation" is not too far away!!

My take: Let's be clear on one thing here: the Sabres can't compete financially with most of the teams in the league. That's reality. Losing Lydman and Tallinder in the offseason was a critical blow, one that I predicted in my preseason work that the Sabres would find very difficult to overcome on the back end. And that's exactly what has happened so far. Thing is, did you see what Lydman and Tallinder got on the open market? No way the Sabres can spend that kind of money. For the Sabres to succeed, and they have aplenty before this miserable start to the season, they need almost everything to go right with their top guys because there's very little room for error. The top guys have not produced well enough this season and it's killing them. I don't see how firing Regier would change the financial reality of the Sabres in the NHL marketplace. They will always, always be in a position where they won't have as much leeway in terms of roster mistakes as other teams in the league. That's reality.

cbj17BRULE: There's no love for the Jackets out there! I understand their reputation is not helping them at all, it has been a long nine seasons, but this team is not necessarily clicking yet and they have a record of 8-5-0. Mathieu Garon has posted two strong shutouts, we've beaten teams like Chicago, Montreal and Philadelphia. Hopefully our game with St. Louis will help us out, I'm not looking for much! Just a little love! Believe it or not Rick Nash is not the only player on the Columbus Blue Jackets! "I don't get no respect!"

My take: Dude, I wrote a Jackets story last week. Where were you!

rupprupp29: Hi Pierre, I've heard a lot of potential rule changes thrown around lately. Any chance that the NHL will let teams decline penalties so they don't have to torture their fans with a depressingly awful power play? Signed, A Penguins Fan

My take: Ha ha, love that. But no, no chance of that.

JasonLightnin: I'm absolutely sick and tired of a "defensively strong roster" in Atlanta that can't seem to play defense. Have you noticed the SA/G number 37.8? That's really really close to 40! It's no wonder we have the 29th ranked defense in hockey. The goalies can still play well (both have well over .900 save percentages) and still give up over 3.5 goals per game! On paper we have one of the best sets of six defensemen in the league, and they can do nothing to stop us from being a decidedly BAD defensive team. Only one time in 10 years have we not been in the bottom half of the league and we were 15th in THE playoff year. When and how can Atlanta end the defensive curse?!

My take: I'm sitting next to veteran hockey writer Kevin Allen of USA Today at the NHL's GM meetings in Toronto, and I swear half an hour ago we were just talking about this very thing. Allen wonders if it's not some kind of "cultural" thing in Atlanta because it's a team that's always given up a lot of shots over the years. Personally, I look at that blue line and I like what I see. But defense is a team thing and watching some of their games this year, I don't always see the defensive commitment from the forwards. That's where it has to start.

bdtepisig: The Avs' blue line has been laughably ineffective but with diaper pail guys like Shattenkirk, Holos, Elliot, Macias, Barrie, etc., can they move a couple in order to get legit stay at home d-men, are you listening Greg Sherman. We need another Adam Foote but preferably one who doesn't pop Geritol between periods. BTW, this is easily the fastest Avs squad since we pillaged the team from Quebec. Even Valerie Kamensky would look slow on this team.

My take: Some things have stayed true from preseason predictions and the Avs are one of them: great, fast forward group, as exciting as any group in the NHL. But a blue line that's Swiss cheese, easily the Achilles' Heel of the club and that continues to play itself out. If Greg Sherman doesn't upgrade on D, Avs fans should revolt.

prashanthiyer: Its time for Jaroslav Halak to get some credit in St. Louis. Everybody has spent so much time discussing Tim Thomas and his resurgence in Boston that people have forgotten to keep up with how hot Halak has been in St. Louis. St. Louis is 9-1-2 with 20 points to lead the NHL. They have given up just 18 goals in those 12 games. If you were to tell me that an offense were to go out and score only 2.4 goals per game to rank near the bottom of the league, I would tell you that that team is going to be near the bottom of the league in the standings. However, Halak (and Conklin) have managed to keep the Blues not just in the race, but first overall. Throw them a bone Pierre.

My take: Wrote a Blues story two weeks ago. Keep up!

Addison L47: Pierre, my rant is against the NHL. Can you please explain to me why on earth they haven't been working harder (or at all) to help facilitate the sale of the Dallas Stars? Here is a franchise with an extremely successful history, a high (albeit lower now than usual) market value, and is largely considered the "model franchise" of the sunbelt. Somehow, with a small budget they've had a strong start to the season -- but it's painfully obvious they need a new owner to keep their players (Richards obviously, but also Daley and eventually Benn extension). If the long reaching arms of the league can #### a hedge fund manager out of the North to own the Lightening, I think they can add a few more bidders to the Stars table. I understand the lenders want their money, and the potential owners want a good deal. However, this is far from the most complicated sale process (Tampa and Phoenix were far worse, for example) and the owner would take possession of half the AAC and control several of the surrounding properties, not to mention their admirable TV contract. To me, it's essential the league saves their shining star (too much?) in the South and finds them an owner(s) immediately. Why the NHL doesn't think the same way, I'm hoping you can explain to me. Huge fan of your work and thanks for the insight.

My take: Great post my friend. This is a good purchase in my mind and it is interesting that it's taken so long to find a buyer. For starters, the sale of the Texas Rangers delayed the process big time. The hockey team had to wait for Tom Hicks to figure out the baseball sale before getting going on the Stars end of things. The most interested buyer for a while and the guy with the deepest pockets was Calgary oil magnate Bill Gallacher but he has since pulled out and is no longer a bidder. That was a big setback for the Stars. The other issue, as per my colleague David Shoalts of the Toronto Globe and Mail who specializes in the NHL's business dealings, is that Hicks (who owns a ton of money to the banks) is asking for too much money for the Stars. But this team will sell. It's a good market and a good purchase in my mind.

Old guy vs. injured guy in Isles' net

October, 19, 2010
10/19/10
3:02
PM ET
The New York Islanders are among the early season's feel-good stories, having overcome long-term injuries to key players to jump out of the gates with a 3-1-2 record.

The obvious thing is that, long-term, the kids on this team have this franchise on the right track. Short term, however, and key to whether the Isles have any chance at the playoffs this season, are the netminders: the old guy and the oft-injured guy.

Dwayne Roloson, 41, and Rick DiPietro, 29, will decide whether there's playoff hockey in Long Island this season. Roloson is off to a fantastic start with a .942 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average to go with his 2-1-0 record. DiPietro, trying to ease his way back into regular duty after two injury-plagued years, hasn't lost in regulation at 1-0-2, but his numbers aren't great: 3.53 GAA and .869 SP.

Isles head coach Scott Gordon told ESPN.com Monday in Toronto that he's chatted with both goalies about his general plan for this season. He told Roloson that DiPietro is important to this franchise and that it's key to get him going again. But he also told the ultracompetitive Roloson that he will get his share of starts, too.

Gordon said he would also reserve the right to act on what he believed were good matchups. So Roloson got the past two starts because of his history at the Air Canada Centre. He backed up last season's heroic, 58-save performance with another gem Monday night, kicking away 29 shots in a 2-1 overtime win over the previously 4-0-0 Maple Leafs.

Score one for Coach Gordon.

How Gordon handles this goalie tandem will be a situation that bears watching all season long. Anyone who has been around Roloson, for example, knows that he wants the net every night. It's his makeup. Gordon will need dexterity in handling that.

"It's one of those things I can't control, I can't control who's playing and who's not playing," Roloson said Monday. "For me to focus on that and mentally worry about it, it's only going to affect my play. So I can't focus on that. Everyone wants to play, of course. You want to be in there. But it's one guy in net, and there's two guys on the team. You can't control that."

DiPietro played in 13 games over the past two seasons. He sounded Monday as though he was ready to roll with the punches no matter what Coach Gordon's decisions would be.

"Listen, man, 1 percent of the entire world gets to be a professional athlete, and I'm one of them," DiPietro said. "I feel truly blessed [and] lucky. As far as taking positives out of what's happened, I can't tell you how much of the little stuff you take for granted when you're here. When you're away from the game, you get a chance to see how truly lucky you are.

"Times I used to get mad when I got hit in the face with the puck, I"m just happy [now] that the puck's hitting me and I get a chance to stop the puck. You know what I mean?"

DiPietro is in the fifth year of a 15-year deal that pays him $4.5 million a year. It's in the franchise's obvious interests to rehabilitate him to the point where hopefully he's back to being a reliable and healthy No. 1. The team is being careful with him, giving him time to recuperate after games and tough practices.

"The previous year he never had the chance to train like an athlete, he had to train like a rehabbing athlete," Gordon said. "This is the first year in a while where he's been able to train to prepare for a season instead of training like he's coming off an injury. He hasn't had a day off because of his knee. It's all been something that we've done to make sure we don't put more wear and tear on him than we have to and allow him to really get up to speed with his own body. We want him to work his way back into it. Two years off is two years off. You can't pretend that you're going to pick it up where you left off."

DiPietro insisted he feels fortunate he's still in this position at all.

"It's been tough, I can't sit here and tell you it's been easy," he said. "A lot of dark days, a lot of times where you don't think you're going to make it. Luckily I have a strong support staff. The trainers have been great. I've got a phenomenal wife who I'm surprised hasn't killed me.

"You've just go to keep battling. I always just kept telling myself that the light at the end of the tunnel was coming and all the hard work was going to eventually pay off."

Roloson? He just turned 41 last week but looks and feels younger. He's earning $3 million this season ($2.5 million cap hit), and he'll be an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"I'm feeling real good. The body feels great. Just plugging away," he said Monday.

Roloson? DiPietro? That's the question for Coach Gordon in 2010-11, and every decision will have an impact on this season's win total.

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