Rick DiPietro might just have his health back

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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.