2011-12 New York Islanders: Do They Need to Consider Buying out Rick DiPietro?

Michael WillhoftContributor IIIJanuary 15, 2012

UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 10: Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders takes part in the team's celebration following their 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October10, 2011 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With the recent news of New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro’s decision to undergo surgery to repair a sports hernia, it appears that his 2011-12 NHL season has come to an end.

Not exactly a surprise for the oft-injured goaltender who’s made more headlines in recent years for his 15-year, $67.5M contract than for his quality of play.

Although it hasn’t been publicly stated that DiPietro will definitely miss the rest of the season, the Isles have no incentive to rush him back to action should his recovery proceed ahead of schedule.

Islanders general manager Garth Snow has stated that the best-case scenario for DiPietro would be a return to the lineup in early April. But considering that the Isles are on pace for a finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference again—much to the chagrin of their fans—Snow might insist that head coach Jack Capuano make use of young goalies Al Montoya and Kevin Poulin down the stretch.

Assuming Montoya doesn’t suffer any setbacks coming back from a concussion, it will be up to him to bolster the team between the pipes when he returns.

Now that it looks like a push for the playoffs might not be in the cards for the Islanders this year, it’ll be up to the front office to focus on planning for the 2012-13 season.

One decision that deserves heavy consideration is the one regarding DiPietro’s contract. More specifically, the team needs to decide if now is the time to buy out the remaining nine years on his deal.

UNIONDALE, NY - NOVEMBER 03: Nik Antropov #80 of the Winnipeg Jets is tripped up as Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders makes the save at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on November 3, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. The Jets defeated the Islan
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As much as it pains me to bring this up, the team needs to consider all options with regards to the future of the franchise. If cutting salary in order to make a run at signing a big-name player in the future is part of the overall plan, buying out DiPietro’s contract is a good business decision.

DiPietro’s injury history has made his contract almost unbearable from the team’s perspective; obviously, the team would love to see him get healthy and fulfill the potential they saw in him back in 2006, but they can’t afford to pay him $4.5M a year to sit on the bench.

The total cost of buying out DiPietro’s contract would be $27M, much less than the $40.5M the goaltender is currently owed under the terms of his deal.

Currently, DiPietro is on the books for nine more years at $4.5M per year; assuming a buyout date of June 15th, the Isles would save a total of $13.5M over the course of the buyout based on the payment structure: $1.5M per year through the 2029-30 NHL season.

I realize that a buyout means paying him over a longer period of time than paying him according to what his contract would require, but the upside is the financial flexibility it would allow the team.

Instead of taking a salary cap hit of $4.5M per season for DiPietro’s deal, the team would be credited with a $1.5M bonus per year—the cost of each season’s buyout payment—towards the cap, thereby allowing them to allocate money for a potential free-agent signing or a contract extension for an expiring player.

A decision to buy out the remaining years on DiPietro’s deal might be the best course of action for a team that routinely finds itself at the bottom of the league and struggling to sign big-name talent.

Although a buyout is essentially an admission of defeat—in that the team is basically calling the contract a mistake—it allows the team to cut ties with a player in an economically beneficial manner.

Since DiPietro’s contract is guaranteed, there’s no wiggle room in terms of his salary if he decides to keep playing. If the Islanders don’t buy out his deal, DiPietro will be able to collect his $4.5M per year as long as he doesn’t retire due to injury.

Now that DiPietro has stated he’s not considering retirement after his most recent injury, it seems that he’s not ready to give up his paycheck despite facing another surgery.

And I can’t say that I blame him. Would you be able to walk away from a salary like that?

As an Islanders fan, it’s tough to consider how buying out DiPietro’s deal would affect the team from a public relations standpoint. I realize that DiPietro has given maximum effort during his time in the NHL and the fact that he wanted to be an Islander for his entire career only makes him more likable as a player.

It’s unfortunate that DiPietro never had a chance to live up to his contract because of a myriad injuries. I’ll always consider his career on Long Island as an example of potential being derailed by injury, instead of an example of a player not living up to his deal.

It can be a difficult decision when a team considers cutting a player or buying out his contract. But when it comes to the New York Islanders and DiPietro, a buyout is the correct decision, no matter how difficult it may be in making.