Rick DiPietro might just have his health back


Unfortunately, there are plenty of NHL players with a reputation for being injury prone. It’s tough not to daydream about how outstanding Marian Gaborik’s career would be if the league could “turn injuries off” like a video game. (Don’t even get hockey fans started about the likes of Bobby Orr, Peter Forsberg, Pat LaFontaine and Eric Lindros.)

People generally use a sympathetic (or at least disappointed) tone when they discuss oft-injured players, but most comments about New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro lean toward jokes. Obviously, his absurdly long and ill-fated contract has a lot to do with it, but let there be no doubt that injuries play a role in his career becoming a sad punchline.

At this point, it almost seems natural to assume that the Islanders duo might be Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov (with the possibility of a push from prospect Kevin Poulin). The thing is, the Islanders are locked in to a $4.5 million annual cap hit with DiPietro* on a contract that runs through 2020-21, so they have plenty of reasons to give him a chance to earn playing time.

Surely DiPietro’s started the last few seasons thinking that “this would be the one” in which things pan out. The difference this time, however, is that he claims that he went into this summer healthy after years of surgery.

After so many season-ending injuries in years past, DiPietro actually went into this summer healthy.

“I feel good,” DiPietro said. “I think this is the first summer in six years I didn’t have to have surgery.”

DiPietro played in 26 games in 2010-11, which was actually a big step up from playing just 5 in 08-09 and 8 in 09-10. Unfortunately, his numbers weren’t as uplifting as his increase in appearances; he wen 8-14-4 with a 3.44 GAA and an abysmal .886 save percentage.

The 30-year-old goaltender might argue that part of his struggles came from shaky health, though. The Islanders and DiPietro’s hope is that he can regain the form he found in three seasons from 2005-06 to 07-08, when he made one All-Star Game and played 188 games while putting up solid numbers. Around that time, DiPietro’s contract seemed risky rather than borderline insane.

Some might think that you’d be crazy to read too much into the optimism surrounding DiPietro’s health, but it would certainly be an amazing story if things worked out after a rough few years.

* – Naturally, he could retire, have his cap hit buried in the minors or be placed on the long-term injured reserve here and there. Still, chances are, they’ll be committed to him for quite some time.

Here’s hoping 3-on-3 doesn’t degenerate into a boring ‘game of keep-away’

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Are coaches going to ruin 3-on-3 overtime?

It’s been the one, big worry since the NHL decided to change from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 as a way to reduce the number of shootouts.

Via TSN’s Bob McKenzie, here’s a quote from an anonymous coach (talking about 3-on-3 strategy) that won’t exactly quell that worry:

“Really, it’s a game of keep-away, that’s what it is and the longer you can keep it away from the other team, the more likely they’ll break down. So I say let’s slow it down and hold onto that puck for as long as we can.”

Now take that a step further and imagine there’s a team that’s really good at shootouts. If you were coaching that team, might you tell your players to rag the puck for as long as possible to try and get to the skills competition?

Granted, five minutes is a long time to rag the puck. Not sure any team could play “keep-away” that long. Plus, there will always be teams that aren’t very good at the shootout; theoretically, those teams should be more willing to take their chances in 3-on-3.

But just remember that more time and space doesn’t always lead to more goals. Look at international hockey, which is played on a bigger ice surface. Canada won gold in Sochi by beating Latvia, 2-1, the United States, 1-0, and Sweden, 3-0. It was hardly firewagon hockey.

While nobody’s quite ready to suggest that 3-on-3 will actually lead to more shootouts, it will be interesting to see how things evolve, and if there are any unintended consequences.

“I don’t know if anyone’s figured it out completely yet,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said Saturday after losing in 3-on-3 overtime to Vancouver.

“The big thing is, you want to control the puck as much as you can. It’s 3-on-3, so there’s lots of room and space out there. You don’t need to give it away. I think it’s smart to just wait, take your time, and wait for a good opportunity.”

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.