By Allan Muir
The first time I met Rick DiPietro was at the 2001 NHL Entry Draft in Sunrise, Fla. It was a year after he'd been selected first overall and the Islanders rookie was in town doing press for the league. Smart move. The kid was a natural in front of the camera, handsome, charming, quick-witted. Exactly the image the NHL wanted to present. He was having so much fun with our piece that we gave him the mic and turned him loose to interview a few of the top prospects for us. Comedy gold ensued.
DiPietro that day lived up to his well-established reputation for being cocky, but in an amiable enough sort of way. It was an aggressive strain of confidence that suggested he'd lived a life where things had pretty much always gone his way and he knew they pretty much always would.
It didn't quite work out that way, of course. There were glorious moments for DiPietro during his 12-year-career--the starting role at the 2006 Olympics, the record 56-save game in 2007--but mostly there was struggle. Struggle to validate his draft position. Struggle to stay healthy. Struggle to live up to the most bloated contract in NHL history: 15 years, $67.5 million, signed in 2006 after a 30-win season.
DiPietro won't have to live up to it anymore. The Islanders announced today that they'd waived the 31-year-old netminder. Once he clears -- there is greater chance that the Rangers will move to Long Island than of another team picking up that tab -- he'll be assigned to Bridgeport the AHL, where he'll likely sit out the season to avoid being injured and wait to have his contract bought out under the amnesty provision of the new CBA.
But unlike Scott Gomez and Wade Redden, two veteran players who quickly found new NHL homes earlier this season after being bought out from under their own untenable deals, DiPietro's career is finished.
If health concerns alone didn't deter potential suitors -- he's played just 47 games since 2008 -- then his recent play would do the trick.
DiPietro isn't even a borderline NHLer at this point. Last season, he posted a 3.73 GAA and .876 save percentage in just eight appearances. In three games this year, he was saddled with three losses, an .855 save percentage and a 4.05 GAA. A 23-save performance in Tuesday's 3-1 loss to Ottawa frayed what little leash he had left and his coaches decided, finally, that he couldn't be trusted with another start.
Done at 31. That's young by goalie standards, but honestly, it seems amazing that he lasted this long, doesn't it? He battled. And he lost. It's tough to feel bad for a guy who will eventually take home more than $24 million for staying away from the Isles. Still, thinking back on that day in Florida, I have to think the game could have used a little more of what DiPietro had before it all went away.