Rick DiPietro’s 15-year, $67.5 million contract might forever be used as the NHL’s cautionary tale against long-term deals, but the goaltender’s days as the franchise whipping boy could finally be ending.
The Islanders placed the 31-year-old netminder on waivers Friday afternoon, a move that indicates his injury-riddled time with the team is likely done.
As his surgeries, fractures and rehab assignments have piled up throughout the years, DiPietro has been the subject of ridicule and scorn from a fan base that is understandably maddened by the team’s decision to keep him around.
Little changed this season for DiPietro, who recorded losses in all three of his starts and has a ghastly 4.10 goals-against average and .855 save percentage.
Finally, it seems as though the Islanders have had enough.
DiPietro will report to the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Conn., once he clears waivers -- that’s right, once, not if -- and it is expected the team will summon 22-year-old prospect Kevin Poulin from the minors to back up veteran starter Evgeni Nabokov.
The Islanders still must pay DiPietro’s salary while he is down in Bridgeport -- he is due $4.5 million annually through 2021 -- and his prorated cap charge (minus $900,000, per the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement) will remain, but this potentially paves the way for the team to buy him out this summer.
Each team is allowed two compliance buyouts -- to be used in the summers of 2013 and 2014 -- by the new collective bargaining agreement, although the team’s immediate plans on the matter are not clear.
A compliance buyout would take off DiPietro’s cap hit and pay him two-thirds spread out for the remaining years of his contract, although it’s possible the team might be more amenable to exercise the old buyout terms on DiPietro, thus keeping his cap charge to count toward the cap floor.
“You would think they will buy him out after this season," an NHL team executive told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun. "If they do, they might not use the transition buyout so that his buyout counts against the floor going forward."
"We haven't given that any consideration at this point," Islanders GM Garth Snow said when reached by phone Friday afternoon. "I'm not going to speculate what the future may hold."
The team, which has missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, also has routinely struggled to reach the cap floor.
That was, in fact, an impetus behind the team’s move to acquire veteran goaltender Tim Thomas and his $5 million cap hit in a trade with the Boston Bruins earlier this month. Snow said at the time that he wanted to provide his team "flexibility" by adding Thomas’ 35-and-over contract. The Islanders do not have to pay Thomas a dime in actual salary while he is not playing -- he said this summer he is taking the season off from hockey to spend more time with his family -- although they retain his cap hit.
A few other interesting points to consider:
If this is indeed an attempt to cut ties with DiPietro, it could be seen as a move to divest the franchise of the ill-advised contract to make the club more attractive to a potential buyer. Reports surfaced last week that team owner Charles Wang, who has hemorrhaged millions of dollars in recent years, is looking to sell the team.
Also, consider this:
Assuming DiPietro reports to Bridgeport and plays -- which he must do to collect the salary that, let’s face it, he is rightfully owed -- the team is taking a significant risk considering his laundry list of injuries throughout his career.
A team cannot buy out an injured player.
Until Snow divulges his plan for the former first overall pick, it’s hard to predict what will happen from here -- and with the Islanders, who knows? -- but whichever way this goes, hopefully it can provide closure for the Islanders and DiPietro, the latter of whom has been relegated to the team’s token punch line.
Maybe both the team and the player can finally move on.