UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 29: Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders skates out to face the San Jose Sharks at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 29, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Twitter rumors circulated yesterday and today, the way Twitter rumors do, that Rick DiPietro's agent was in contact with one party or another about the goaltender retiring. Lots of authoritative talk about insurance. Followed by critical holes quickly being poked in the rumor, like Kevin Schultz noting simply about the "agent": "DiPietro doesn't have one. Represented by father and himself."
Nonetheless, it's easy to see why anyone would run with these rumors: The Islanders' accumulation of goalies -- they've carried three pros all season! -- and DiPietro's own rehab trajectory have long hinted at this being the make-or-break season. Further, the pending expiration of the NHL CBA has long had people dreaming of special buyouts like in 2005. Last week the Post's year in review curiously noted his nameplate's absence from the locker room "as of Dec. 27."
And DiPietro news always draws attention: A Wednesday Puck Daddy headline (which didn't touch the retirement rumor) included "DiPietro Injured While Injured," which linked to Deadspin's own punchline, which linked to the original Newsday report that DiPietro (still on IR) and Mike Mottau returned early from Carolina.
That's a microcosm of everything regarding DP these last few years, as he's appeared in just 66 games since that fateful January 2008 All-Star weekend when an injury while mic'd was a funny soundbite instead of the first chapter of a Greek tragedy.
If you're new to SB Nation sites or just hang out around here, you might be missing out on some of the tools and stats available on the player pages. One of the best is that every players profile has an extensive transaction history. DiPietro's transaction history, which includes injuries, is nearly 5 pages long (using the page down button).
The amount of injuries DP has suffered is rather staggering. It isn't hard to see why people think it might be time for him to hang it up.
Here's a rundown of injuries since 2005:
Mild Concussion, Bruised Knee, Sprained Left Knee
Groin, Lower Body Injury
Neck Injury, Headache (which caused him to miss Game 1 of the playoffs) Knee injury
Personal Reasons and days later Hip Surgery to end the season, Knee injury, Lower Body injury, Knee Surgery, Groin
Swollen Right Knee ends season. Knee Surgery to start season.
Left Knee injury ends season. Swollen left knee
Strained Groin, Groin, Flu, Facial injury, concussion, groin
Hip/"Lower Body": 3
To make matters worse, he has been one of the worst goalies in the league the last two seasons. His .886 SV% was only .001 better then Ty Conklin, who finished the season last in SV% among goalies with 10 or more games. This year in his "healthy" year he's at an even worse .876 SV%, and of goalies with eight or more appearances only Alex Auld (.875) is worse right now.
Quite simply, goalies do not have seasons this bad back to back and stay in the NHL.
From countless interviews over the years we know that DP is a competitor with a passion for his team. We know he feels bad that he signed this huge contract and has almost spent more time hurt than playing since the ink dried. He wants to come back and be as good as he was previously. At some point does someone close to him point out that it's not going to happen? Does someone convince him that he's got to start thinking about his life after the game?
Or is it foolish to think that thought hasn't already crossed his mind a hundred times, and this season was to be his last stand?
After intense work this summer -- his first in several years without surgery/rehab -- he was finally "healthy" and ready to give it a go with a theoretical clean bill of health. But the injuries have returned while the performance hasn't.
In the end it should be Rick's choice if he chooses to retire or not, though not his choice to keep trying at the NHL level if he can't offer NHL performance. If somewhere, somehow he still thinks he can not only get healthy again but play on a top level, then go for it. Even those who hate him have to at least respect the ordeal of trying to come back and help the team he committed to for life before such committments were cool. It might have been easy to call it a career one or two seasons ago. Rehab is never fun and DP has probably spent more hours rehabbing than most of us have spent working out. It would have been easier to call it quits than to suffer through rehab again.
Emery Beats the Odds ... for Now
DiPietro might even be inspired by peer Ray Emery, whose injury outlook was once even more dire, his comeback all but miraculous. For Emery's tenure in Philadelphia ended because of a rare condition that has been the end of pro athletes who've suffered it:
The most noted athlete to have suffered from this was two sport superstar Bo Jackson, who had to end his playing career because of it. His surgery was a difficult procedure that involved removing 13 centimeters from his right fibula and then grafting it to the femur to re-introduce a proper blood supply to the area.
With the belief that doctors had caught the disease early enough, no one was extremely confident that Emery could be a functional NHL goaltender. No athlete had ever recovered from avascular necrosis without the aid of an artificial joint. A grueling workout and rehabilitation process began that included standard exercise, acupuncture procedures, and even ballet.
Jackson finally called it quits on his two-sport career when he was 31. DiPietro is 30. Just about everyone assumed Emery (29 now) was done at 28.
And Emery's probably not out of the woods: He had 13 centimeters removed from his right fibula and has done well enough for backup duty in his 24 games since returning late last season. But a job is no sure thing for him, and it remains to be seen how long his return lasts.
For all the flak that DP gets, try to imagine yourself in the same position: Who is going to rush out of a 15-year contract worth nearly $70 million dollars, especially when you think recovery is around the corner? At the same time the Islanders organization under Garth Snow tends to be very quiet about player health matters, so speculation rises and people are apt to believe the rumors they want to believe. You get rumors like the one last year that DiPietro was part of the reason Zenon Konopka wasn't brought back into the fold. I'm almost surprised that there's no Rick DiPietro entry over at snopes.com.
In the end I think we can all respect the attempt by DP to come back and be a useful piece of the organization. He's never said a bad word about the team, or about the fans who jeer him on a regular basis (even some boos on Opening Night). He's been about as professional as one could be given his situation. With a 15 year guaranteed contract, there's not much stopping him from shooting off his mouth or being a negative presence in the locker room if he wanted to.
Whether he chooses to retire tomorrow or try to play out the rest of his contract, I'll still have the same amount of respect for him. He's an Islander through and through and in the end he just wants to leave a positive impact on the team.