In some ways, Rick DiPietro is hockey’s answer to Jose Canseco (in the photo to the right).
Like Canseco, DiPietro (and the New York Islanders) made a decision that was both very public and widely lampooned. Canseco elicited eye-rolls and mockery for blowing the whistle on steroid use in baseball, but now his book seems prescient and the sometimes-oafish former Major Leaguer might qualify a trailblazer. DiPietro and the Islanders produced guffaws from writers, fans and bloggers alike when they signed that 15-year, $67.5 million deal. Yet before the league finally put its foot down with the Ilya Kovalchuk deal, how many NHL teams followed suit with risky “lifetime” contracts?
The crucial difference, though, is that DiPietro hasn’t exactly been able to prove critics wrong. (OK, he also never let a homerun bounce off his noggin, but let’s move on.) Rather than giving him a “F” grade, I’d be more inclined to give him an “Incomplete” since knee problems kept him from honoring his commitment. In the last two seasons, he only played in 13 games.
The New York Post caught up with DiPietro, who seems optimistic about being healthy for the first time since the 2007-08 season (oddly enough, the last time the Islanders enjoyed moderate success).
Since signing his 15-year, $67.5 million contract in 2006, the polarizing netminder has been plagued by injuries and played in a total of 138 games in four years, 13 in the past two. Since the 2007-08 season, the Islanders haven’t won more than 35 games and have finished last in the Atlantic Division each season.
“It’s been a little out of the ordinary the last couple of years,” said DiPietro, who is coming back from two different surgeries on his left knee and a handful of setbacks that were the result of trying to come back too soon. “I’ve played through different kind of injuries and everything else, but it’s good to start to feel a little bit more normal and get back to my routine.”
While using most of the summer to rest his body rather than being forced to rehab, DiPietro has been skating recently and is in fine spirits about the upcoming year.
“Physically I feel great,” he said. “I’m working my way [back]. I don’t think anyone’s at 100 percent yet, we’ve got to get through camp. Each day, it [the knee] is getting stronger and stronger and we’re moving in the right direction.”
It’s natural to read the “I’m feeling so much better” type injury rehab stories with a healthy amount of skepticism, but the one thing going for DiPietro is that a lot of athletes see marked improvement the second year after knee surgery.
Say what you will about DiPietro, the Islanders really struggled since the beleaguered goalie went down with injury issues. Let’s not forget that he helped the team scrap to a few playoff berths, even if it was often on an eighth seed level. The Atlantic division isn’t as soft as it once was, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers joining the New Jersey Devils as regular winners. Yet if DiPietro bounces back and is near 100 percent, the team might at least be able to make a run at the playoffs.
Even if it’s pretty difficult to imagine that scenario right now.