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Rick DiPietro might just have his health back

Sep 25, 2011, 10:00 AM EDT

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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.

  1. bcisleman - Sep 25, 2011 at 4:16 PM

    Actually I think that this year is pretty critical for RDP. The team is just on the cusp of becoming really good, it has a number of prime goaltending prospects, and Montoya has shown signs that he can be a #1 goalie as well. If RDP doesn’t produce this year, the NYI will have to seriously consider finding a way to get out from under his contract.

    BTW, I find it incredible that Mike Bossy was not mentioned among the injury-plagued what-might-have-beens. He scored goals at a higher rate per game than anyone. He might well have set a record for goals per game and kept it.

    • bcisleman - Sep 25, 2011 at 4:19 PM

      I should have said that Bossy might have set and kept the overall goal scoring record.

      • James O'Brien - Sep 25, 2011 at 6:14 PM

        Mike Bossy certainly is in that group – I wasn’t trying to be comprehensive, mind you.

  2. icelovinbrotha215 - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:44 AM

    What makes this year different from any other year?

  3. davebrownspiral - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Can’t they just stick this guy down in the minors all season and for the rest of his contract Kei Igawa-Yankees style? Yeah, he’s hurt all the time, but even when he’s healthy he is a mediocre goalie. DP is a reminder of the last six years of darkness for Islander fans. He and Yashin for that matter should be kept far from this young roster. Trade Nabokov and roll with Montoya and Poulin.

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