Islanders already had moved on before Rick DiPietro move
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
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BUFFALO -- Rick DiPietro cleared waivers at noon Saturday, and now he's home on Long Island, preparing for the next phase of his career.
There are always changes and adjustments, so it's truly impossible to say whether DiPietro will be back in an Islander uniform this season. But the intent of sending DiPietro to Bridgeport, where he will report sometime this week, is clear, which is why general manager Garth Snow gave the goaltender a weekend off to get himself ready for this transition.
The truth of the DiPietro situation, though, is this: The goaltender with the crazy contract and the crazy injuries has not been the center of the Islanders for many years.
His contract has made it seem that way, although there has been some friction -- with fellow goaltenders and the previous coaching staff.
His teammates expressed sadness that DiPietro, winless in three games this season after allowing ugly goals in each of the last two outings, had been sent down. But there was no "end of an era" feel.
"We definitely want him to go down there and get his game back," Matt Martin said Saturday. "We've got to focus on what we're doing here, which is win some games and get into the playoffs. We're not too worried about what's going on there."
That's not a shot at DiPietro, it's reality. Through the goalie's many, many rehabilitations -- from hip, knee and facial surgeries, from a concussion and sports hernia surgery last season -- he had become less and less of a presence inside the locker room and more of a symbol, a sign of the overexcitement of owner Charles Wang for his onetime franchise goaltender and some of the curious decisions that have marked Wang's 13-year tenure as owner.
Snow said there has been no discussion of a buyout, and it seems unlikely that Wang would commit to extending payments to DiPietro from the eight remaining years (at $4.5 million per) to 16 years at $1.5 million -- meaning the Islanders would be paying DiPietro until 2028-29.
That this move hadn't happened until now is a matter of the NHL's collective- bargaining agreement. Before the recent lockout and new CBA, a player waived and sent to the minors would have taken his salary-cap hit with him; now, though DiPietro is gone, $3.6 million of his $4.5-million cap hit remains.
DiPietro himself has been removed from the equation. Perhaps there is a hope that, as the Rangers tried to do when they demoted Wade Redden before the 2010-11 season, that a proud player might want to void his contract or retire rather than toil in the minors.
But given DiPietro's numerous attempts to return from injury the past five seasons, that scenario seems unlikely. What Snow and the Islanders want is for DiPietro to toil out of the NHL spotlight, where he and the team have been mocked for years.
For how long is anyone's guess. He could be gone a week, a month, a year or forever. Long-suffering Islanders fans have made it clear how they feel, and perhaps this move will pump some confidence into the fan base that the team is headed in a new direction.
The current Islanders belong to John Tavares. Their best goaltender is Evgeni Nabokov. Their goaltender of the future might be Kevin Poulin, now the team's backup. Their coach's fate does not hinge on whether No. 39 still can play.
DiPietro has been the face of the franchise since Mike Milbury jettisoned Roberto Luongo to select the cocky 18-year-old from Boston first overall in the 2000 draft. But he hasn't been its core for a half-dozen years now.
Maybe DiPietro's demotion can let those outside the team move on.
Inside, they already have.