Goalie Rick DiPietro addresses the media after signing a 15-year, $67.5-million US deal with the New York Islanders on Sept. 12, 2006 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images files
VANCOUVER — It is a given that the first wave of ridicule in the wake of Friday’s news that the New York Islanders had placed Rick DiPietro on waivers would wash over the hapless 31-year-old goaltender, no doubt inflicting a torn knee ligament, assuming they haven’t all been removed and sent to the Smithsonian.
But if there’s a God, the second, bigger wave — a tsunami, if possible — and every wave after it should knock Mike Milbury clean off his bully pulpit at the NBC Sports Network, and then capsize the dinghy which Islanders owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow have been rowing around in circles together for nigh on seven funny/sad hockey seasons.
Each time DiPietro’s name comes up, now and forever more, The Three Stooges — one former, two current — of a once-storied franchise, now bound for Brooklyn, deserve all the scorn there is.
DiPietro? He is, if you think about it a little, the victim here. An extraordinarily well-paid one, it is true, with eight more years after this one left on the 15-year contract the Islanders handed him in September 2006, at $4.5 million per season, but a victim nonetheless.
You’ve heard of no-trade, no-movement clauses? This one had a no-win clause. The dollars alone, let alone the length of the deal, guaranteed that the star-crossed goaltender would fail. And so he has.
Not without a lot of comedy between 2006 and Friday, mind you. Not without a scarcely believable list of abject physical miseries both minor and major, including the rare facial injuries/knee injury double DiPietro sustained when Pittsburgh’s backup goalie Brent Johnson one-punched his lights out in an ill-advised goalie fight in 2011.
That would be either the high point or the low point, depending on your comedic sensibility.
But who among us would turn down $67.5 million from an employer who had more money than hockey sense? Even if, in our heart of hearts, we knew we weren’t worth it and never would be, which of us would say: “No, Charles, you are making a mistake. Five years is plenty.”
As it turned out, even five years would have been about three too many. DiPietro has appeared in just 50 of the Islanders’ last 345 games, dating back to the start of the 2008-09 season.
The club’s decision to cut its losses at long last means that, though DiPietro will get all the money still owed to him, the Islanders will incur only a $1.5-million annual cap hit ... for 16 years after this one. That’s thanks to the compliance/amnesty buyout provision built into the new collective bargaining agreement.
It gets the Isles off the salary cap hook more lightly than they deserve.
To trace it to its genesis, the Rick DiPietro lunacy really began on draft day 2000, when Milbury, then the Isles’ GM, ignored the advice of saner hockey men and spent the No. 1 overall pick on a goalie he did not need — because of course, three years earlier he had used the No. 4 overall selection, at the time the earliest pick ever for a goalie, to get Roberto Luongo.
Never mind, Milbury said. You’ll see. That same day, he traded Luongo, and Olli Jokinen, to Florida for (wait for it) ... Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.
As an aside, one year later, on draft day (or Daft Day, as it became known on the Island), Milbury sent Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt and the second overall pick, with which the Senators took Jason Spezza, to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin, then re-signed Yashin to a 10-year, $87.5-million contract.
Remember this, the next time a GM makes an unwise trade, and Milbury is asked on the NHL Tonight panel for his expert opinion on it between periods.
Mad Mike now exited the Islander narrative, however, and Wang, after hiring former Rangers GM Neil Smith, fired him 41 days later and gave the job to Snow — previously famous for wearing the biggest set of shoulder pads in goaltending history — the same day the goalie announced his retirement.
Two months later, Wang signed DiPietro, who had one NHL playoff win on his resume at the time, and has one more since, to his 15-year deal. The hockey world issued a collective WTH. (Heck, if you were wondering.)
"It means the owner is a moron,” an unnamed NHL executive told Scott Burnside at ESPN.
Snow, new as he was to the job, somehow escaped credit for the DiPietro signing, for which Sports Illustrated named him the 2006-07 NHL executive of the year. It couldn’t have been because the Islanders finished eighth and lost to Buffalo in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
In five seasons with Florida, meanwhile, Luongo never played a playoff game — and getting away from the Island was still a career upgrade.
So now, the Islanders will eat $3.6 million to play DiPietro (or not play him) with Bridgeport in the AHL, while Kevin Poulin is called up to the big team where Evgeni Nabokov holds down the No. 1 spot. Tim Thomas is nominally also on the roster, though in reality he is in seclusion with his Tea Party survivalist guide, destined to have the last laugh when the bleeding-heart liberal Obama administration brings on the Apocalypse.
Friday, 33 years to the day after Team USA celebrated its Miracle On Ice at Lake Placid, a guy who once looked like the heir-apparent to American-born goaltending heroes like Frank Brimsek and Jack McCarten, Jim Craig and Mike Richter is instead cast upon the scrap-heap by a franchise so down-at-heels, its constituents didn’t even put up much of a fight to keep it from moving to Brooklyn.
Via the PuckDaddy hockey blog’s Greg Wyshynski, here was the signature punchline to the day’s developments, courtesy of @NotBenE: “How long before Charles Wang sees that DiPietro is on waivers and tries to claim him?”
It’s a sad story all around, for more than just Rick DiPietro.
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