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Tuesday, September 12, 2006
DiPietro's record 15-year deal will pay him $67.5M news services

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders have become the NHL's version of a three-ring circus -- and the spotlight keeps shining on the guys in net.

DiPietro's 15-year deal
The Islanders and goalie Rick DiPietro agreed to a 15-year, $67.5 million contract, believed to be the second-longest in North American sports.
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"I guess it's pretty beneficial to be a goaltender on Long Island right now," Rick DiPietro said Tuesday, moments after signing the longest playing contract in NHL history.

One week shy of his 25th birthday, the brash netminder from New England grabbed a pen and confidently inked his name to a 15-year deal that will pay him $4.5 million each season until 2021, totaling $67.5 million.

"Well, 15 years seems like a long time," he said before a deep sigh. "It is a long time."

Standing next to him was Garth Snow, his 37-year-old former teammate and backup, who hung up his skates earlier this summer the same day he took over as Islanders general manager. If that was strange enough, he was replacing Neil Smith, who had been on the job a little more than a month.

Snow's biggest priority suddenly became negotiating the deal to keep the Islanders' most popular player in the fold until he's nearly 40.

"At first it was a little awkward," DiPietro said.

And so it goes for the Islanders, who always seem to make more news and noise during the offseason than in winter.

"This is not a big deal," owner Charles Wang said. "You have to have a commitment to who you're working with. I've done this all my business career. Now I'm doing it in sports and everybody is like, 'Oh my God. How could he do that?"'

He's been hearing that a lot. The Islanders missed the playoffs and then led the league in summer news conferences.

Since they last played, the Islanders have hired a coach (Ted Nolan) who was out of the league since being dismissed by Buffalo in 1997; a GM (Smith) in NHL exile since he was fired by the Rangers in 2000; and then his replacement (Snow), who was set to play another season.

DiPietro's landmark deal topped the one given to enigmatic teammate Alexei Yashin in 2001, a 10-year, $87.5 million contract that sent NHL salaries soaring and led to the cap that ended last year's lockout.

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It also saddled New York with a player who is nearly impossible to move and takes up a big chunk of the team's $44 million maximum payroll.

"We have to do it together," said Yashin, one of several Islanders at the news conference. "The contract is the contract, and we have to keep focus on the game now."

But with the Islanders, the focus is often elsewhere. Wang acknowledged that some people might think he's "crazy," yet he is undeterred.

DiPietro's deal is believed to be second only in length in North American sports to the 25-year pact Magic Johnson signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1981.

According to sources at both the NHLPA and the NHL, here's how the deal shakes out:

• As long as DiPietro wants to play for the Islanders, he will be paid for the duration of the deal barring either a trade to another NHL team or his retirement.

• If he's traded, his contract goes with him as it was negotiated and becomes the responsibility of the team that acquires him (there currently is no provision for sharing contracts between teams).

• If he formally retires, providing the league with the appropriate papers to that effect, the contract ends and does not count against the Islanders' salary cap.

"Clubs are free to make their own decisions" within the rules, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "Time will tell whether this will be a good decision or a bad one for the Islanders."

And for DiPietro.

The Islanders will save money at the front end and won't have to worry about DiPietro becoming an unrestricted free agent down the road. DiPietro risks losing a future big payday, but he isn't looking at it that way.

"I hope at some point I'm underpaid," DiPietro said. "That means I'm playing really well and becoming an elite goaltender."

The contract is guaranteed. DiPietro will be paid in full should he retire because of injury; if he ends his career otherwise before the deal expires, he would forfeit the remaining dollars.

He will be the eighth highest-paid goalie in the NHL. Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo top the list at $6.75 million.

DiPietro was 30-24-5 with a 3.02 goals-against average in 63 games last season. He is 58-62-13 with a 2.85 GAA in 143 NHL games.

"I don't really think that player salaries are going to go up that much more to be honest. I mean, how much higher can they go?" DiPietro said.

DiPietro and Wang talked about a 15-year deal last summer when DiPietro expressed he wanted to spend his entire career with the Islanders, who made the Boston University freshman the first goalie chosen with the No. 1 pick in the 200 draft.

But hurdles regarding insurance of the contract killed those plans, and they agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.

Both sides were pressed to come to a new agreement quickly as the Islanders open training camp this week in Nova Scotia. Wang has a policy that players who aren't signed in time for camp won't play during the season.

"I wasn't worried about it," DiPietro said. "I knew that things would take care of themselves. They did, and we're happy."

Information from NHL writer Scott Burnside and The Associated Press contributed to this report.