The year is 2000 and the New York Islanders have the first-overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft. Rick DiPietro, out of Boston University, is selected first overall and becomes only the fourth-ever American drafted at the top of the NHL Entry Draft.
Despite it being the Mike Milbury era, this was a move that was supposed to set the Islanders in the right direction moving forward. Drafting a cornerstone goaltender who would man the net for his entire career, as he was said to have the type of all-star caliber talent that would carry the Islanders to the promised land.
Milbury made the decision to move Roberto Luongo, the now retired, but successful and talented netminder, so DiPietro could take his place between the pipes.
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Unfortunately, the bad stroke of luck for DiPietro struck right away, as a groin injury in training camp saw the goaltender start the 2000-01 season in the IHL with the Chicago Wolves, the then Islanders’ minor league affiliate. After logging 14 games in the IHL, DiPietro finally made his long-anticipated NHL debut against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 27, 2001.
The Islanders were still a struggling team, resulting in only three wins for DiPietro in 20 appearances during his first NHL stint. The following year, he played with the team’s new minor league affiliate — the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL — for some seasoning in the professional game. In 59 games, he posted a 2.32 goals against average (GAA), and a .913 save percentage (SV%).
Having proved himself in the minors, DiPietro was called up to the Islanders permanently in the 2003-04 season for 10 games, and made 5 playoff appearances that year. The young netminder’s GAA decreased from 3.49 in the 2000-01 season to 2.36 in the 2003-04 season.
After a season off during the lockout 2004-05 season, DiPietro had a solid second full season, posting 30 wins with a .900 SV% and 3.02 GAA. He showed some regression from his first full season, but the Islanders were still struggling having played sub .500 hockey that year. Of the Islanders’ 36 wins, DiPietro was in net for 30 of them, and was likely the reason for most of those wins.
Sept. 12, 2006, a date all Islanders fans, media, even staff likely remember. Garth Snow, the new general manager, made a huge move, signing DiPietro to a 15-year, $67.5 million contract with the Islanders. Had the Islanders not bought him out back in 2013, this would still be a big cap hit to the Isles today, but luckily, it’s not.
“Clubs are free to make their own decisions” within the rules,
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “Time will tell whether
this will be a good decision or a bad one for the Islanders.”from ‘DiPietro’s record 15-year deal will pay him $67.5M’, ESPN, 9/12/2006
Well, we certainly know the answer as to whether this was a good or bad decision. In terms of his play post-signing, it seemed as though this was a good signing for the Islanders. DiPietro had played well in the 2006-07 season, recording 32 wins, posting a .919 SV %, and a 2.58 GAA. On March 5, 2007, he even broke an Islanders franchise record by making 56 saves in a 2–1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.
Despite the successful year, the injuries started to mount for DiPietro, as he suffered a concussion on March 13, 2007, against the Montreal Canadiens, and then another concussion after a short four-game stint returning from his previous injury against the Rangers. Having overcome two concussions in that short time, the American net-minder returned for the playoffs and was between the pipes for four games against the Buffalo Sabres, a series they lost.
In the offseason of 2007, DiPietro underwent surgery to fix a torn labrum in his hip, after a string of concussions.
He followed up a great season with some regression during 2007-08, despite being named to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team. However, DiPietro injured himself in the skills competition. He would continue to play in net for the Islanders until they were ruled out of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the team announced he would be shut down the remainder of the season following another hip surgery.
The talented goaltender would unfortunately never play a full season again from that point on, but the injuries would continue to mount. DiPietro announced in June of 2008, on a show with Sirius Radio hosted by “Bubba the Love Sponge,” that he would be going for another surgery, this time on his left knee to repair his meniscus. Following this surgery, DiPietro bounced on and off the injured reserve list due to a plethora of knee injuries through 2010.
Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em
At the beginning of the 2010-11 season, DiPietro was finally announced as healthy. A short stint on injured reserve followed in December due to “knee swelling.” He returned quickly though, and the Islanders traded Dwayne Roloson, his platoon partner, to the Tampa Bay Lightning as a vow of confidence in DiPietro.
The Islanders faced off against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 2, 2011. Emotions ran high that night, and DiPietro took part in a rare goalie fight against Penguins netminder Brent Johnson in the final seconds of the game. Johnston got the better of DiPietro, connecting on a punch that resulted in facial fractures, and as he fell from the punch, he also injured his knee causing swelling. This was the prelude to the famous Islanders-Penguins brawl game that resulted in 346 penalty minutes, nine nights later.
More concussions in the 2011-12 season, followed by a demotion in 2013 spelled the end of the DiPietro era, who would unfortunately earn the nickname “Rickety” due to the plethora of unfortunate luck.
On July 1, 2013, the Islanders finally cut ties with DiPietro, placing him on unconditional waivers and buying out the remainder of his contract on compliance. He would no longer count against the Islanders cap hit, but the Islanders and DiPietro agreed on a deal that would pay him $1.5M through 2029.
DiPietro called it a career and retired on Nov. 26, 2013, after a short stint with the Charlotte Checkers on a failed professional tryout.
After his career on the ice, DiPietro found his calling on air through radio shows and broadcasting.
“He’s a natural, just like his days as an athlete,” said Hahn, who is also an analyst on Knicks telecasts on MSG. “In fact, he treats this job much like he does a sport: He has great passion, puts in great preparation and is a quick study. You rarely see that when a pro athlete moves into this side of the business.”(from ‘Now Working Without a Net, an Ex-Islander Is Live on the Air’, The New York Times, 5/1/2016)
DiPietro was part of ESPN New York 98.7FM’s Hahn & Humpty show until Alan Hahn received his own show in 2014. Dipietro and Hahn built a “bromance” for the duration of their show covering a range of sports topics, pop culture, and more. “It’s just so easy, man,” he said in the show’s Upper West Side studio as he studied a stack of newspapers — old school! — with a highlighter and a notebook full of potential material he neatly had written out during the day.” (from ‘Rick DiPietro’s new career path on sports talk radio’, Newsday, 9/4/2014)
DiPietro would continue the show, renamed Humpty & Canty hosted by Rick DiPietro and Chris Canty alongside new co-host Dave Rothenberg. Humpty and Canty can still be heard on 98.7, and in podcast form on Apple Podcast.
DiPietro has also appeared on a number of Islanders broadcasts, often dressed in Don Cherry-eque attire, including this get-up that appeared during the Islanders’ 2015 playoff run.
There’s no denying that despite what came out of DiPietro’s on-ice career, he loved being an Islander and he loved the game of hockey. He wanted to be a part of the team and the league no matter what, hence the extremely long-term contract. He figured out how to keep that love alive, using his voice on the air. Plan to see him on more Islanders broadcasts in the future.
James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.