It’s a little sad to think about when you first saw someone on your favorite team play a game, and then fast-forward a few years to see that same player so far from where you, he, or anyone else had expected him to be.
But that’s exactly what I’ve experienced now with Rick DiPietro, the now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t man with an anvil of a contract who’s just trying to regain his footing in the NHL. Twelve years ago, the then-eighteen-year-old DiPietro was drafted out of Boston University No. 1 overall by the Islanders. After leaving BU, he bounced in and out of the minors and got brief playing time on the Island before coming up for good in 2003-04. Then he played a couple of seasons before the first of his myriad injuries.
This season, on Fan Appreciation Night against Ottawa, he was seen giving out autographs and passes for a free hot dog and a drink at the Coliseum, detailed in an article titled “Have Lunch At the Islanders Game on Rick DiPietro.”
Indeed, how the mighty have fallen.
Where and when did the “tragedy” start? You can say it began in 2007, when DiPietro suffered his first major injury. He’d played admirably in 62 games, posting a .919 save percentage and a 2.58 GAA, as well as 32 wins. But on March 13, 2007, he collided with Steve Begin of the Montreal Canadiens after a headlong rush toward him, in an attempt to bat the puck away. He suffered a concussion, came back, left again after suffering another (or perhaps re-aggravating the first) and then, after Wade Dubielewicz poke-checked the Isles into the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference quarters, taking over the reins. He posted a .898 save % and a 3.31 GAA, far from the stellar netminder he had been.
Then came the surgeries. In the 2007 offseason, it was a hip surgery. Then the 2007-08 season, when he “f***ed up his hip” in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, kept playing until the Isles were eliminated from playoff contention, and then had another hip surgery. From then on, it seemed to be endless: two knee surgeries (both to repair meniscus tears) and complications from those surgeries that had him done for the 2008-09 season. A return in January 2010, only to bow out again with more knee problems. Emerging healthy in the 2010-11 season, ending up back on IR in December 2010 with knee swelling, watching Dwayne Roloson become the #1 guy and then, after Roloson was traded, he ended up with an orbital bone broken thanks to playing Muhammad Ali with Brent Johnson.
And then the 2011-12 season. DiPietro lost footing to Al Montoya, who was picked up by the Isles in the wake of Evgeni Nabokov’s refusal to report and DP’s umpteenth IR stint and played admirably. (Side note: Ironically, DiPietro and Montoya also fought each other a few years back in a preseason Isles-Rangers game.) Three games into the season, DP was once again on IR with a concussion due to a Brian Rolston shot that caught him in the temple. He returned, won a game, and then left the ice once more with a sports hernia. Which brings us to this point, and his playing lunch-lady to fans who have been mocking him for years.
If I sound flippant, it’s not out of any kind of disrespect. I seriously was a Rick DiPietro fan. I wore his number, #39, as my number in high school, because we’re both goalies. I was considering going to Boston University, what would have been Rick’s alma mater, after high school; yeah, I was “that girl.” And I enjoyed it. But then the injuries happened, and admiration turned to sorrow, turned to exasperation, and finally, turned to pity.
There’s no telling exactly what is going to happen with Ricky, but this is for sure: he’s no longer a reliable option for the #1 netminder on the Island. He’s still a decent goalie, with a career .903 save percentage and a 2.86 GAA, but he’s only played 42 games in three seasons, and his last two years are marred by sub-par numbers. Evgeni Nabokov has provided the bulk of the Isles’ wins this past season after December and is locked in for another year; as for Montoya, he may not be on the Island next season, but younger goalies such as Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin are no doubt hungry to prove themselves as worthy of a backup position at the very least (and each of them has the talent to do so, as far as I can tell). Garth Snow’s made it clear that DiPietro is a part of the franchise, but he also needs to realize the value of these two goalies- and come training camp, if either of them outplays DiPietro, then they deserve the #2 spot.
I can’t ignore the emotional toll this has to be taking on DiPietro; he’s always been a competitive person and hockey player, and I’m sure he hates to be on the sidelines. After years of trying to get back into it, no doubt he’s suffered his share of bad days and hopeless feelings. It’s obviously important for him to be involved with the team, and I’m sure this “Have Lunch on Rick” day was meant to convey that. I just don’t know how much more he can do for the Isles- and if he somehow does come back, it will have to be as a backup, because there’s just no way you sit down Nabokov now. As Arthur Staple said in his “5 Ways to Make Islanders a Contender,” there really can’t be any more kid-glove treatment with DiPietro. He’s not 19 anymore- and he’s still got almost a decade to go on his contract.
Yep, it’s a clusterflunk as usual. Not much more we can do but wait and hope that Rick can somehow pull it together- and if he can’t, that the Isles act accordingly.