The New York Islanders have announced that they will use a compliance buyout on goalie Rick DiPietro. As a result of the deal, the Isles will pay their former goalie $1.5 million per-year over the next 16 years. The money will not count against the salary cap.
It is a sad ending to what was once a bright and promising career for DiPietro. Fairly or not, the goalie and his contract had become a symbol to many fans of everything that was wrong with the franchise in recent years.
DP started the 2012-13 season as Evgeni Nabokov’s backup, but after three poor performances early in the season, the Islanders placed him on waivers and then sent him to Bridgeport of the AHL for the remainder of the season. He never played another game for the Islanders.
GM Garth Snow told Newsday, “It is an extremely tough decision to use the compliance buyout on Rick’s contract. His drive to win games and compete at the highest level for the New York Islanders was never questioned. With Rick back at 100 percent, we wish him nothing but the best as he continues to pursue his career.”
The Islanders selected DiPietro with the first overall pick in the 2000 NHL Draft. They later traded Roberto Luongo to make room for DP to become the team’s starter.
DiPietro had some very good seasons with the Islanders before recurring injuries disrupted his career. Highlights include a franchise-record 56 save effort against the Rangers on March 5, 2007, and being selected to the All-Star Game in 2008. But just like DiPietro’s luck, those highlights had their darker moments as well. The 56-save game against the Rangers was a 2-1 shootout loss while DP injured his hip during the skills competition at the All-Star Game and the entire hockey world heard him use an expletive as he was miked up when the injury took place.
The Islanders signed DiPietro to an historic contract on September 12, 2006. It was a 15-year, $67.5 million deal that was designed to keep the former Boston University star an Islander for the rest of his career.
The rest of the league laughed at the contract, which was revolutionary at the time. The average salary of $4.5 million-per-season was fair for a starting goalie, but the length of the deal was unprecedented and it was clear the Islanders were taking a large risk that DiPietro would stay healthy and continue to develop into an all star goaltender.
Unfortunately, DiPietro could not stay healthy. What followed was a string of injuries, surgeries and rehab stints. There were several concussions followed by multiple procedures on his hips and knees.
After playing 60-plus games in the first three years after the 2004-05 lockout, DiPietro was out of the lineup more than he was in. He played five NHL games in 2008-09 and just eight in 2009-10. In 2010-11, he played in 26 games, but was not playing up to his former level. He was later injured on in a February game against the Penguins when he got into a fight with Pittsburgh goalie Brent Johnson who broke some of DiPietro’s facial bones with a one-punch knockout. In 2011-12, DP managed to play in only eight games and then just three last season before he was exiled to Bridgeport.
Through it all, DiPietro matured off the ice and worked hard to try to get back on it. He matured from a cocky young player to a thoughtful and more philosophical one and few players worked harder to rehab and get back into the lineup.
But most fans never saw how hard DP worked. They had to endure five straight seasons without a playoff berth. The fans saw DiPietro’s endless contract and heard the abuse heaped upon their team by opposing fans who never stopped reminding them that the Islanders gave a 15-year-contract to a goalie was never seemed to be healthy enough to play. Fairly or not, Rick DiPietro became a symbol of everything that was wrong with the Islanders franchise. The fans turned on him on those rare occasions when he was in the lineup, especially when he didn’t play well.
The Rick DiPietro era on Long Island ended not with a bang but with a whimper. The Islanders will have DP on their payroll through the 2028-29 season, but with this buyout, his Islanders career is over. Whether any other NHL team shows an interest remains to be seen.
Now the Islanders face the task of finding another goaltender. Evgeni Nabokov got them to the playoffs this past season, but he is not expected back after his agent and GM Garth Snow were unable to reach an agreement on a new deal. Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson remain in the system but are not considered ready to be NHL starters. The Islanders have to bring in a new goalie for next season once free agency gets under way on July 5.