April 4, 1998 is one of those days that will live forever in Ranger-Islander lore. That was the day the Islanders won the game but lost the fight. The fight specifically between goaltenders Dan Cloutier and Tommy Salo.
Actually a fight involves two combatants. Salo just turned turtle and Cloutier used him as a punching bag. Before skating back and forth along the Islander bench calling everyone out. Pretty embarrassing actually.
Right then, combative Islander general manager Mike Milbury probably made up his mind that he wasn't going to keep no Swedish sissy on his roster. In any event, Salo was traded the following year and the Milbury Goalie Merry-Go-Round kicked into gear.
In 2000, Milbury traded another goalie by the name of Roberto Luongo to Florida along with Ollie Jokkinen for a couple of bottle caps and spare change. The door was opened for that move at the 2000 Draft when Mad Mike passed on a couple of forwards who never amounted to anything named Heatley and Gaborik in favor of one Rick DiPietro, Pride of Waltham, Mass.
DiPietro, DP to Islander fans, became the first goaltender ever drafted number one overall. In fact, DP's selection broke the previous mark for earliest selection of a goaltender at number four overall set by Milbury three years earlier when he chose, you guessed it, Roberto Luongo. Yeah, patience is not a virtue Mad Mike is blessed with.
In 2006, Milbury and owner Charles Wang, apparently having decided that they could not draft a goalie higher than number one overall, signed DP to a 15 year, $67.5 million contract, the longest in NHL history. A year later, DP rewarded Milbury's faith in him by knocking the stuffing out of Ranger goaltender Al Montoya (see picture above), thus avenging Salo's Shame.
Unfortunately, DP's record when it comes to, you know, goaltending has been a little less impressive. Counting overtime and shootout losses as, well, losses, he is 119-138-8 with a 2.79 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. Granted he hasn't exactly had Norris Trophy winners playing defense in front of him, but both DP and the Islanders had higher hopes when he was picked number one.
Lately, in fact, the real challenge for DP has been staying healthy enough to play at all. Since March, 2007, he has had a concussion and two surgical hip repairs, but has been most troubled by his left knee.
DP had it surgically repaired during Summer, 2008. He returned in the 2008-09 campaign, reinjured it and had surgery again. He returned in December but was shut down for the season due to the knee becoming swollen the following month after playing in only five games. He came back this January, lost five of seven starts, and was again shut down for the season because of a swollen left knee.
At this point, it is not clear that Rick DiPietro has a future as an NHL goaltender. The team simply cannot continue to hold his roster spot and $4.5 million in cap money indefinitely in hopes that he will be able to revive his career.
Goaltending prospects like Mikko Koskinnen and Kevin Poulin will be NHL-ready before long and they cannot and should not be denied a roster spot to keep the dream alive for DP. And, while the team has plenty of cap space now, Garth will need to sign quality free agents and players like John Tavares, Josh Bailey, and Kyle Okposo will be looking for major salary boosts.
This season should tell the story. If DP can make 15-20 starts without his knee swelling and play reasonably well, perhaps there is reason to hope that he can return to his spot as number one Islander goaltender. If he cannot do this and is unwilling to retire, he should be placed on waivers and sent up to Bridgeport. Perhaps he can revive his career there--without interfering with the Islanders' quest for a fifth Stanley Cup.
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