Rick DiPietro said the irony is that this is the healthiest summer he's had since he can remember. Now, he'll spend it looking for a new goaltending job after the Islanders, the team that drafted him first overall in 2000, officially bought him out Wednesday.
"It's disappointing, obviously," DiPietro told Newsday Wednesday . "You know in the salary cap era after the [2004-05] lockout, it would take a while for some teams to rebuild. The Islanders have obviously gotten to the point where you're finally starting to see that come to fruition. The most disappointing part is that I'm not going to be a part of it."
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DiPietro has been away visiting family, which is where he was when general manager Garth Snow called to tell him that the buyout was coming. "I don't think it's really set in yet," the oft-injured goaltender said. "It's been a whirlwind couple of days."
He said he holds no ill will toward anyone in the Islanders organization, the franchise that anointed him "goaltender for life" with the 15-year, $67.5 million contract Snow signed DiPietro to on Sept. 12, 2006.
DiPietro will receive $1.5 million for each of the next 16 seasons with his buyout. At 31, he believes he still can play in the NHL after finishing last season playing 18 of the final 20 games for Bridgeport following being placed on waivers on Feb. 22.
"That was tough to handle at the time, but I think it was the best thing for me," he said. "I got to work on getting better as a goalie and getting into a rhythm of playing a ton of games instead of just trying not to get hurt. It helped me."
Now DiPietro, for the first time since Mike Milbury picked him 13 years ago, is looking for work. DiPietro cleared unconditional waivers yesterday and is free to sign anywhere he pleases. He said he has told Ian Pulver, his agent, to find out whether the 29 other clubs are interested in him now that he's a free agent.
And he has said goodbye to the Islanders and Charles Wang, the owner who held a close bond with him for his entire run. "It's bittersweet, really," DiPietro said. "It was a great 13 years, I had a ton of fun, there were some great times and some bad ones. I can't say enough about how much I appreciate everything Charles and the organization did for me. I'll miss it a lot."
It seems unlikely that he will have many suitors for a new contract, but could get a minor-league deal to come to a new team's training camp.
The Islanders now turn their attention to free agency, which officially begins Friday, although teams were permitted under the new collective bargaining agreement to start contacting free agents and their representatives this week.
Snow had interest in signing Danny Briere, the veteran forward who was bought out by the Flyers last week. But a source close to Briere said the 35-year-old did not include the Isles on his whittled-down list of four-to-five teams; the Devils are on that list, according to that same source.
Snow is looking to fill a couple of forward slots via free agency or a trade, as well as one gaping spot in net. There are several goaltending options who will likely come available Friday, including Bruins backup Anton Khudobin and Hawks backup Ray Emery.