Make mention of that contract to a New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers fan, and the reaction will be more pointed—blatant laughter verging on open ridicule of a team that continues to trip over itself in its haste to worsen its position in the NHL.
DiPietro has been the subject of many conversations in NHL circles throughout his career, but not for his quality of play. Unfortunately for the Islanders and their fans, DiPietro’s 15-year $67.5M contract isn’t the method by which the team secured a franchise goaltender.
In fact, it’s been just the opposite.
Islanders’ owner Charles Wang—along with the team’s general manager Garth Snow—thought they were locking up a can’t-miss prospect in DiPietro when they signed him to that deal in 2006.
And for the amount of time on the deal, the attitude on Long Island was that they’d better have the second coming of Patrick Roy or Jacques Plante on their hands, if they were willing to make DiPietro an Islander until his 40th birthday.
The contract itself can be considered an abomination or a simple mistake, depending on your point of view; most would agree it’s nothing if not wrong.
Seeing as how it continues to haunt the team this season—as DiPietro is again sidelined by injuries—let’s take a look at how his contract has become the longest-running joke in the league.
Consider Rick DiPietro’s stats after the 2005-06 NHL season—the time he signed that infamous 15-year deal with the New York Islanders: a 30-24-5 record, a .900 save percentage and a 3.02 goals-against average in 63 games during the year.
His numbers were by no means pedestrian; compared to what the Isles had been getting in terms of production from their goalies in years past, DiPietro’s level of play was a revelation.
However, his career numbers at the time of the contract signing didn’t necessarily warrant a mega-deal to the tune of $67.5 million: a 58-62-13 record and a 2.85 GAA in 143 NHL games.
Even if DiPietro’s play had increased to an All-Star caliber for the duration of the deal, it still wouldn’t have made sense for the team to offer him 15 years in a single contract.
At the time of the signing, DiPietro’s $4.5 million salary accounted for a little over 10 percent of the team’s salary cap. For a team looking to build around a potential franchise goaltender, handing him a deal that all but eliminated its ability to sign other big-name players was not a smart decision.
New York Islanders owner Charles Wang selected Rick DiPietro with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NHL entry draft with the idea of turning him into the cornerstone of the franchise.
A lofty goal, but not necessarily a bad one.
I’m not knocking Wang’s intention to make DiPietro the face of the franchise from Day One, but I do take issue with his insistence that the term “franchise player” equate to a ridiculous contract with little upside for the team.
Wang’s decision to offer DiPietro a 15-year deal all but destroyed what little credibility the owner of the Islanders had left at the time.
Wang was quoted as saying that people might think he was crazy for doing the deal, but it was a product of his business sense. The problem with that argument is that as much as team owners like to think they can apply business acumen to any scenario, business sense doesn’t necessarily translate to the front office of a professional sports team.
I don’t fault Wang for wanting to revitalize the Islanders as a franchise, especially after the Alexei Yashin contract debacle. I do, however, fault him for not learning from his mistakes.
Offering a player a long-term deal isn’t the method by which a team should demonstrate its commitment to said player; a better alternative would be to adequately compensate that player for his services, while allowing the team room to build a formidable team around that player.
Prior to signing what was likely going to be his last professional hockey contract, Rick DiPietro admitted that he had a desire to play for the New York Islanders for the rest of his career.
Believe me, DiPietro might have been the only NHLer at the time to say that. The franchise was in disarray, struggling at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and had little upside. DiPietro shouldn’t be faulted for wanting to turn the franchise around.
When DiPietro and team owner Charles Wang couldn’t come to an agreement on a long-term contract before the 2005-06 NHL season, they settled on a one-year, $2.5 million deal.
The idea of locking DiPietro up long-term was still Wang’s ultimate goal, which played out in all its glory the following summer.
As per his personal policy, Wang wouldn’t allow players who had not signed a contract to play during the preseason. With the 2005-06 season fast approaching, Wang rushed into the 15-year deal with DiPietro so that the team could showcase their new franchise player as soon as possible.
The result was that the new deal overpaid and over-extended DiPietro, as Isles fans know too well.
As with any long-term deal for a franchise prospect, Rick DiPietro’s 15-year contract carried with it the burden of championship or bust.
Because he’d likely be an Islander for the rest of his career—due to the inability of the team to trade a guaranteed contract worth $67.5 million to another team—DiPietro would face the wrath of the fans if he didn’t live up to the hype.
In short, if DiPietro didn’t carry the team to multiple Stanley Cup titles he’d be branded as a bust for the rest of his playing days—and likely every day thereafter.
The contract effectively labeled DiPietro a savior for the Islanders; it was unrealistic to think that his quality of play would last for the entirety of the deal. And even if the team got a few solid seasons out of him, DiPietro would almost certainly spend the twilight of his career collecting his paycheck while sitting on the bench, relegated to a backup role.
At worst, he’d be viewed as a player who picked up his paycheck with a ski mask and a gun—which is almost where we’re headed.
DiPietro has struggled to remain healthy since he signed his contract in 2006, causing the fans to question how he could continue to cash a check written for services he couldn’t provide.
DiPietro is again on injured reserve this season and is again being used as a cautionary tale to over-anxious GMs who want to offer long-term deals to their players.
The title of the page says it all: DiPietro Biggest Draft Bust Since 1990?
I wish I could say this is the only article of its kind. I wish I could say that. But the NHL is no fairy-tale world.
(And neither are Internet message boards.)
The New York Islanders are often referred to as a once-proud franchise or a team with a storied history. And while those phrases are good for those who like reminiscing about four consecutive Stanley Cup titles in the early 1980s, they don’t hold much water when it comes to the here and now.
Today, fans of opposing teams heckle DiPietro and Islanders fans alike for the goaltender’s 15-year deal. Every goal scored on the former face of the franchise—prior to the concussion he sustained earlier this season—was cause for fans of the opposition to celebrate.
Those celebrations weren’t limited to the fact that their team had just scored; the fact that the goal had come at the expense of the player who had signed the most infamous contract in Isles’ history was the icing on the celebratory cake.
Owner Charles Wang’s ability to assemble a team that can contend for a title is often called into question, and the issuance of the DiPietro contract only fueled the perception of the Islanders as more of a circus than a professional hockey franchise.
Rick DiPietro, for all the promise he showed at the outset of his career, is now synonymous with all-time busts, worst signings and biggest letdowns in professional sports.
It seems like a harsh punishment for a guy who simply signed his name on a piece of paper. After all, DiPietro didn’t force team owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow to offer him 15 years and $67.5 million for his services.
And no matter how well DiPietro plays for the remainder of his NHL career—which by this point doesn’t look promising—he will never again be regarded as the franchise player he was once believed to be.
The contract itself is the reason that DiPietro’s name is cause for a smirk. If he had instead been signed to a shorter deal worth less money, fans and the media would have no reason to assign him blame for not living up to manufacture hype.
But as it stands, DiPietro will be on the Islanders payroll for the duration of his contract despite his inability to stay on the ice.
Again, it’s not Rick DiPietro’s fault that an inept New York Islanders front office decided to throw 15 years and $67.5 million at him nearly six years ago. And he’s not the one to blame for inciting a rash of long-term contracts in the NHL that have now become commonplace.
It’s the contract itself that’s the reason big-name players in the league are routinely signed to mega-deals today.
Players like Ilya Kovalchuk (15-year deal), Alexander Ovechkin (13-year deal) and Jeff Carter (11-year deal) are the norm when it comes to star players inking long-term deals.
Considering that the length of DiPietro’s contract was considered outrageous in 2006, the league and its fans have come a long way in terms of their acceptance of the cost of doing business in the NHL.
Granted, DiPietro’s injury history has turned his 15-year contract into a noose around the neck of the Islanders franchise, but the multi-year deals handed out to the top players today carry the same risk as DiPietro’s.
Should Kovalchuk or Ovechkin or Carter start showing up on the injury report for their respective teams, there would almost certainly be talk about how their contracts suddenly weren’t worth the money.
Or the risk.
I should know. I have one.
Believe me, it’s not easy to wear this into a visiting arena.
(Hypothetical scenario: Even when your team is hypothetically in last place and you’re hypothetically watching them get destroyed at the TD Garden on a Thursday night in 2010, the fans around you in black and gold are still relentless in their reminders—after each Bruins goal—that DiPietro is only famous for his contract. And by the time it’s 4-0 in the second period, you’re hypothetically wondering if the Bruins team store will be able to change the numbers and lettering on your DiPietro 39 jersey, if only out of pity.)
Rick DiPietro is not a bad hockey player. He is not a bad teammate. He is not a bad person. But for all the criticism he receives in the media because of his contract, the casual hockey fan wouldn’t know that about him.
The most important reason why DiPietro’s 15-year, $67.5 million contract is the worst in NHL history is that it turned him into a fall guy.
While it’s true that the anger of the fans can be directed at the front office for offering the deal—as it should be—it’s often directed at the player who signs his name on the dotted line.
We as fans want to see hockey played at its highest level. And when a big-name player signs a contract worthy of what a team perceives to be his potential, we feel cheated when he doesn’t live up to the hype.
Perhaps it’s part of the human condition, but it’s unfair nonetheless.
Unless DiPietro—when healthy—is the first guy on and the last guy off the ice all season long, he will always be viewed as a player who isn’t doing enough to earn his contract.
DiPietro’s not a bad guy; he only signed a contract that was offered to him.