DiPietro Shoulders The Weight Of Next Season

Rick DiPietro was still recovering from his multiple surgeries at this point last season, and it wasn't a mystery as to whether or not Rick would be starting in goal for the 2009-2010 season. With Martin Biron signed to a one-year deal in the middle of the summer and Dwayne Roloson signed to a two-year deal just a short while after free agency began, it was all but certain that Rick was going to miss opening night.

In fact, his return to the NHL didn't happen until the winter time after a few appearances with the Islanders AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. His first start on Coliseum ice was January 16th vs. the Buffalo Sabres. This YouTube video was provided by Mike Schurlein (Islesblogger), a fellow blogger and friend from the NYI Blog Box.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en5Z4Dz77Zs

Although injuries are common in any physical sport, Rick's rehabilitation could have gone smoother and with better success had he taken his time with recovering - and he know that himself too. He admitted it publicly in a Twitter session with the New York Islanders where fans were able to send their tweets to Rick and he would answer as many as possible.

"'@KronisKEK (received via DM)
For Rick DiPietro, given your injury woes, is there anything you would have done differently if you could go back a few seasons?'

'If I could go back when I was 16 years old, then yes, I’d love to go back and do things differently, but in the end its sports. When you play hard and compete, things happen. I’d go back and pull in the reigns when I was trying to get back in to the lineup. That’s just the competitive part of me and things you learn when you get older.'"

Despite Rick's inability to become a regular in the line-up last season, his leadership is something that is hard to be matched in that locker room. Josh Bailey had plenty to say about Rick's character in a phone interview I conducted with him last week.

"I mean I haven’t actually talked to Rick lately, but you know with him, with the type of guy he is, obviously you feel bad because it’s tough, it be tough on a guy, I know I’d have a heck of a time with what he’s done. But the way you see him work and how bad he wants it, it’s just so huge. I think that’s why you know he’s never just going to be satisfied and give up. He works so hard all the time. Even last year, or the last two years, I really got to see and try and use his work ethic in a way for me to look up to how I need to work and how I need to train and how he is with eating and working out and everything like that. He really wants to win and really wants to help the team win and is so focused on being there so I think obviously you know that he’s going to be doing everything he can to have a great full season with us. He’ll have to see what he can do in a few games and it really makes a difference having a goalie like him. At the same time, Roly had a great year. Goaltending was never an issue for us last year, but I think obviously having a goalie like Ricky between the pipes would help us huge."

Looking back on Rick's career, many fans remember an 18-year old kid that was full of enthusiasm and at times over-confident in his ability. After spending some time in Bridgeport and maturing as an adult, Rick turned into an all-star goalie and started to show signs of promise of being a franchise goaltender. But then Rick's body underwent a carousel of surgeries and it was uncertain when he would play again. In fact it is still uncertain of what his career is capable of since he only has managed to play in 13 games over the past two seasons.

The goaltending position is still Dwayne Roloson's spot to lose after the year he just had, but in the long-run, this is Rick's team. Many have set their own personal marks for Rick: mine is twenty games. I don't see how the team can keep the 1st overall pick in 2000 on board going forward if Ricky is unable to appear in that many games.

Believe me, that's not an easy thing to say. I've read several posts by fans all over the Internet, hoping to see Rick admit defeat and call it quits through early retirement. If my knowledge serves me correctly, since the Islanders will have exhausted all possibilities in getting DiPietro back on track, insurance would pick up the remaining years on Rick's life-time deal and the organization would be able to explore the futures of Mikko Koskinen and Kevin Poulin as their starting goalies. But as Bailey stated above, Rick's desire to return goes unmatched by any other athlete and he has the support of his teammates and management.

If that weren't the case, a third goalie would have been signed already, like Biron was last year. If Rick does return to form, the Islanders will have a true number one goaltender with several years ahead of him as he is still only 28 years old, set to turn 29 on September 19th. A tandem of Ricky and Roly (insert Rick Roll joke here) is one that's strong enough to compete for a playoff spot if given the right skaters in front of them. If he does experience setbacks, expect Nathan Lawson to be called up from Bridgeport to support Roloson.

However, if Rick's season is plagued by disaster with setback after setback, much like last season and those before, it will become a question of how long the organization can go until accepting DP's fate. The Isles are serious about building a winning hockey team and have faith in Rick between the pipes - but if his playing days are seen as over after this season, it will be time for the club to part ways and move on.

So I ask, will Rick's health be up to the task of carrying the weight of the Isles season on his shoulders?

-Rob McGowan

Follow me on Twitter!
http://twitter.com/IslesRM