Rick DiPietro needs another surgery, and yet another of his Islanders seasons appears prematurely over.
Newsday has learned that DiPietro will have surgery on Tuesday to repair a sports hernia. He has been out since he suffered a groin injury Dec. 3 in Dallas, an injury that nagged him long enough that the more serious sports hernia was discovered by the team's medical staff.
"This is something I thought would just heal up and go away, and instead it got more and more debilitating," a somber DiPietro told Newsday Friday from Boston, where he will have the surgery. "I'm almost bionic at this point."
Islanders general manager Garth Snow confirmed the injury and said the best-case scenario for DiPietro's return is the beginning of April.
But best-case scenarios rarely apply to the 30-year-old former No. 1 overall pick. Since signing a 15-year, $67.5-million contract just before the 2006-07 season, DiPietro has gone from being the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender to a player who simply cannot stay healthy.
Since playing 63 games in the 2007-08 season -- one that ended in March for DiPietro after he had hip surgery -- he has played a total of 47 games in the last four seasons and only eight this season. He had another surgery on his hip and one on his left knee in the summer of 2008, a second knee surgery in January 2009 and surgery to repair facial fractures after a fight with Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson last February.
He still has nine years left on his contract and said he has no plans to retire. "Nothing like that has even crossed my mind," he said. "Knock on wood, the doctors have said this is something you can come back from. Lots of athletes have. I know I still want to play."
Snow echoed DiPietro's sentiments, saying that neither he nor owner Charles Wang has broached retirement with DiPietro.
"I have confidence he can get through this," Snow said. "He'll have the surgery and in a few weeks, hopefully, he'll be back on the ice."
The Islanders began 2011-12 with three healthy goaltenders who had some NHL experience and it was thought to be a crowded net. But Evgeni Nabokov was sidelined with a groin injury for much of November, DiPietro went down in the second period of what would end up a 5-4 win for him and the Islanders, and Al Montoya has missed the last three weeks with a concussion.
Nabokov has started 10 straight games, though rookie Kevin Poulin might get the call Saturday night against the Sabres. Montoya is close to returning.
But DiPietro, with his 130 career wins spread out over 10 seasons, is now back at the starting point, likely headed for a spring and summer of trying to prove he can stay healthy and be a competitive NHL goaltender again.
"This isn't something I ever thought would happen again," he said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to come back healthy, as fast as possible."