Thank You, Rick DiPietro
A letter of thanks to our "Goalie for Life"
Dear Rick DiPietro,
It has been an emotional rollercoaster since that fateful day in June, 2000 when we made you our first overall draft pick.
Our relationship has gone through phases: anxious excitement to see you establish yourself as our number one goalie, the satisfaction of seeing you rise to being an All Star (and telling Rangers fans how much better you were than Henrik Lundqvist), the despair of watching you be injured, the frustration of watching you have setback after setback on your way back to the net, to where we are today.
Today Rick, we write you to tell you that we are simply sorry for you. We all remember (though some pretend they don’t) the talented kid and his swagger between the pipes that we appreciated and loved. After what seems like your umpteenth setback keeping you from manning the crease for our beloved Islanders, we have reflected on how your injury situation has impacted the New York Islanders. And upon that reflection, we must thank you, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
This letter is not a break-up, and after realizing how your injuries have led to the best depth at the goaltender position the Islanders have had since the days of Billy Smith and Chico Resch, we pledge to stand by you as you carry out your next comeback in the highest of hopes that someday you earn the chance to be our number one goaltender once again. In the meantime, here are our reflections on why we owe you (and your knees, hips, orbital bones, brain, etc) a great deal of thanks.
In 2008-09, we had the
vomit-inducing pleasure of watching the “electrifying” goaltending tandem of Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis (Who? Exactly.) as our New York Islanders plummeted further and further down the standings. The following June, we watched in sheer ecstasy as Garth Snow said those immortal words: “The New York Islanders select John Tavares.”
Tavares has proven to be as loyal to this team as you were, Rick, and signed a 6 year extension this offseason despite the uncertainty surrounding our building situation. This season, he has shown all the makings of having a truly breakout campaign, recording back to back multi-goal, 4 point games against the Lightning and Rangers. Your injuries allowed for our team to draft your successor as ‘face of the franchise,’ because if you were in net, there is no way we would have been as miserable as we were that year. Thank you.
In 2009-10, your injury situation stagnated, and GM Garth Snow had prepared for such an emergency by signing veterans Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. The team finished 26th overall in the NHL, and dismayed some fans by not trading Biron at the deadline despite much rumored interest. Yet two positives came as a result of this season.
First, in not trading Biron at the deadline for the measly 4th and 5th round picks which were being offered to the Islanders, Garth Snow was able to send a message to the rest of the league that the Islanders were not a scrap heap for everyone to pick from. Instead, the Islanders would demand fair value for their players, and were more than happy to keep them if such an offer was not presented.
Secondly, that June, Snow created doubters when he chose goaltenders with Islanders’ second and third round picks. However, he has watched patiently as many of those doubters seem quieter now that those picks have turned into goalie prospects Mikko Koskinen and Anders Nilsson. Adding those two alongside Kevin Poulin makes the Islanders cupboard of prospects in net look highly talented with a lot of depth – something that hasn’t been seen in this organization since you were that highly talented prospect, Rick. Thank you.
In 2010-11, the Islanders goalies were not immune to the injury bug that swept our team with fury, causing them to lead the NHL in man-games lost to injury. We traded Dwayne Roloson when we thought you were healthy. We had veteran AHLer Nathan Lawson in case you were not. Youngster Kevin Poulin came up and played extremely well when Lawson was injured. Even Mikko Koskinen made his NHL debut less than a year after being drafted when Poulin was lost to a freak injury during pre-game warm-ups.
When the raw talent of Koskinen struggled to adjust to the NHL game, the Islanders claimed Evgeni Nabokov, who chose, out of the kindness in his heart, to not to report to our team. With the Nabokov situation unresolved, Garth Snow sent a 6th round pick to Phoenix in return for a kindness that was done to both the Islanders and the long-awaited, never truly tested prospect, Al Montoya. Stick tap to Coyotes GM Don Maloney for the classy move, as he never thought Montoya would get a fair shot while Ilya Bryzgalov was in town.
The former Michigan Wolverine standout was a #6 overall selection by the New York Rangers in his draft year, but fell into a difficult spot behind Henrik Lundqvist, who happened to be emerging into a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate at the same time. Montoya relished the opportunity to shine at the NHL level for the Islanders, and fans appreciated the unassuming confidence of “El Cubano” more and more as the season wound to a close. Neither Nabokov nor Montoya would be part of the organization today had you had better fortune last year with your health, Rick.
Nor would we have finished 27th overall in the NHL again from the few weeks of floundering we did when injuries ran rampant all the way down the goaltending depth chart. Finishing 27th netted us arguably our most exciting prospect, Ryan Strome, who Islanders fans dream about playing on a line with John Tavares someday. For these three players who have wound up as part of the Islanders organization, we thank you, Rick.
To start 2011-12, all indications pointed towards your return to glory, back-stopping a tremendously talented young team towards playoff contention for the first time in years. Coach Capuano gave Al Montoya the first few starts of the season, rewarding his stretch run last season, giving you some additional time in practice to work off some rust, and setting the stage for a return against the Rangers on home ice.
Assuming you picked up the ‘W,’ it would have been a great first step towards the fans realizing that you were still capable of being a big part of this hockey team, but alas, it was not to be. Instead, newly acquired Brian Rolston hit you in the face during practice with one of his wicked slap shots. Rolston may have lost the ability to skate like his younger days, but he can still fire a puck 100 mph+, and needless to say, your brains got rocked around a bit.
Fans clamor that your impact on the salary cap is a hindrance to the team and keeps us from spending money on good players, but the fact is that our big salary acquisition from this offseason is the one who cranked a slap shot off your head. I, for one, am happy to have your salary on the books because it allows us to play more of our younger players without fearing the need to get to the salary cap floor with other Rolston-like players to clog the roster.
And in that game against the Rangers which was supposed to be your return to prominence in the minds of the fans, Evgeni Nabokov, with a new outlook on playing for the Islanders, stepped up tremendously in a 4-2 win over our rivals. The more playing time that Nabokov gets this season, the more his trade value will rise. And the higher it rises before you return to our lineup again, the better. We can trade Nabokov to the highest (hopefully Western Conference) bidder for an asset that can perhaps be flipped for that “young highly talented defenseman” or “rhymes with Mack Farise” type asset which Isles fans have been hoping to acquire.
Either way, Montoya appears capable of handling the load sans-Nabokov eventually, and Poulin has all the makings of a number one NHL goaltender if he continues to develop. So take your time and come back when you are 100% healthy, just as Sidney Crosby is doing. Because we are content watching Nabokov’s trade value rise, sure. But we also only want a loyal and dedicated Islander like you to be healthy – and concussions are not to be taken lightly, Rick.
We know that it must be impossible dealing with the amount of injuries you have as such a competitive and driven person. But hopefully you can take some comfort in these positive steps that the organization has taken while you have been on the road to recovery. We, the fans, pledge to remind ourselves of these positives the franchise has achieved in the past few years at the goaltending position as well. And no one, except for perhaps you, will be happier to watch you raise the Stanley Cup in an Islanders jersey one day.
Get well Rick. And thank you.
The Fans of the New York Islanders