Rick DiPietro was the first goaltender ever drafted No. 1 overall by an NHL team. Chosen by the New York Islanders in 2000 ahead of such future stars as Dany Heatley (No. 2, Atlanta), Marian Gaborik (3, Minnesota), Scott Hartnell (6, Nashville), and Ilya Bryzgalov (44, Anaheim), the historic pick was the brainchild of Isles general manager Mike Milbury, who surely earned his moniker "Mad Mike" by trading highly touted young goalie Roberto Luongo (bottom right), the team's first pick (fourth overall) in 1997, who had shown promise during his first season in New York. The arrival of the cocky, swashbuckling, stickhandling, injury-prone netminder who came to be known as "Rickety DiPietro" started one of the most painful and frustrating sagas in NHL history.
2 of 14Darren Carroll/SI
A product of the U.S. National Team Development program and a freshman star at Boston University, DiPietro arrived at the Islanders' training camp in September and pulled a groin muscle during his first practice in full pads. He missed four preseason games and due to his lack of work, the Isles assign him to the Chicago Wolves of the IHL. DiPietro weeps. ''I'm disappointed we weren't able to get a better read, but we all know where we're going in goal for the long range,'' GM Milbury tells The New York Times in what would prove to be a rather ironic statement.
3 of 14Darren Carroll/SI
After playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Moscow, DiPietro is summoned from AHL Chicago for the third time, with accidentally mismatched equipment and a send-off from goaltending partner Wendell Young who tells SI's Michael Farber that DiPietro will need two airline seats -- one in coach for his body, the other in first class for his ego (his flight was cancelled due to a mechanical problem). The brash 19-year-old netminder makes his NHL debut on Jan. 27, 2001 vs. Buffalo, producing 29 saves and being credited with an assist in a 2-1 loss. He sticks with the team and goes on to appear in 20 games in all, finishing with a 3-15-1 record and 3.49 GAA for the awful Isles, who finish last overall in the NHL. CLICK HERE to read Michael Farber's "Teen Angel" (SI 02.19.01)
4 of 14Aynsley Floyd/AP
DiPietro fails to make the Islanders' roster in training camp and is assigned to AHL Bridgeport while New York chooses to go with veterans Chris Osgood and Garth Snow in net. At Bridgeport, DiPietro leads the AHL with 30 wins and posts a 2.32 GAA and .913 save pct.
5 of 14Ann Heisenfelt/AP
DiPietro is recalled from AHL Bridgeport, where he was an All-Star, and on Dec. 20 beats the Minnesota Wild 4-2 for his first NHL win since March 20, 2001. Behind Chris Osgood and Garth Snow on the depth chart, he finishes the season 2-5-2 with a 2.97 goals-against average and .894 save pct. in 10 appearances. The Islanders make the playoffs, but fall in five games to Ottawa in the first round. DiPietro makes his postseason debut in relief, making three saves and allowing no goals in 15 minutes of action in Game Two.
6 of 14Brian Bahr/Getty Images
DiPietro begins delivering on his potential by getting into the Isles' season opener vs. Washington in relief of Garth Snow and holding the Capitals scoreless for 33 minutes. He posts his first NHL shutout, 6-0 over Buffalo, on Oct. 12, but struggles in December and asks to be sent to the AHL. After a brief stay, he returns and wins the starting job from Snow in March. The Isles make the playoffs as the eighth seed in the East, DiPietro finishing 23-18-5 with a 2.36 GAA and five shutouts. He plays well against Tampa Bay in the first round, but after the Isles fall in five games, they announce that DiPietro will need arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
7 of 14Michael O'Neill/SI; John Dunn/Icon SMI
With the 2004-05 season lost to a lockout, DiPietro makes four appearances for Team USA at the World Championships in May 2005 and plays brilliantly. In September, the Isles give him a new one-year, $2.5 million deal and he has his best campaign yet. Besides backstopping Team USA at the 2006 Winter Olympics, he finishes in the NHL's top 10 in saves (7th), games (63), and minutes (3,571:35), sharing the league lead with eight shootout wins while posting a 30-24-0-5 record with a 3.02 GAA and .900 save pct. Unfortunately, the Isles fail to make the playoffs. "Most people thought he was going to be the U.S. Olympic goalie [for years to come] and one of the elite goalies in the NHL," Red Wings GM Ken Holland later tells SI's Sarah Kwak. CLICK HERE to read Stephen Cannella's "Islanders counting on highly touted young goaltender" (SI 10.03.05)
8 of 14Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Ian Barrett/AP
On Sept. 12, 2006, DiPietro is signed to a mind-boggling, record 15-year, $67.5 million contract that, given his subsequent injury history, should appear in the dictionary under "albatross." GM Garth Snow's famous last words: "It's a great deal for the team because we get a flexible (cap) number that we can work with and add players as we need, it's a great deal for Ricky because he has term, and the big bonus is for our fans because they get to see a player that everyone loves for many more years to come." DiPietro has another fine campaign, finishing sixth in the NHL in save pct. (.919) with a career-best shutout streak of 156:30 en route to becoming the first Islander goalie to have two 30-win seasons. On March 13, 2007, he is concussed in a collision with Montreal's Steve Begin, and lingering symptoms cause him to miss the final seven games of the regular season, but the offensively anemic Isles make the playoffs...only to fall to Buffalo in the first round, four games to one. League-wide, opinion of DiPietro remains high. "Ricky has so much confidence that there's no fear of failure," an Eastern Conference goalies coach tells SI's Michael Farber. "He's special."
9 of 14Frank Mullen/NHLI via Getty Images
For the third consecutive season, DiPietro makes 60-plus appearances, but there are ominous signs that the wheels are starting to come off his cart. During the offseason before the campaign, he has surgery on a torn labrum in his hip. In December, he sprains his left knee during pregame warm-ups and is sidelined for three matches. Selected for his first, and so far only, NHL All-Star Game, he tweaks his hip during the skills competition in Atlanta and later needs surgery, which costs him the last nine games of the season. His final numbers: 28-28-0-7, 2.82 GAA, and .902 save pct. The Isles finish at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and fail to make the playoffs. CLICK HERE to read Michael Farber's "A Tale Of Three Goalies" (01.14.08)
10 of 14Lou Capozzola/SI
After having surgery on his left knee during the summer, DiPietro plays one period during the Isles' first five games before needing an arthroscopic procedure on Nov. 1 that sidelines him for 27 games. His return is brief -- just long enough to realize that knee swelling has left him unable to play -- and he sits out the final 41 games of the season, having made a grand total of five appearances.
11 of 14Lou Capozzola/SI
After having his now customary offseason knee surgery, DiPietro misses the first 27 games of the season but uses the time off to lose some weight and adopt a new standup style, the better to preserve his legs. Back between the pipes against Dallas on Jan. 9, the starcrossed netminder absorbs a 4-3 loss but holds up until March 6 when swelling in his right knee shelves him for the final 12 games of the season. He finishes the campaign with a 2-5-0 record in eight appearances. CLICK HERE to read Sarah Kwak's "Net Worker" (SI 01.25.10)
12 of 14Gene J. Puskar/AP
DiPietro starts the season 2-0-2, but swelling in his left knee lands him on the injured reserve list on December 22. After missing three starts, he barely returns before a groin injury suffered in a Jan. 3 game vs. Calgary puts him out of action for five games. Back in net for a Feb. 2 game against the Penguins, he gets his clock cleaned in a fight with Pittsburgh counterpart Brent Johnson, who fractures DiPietro's face with a punch. He sits out 20 games, but somehow manages to finish the season leading Isles goalies in games-played (26) and saves (685) with an 8-14-4 record, 3.44 GAA and .886 save pct.
13 of 14Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images
The new campaign dawns and DiPietro takes a puck to the mask in practice on October 12, suffering a concussion that puts him out for three games. Returning to the net for a Dec. 3 tilt in Dallas, he tweaks his groin and is placed on injured reserve 12 days later. On January 14, 2012, the Isles announce that DiPietro has a sports hernia that requires surgery and he will be sidelined for 10 weeks. "This is something I thought would just heal up and go away, and instead it got more and more debilitating," DiPietro tells Newsday . "I'm almost bionic at this point." Newsday calculates that during the past four years, the hoo-doo'ed goaltender has appeared in all of 47 games, winning 14, while being paid $18 million, or a little more than $1.2 million per victory. And there are still nine years left to go on his contract...
14 of 14Kathy Willens/AP
The star-crossed goalie spent the lockout in Germany's second division and a rumor emerged that he'd been injured yet again (groin this time) while playing for SC Riessersee. DiPietro returned to the Islanders in time for the start of the abbreviated NHL season on Jan. 19, but played in only three games, allowing three or more goals in each. He was serenaded by boos and jeers upon his introduction on Opening Night and endured chants of "DiPi sucks!" during a brutal 6-4 home loss to Carolina on Feb. 11. Eleven days later, the Isles waived him with the intention of parking him with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers in perpetuity. His value to the team had become his $4.5 million salary cap hit, which the team would use, along with inactive netminder Tim Thomas's $5 million, to remain above the cap floor.
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