DiPIETRO MUST BE SHUT DOWN UNTIL 2010-11Still unable to practice, so call it a season

Chris Botta on Twitter


Rick DiPietro has not practiced with the Islanders the last two days. The team would not confirm whether or not the injured goaltender skated regularly while the Islanders were on their West Coast trip last week. Scott Gordon told a pair of reporters yesterday, in the kindest possible way, “I’m done talking about that” and referred all questions about DiPietro to general manager Garth Snow.


All this can only mean one thing. Check that, it should only mean one thing. Rick DiPietro must be shut down for the rest of this season.


Yes…try, try again next season. Yes, the Islanders have to view any possible, semi-miraculous fulltime return of DiPietro in the future as very good gravy.


And yes, like last offseason, the Islanders will need two quality goaltenders besides DiPietro to start 2010-11. Dwayne Roloson is already locked up. Who knows – Martin Biron is going to need an NHL job again. There are going to be several other quality goaltenders on the unrestricted free agent market on July 1. Their goalie prospects are not ready.


Seems like only yesterday that I posted in late August that DiPietro was not remotely close to a return, while the Islanders felt it was necessary to line up the guns and say he would be in training camp and his comeback was imminent.


After a too-brief rehabilitation stint in Bridgeport, in which he completed only the last of his three games, DiPietro returned to the Islanders on Jan. 8 and was given a regular turn in net. Despite the stellar goaltending of Dwayne Roloson, DiPietro was handed back-to-back starts on Jan. 16 and 18. Those games against Buffalo and New Jersey were his only wins this season.


His last game was on Feb. 6. DiPietro is 2-5 with a 2.60 GAA and .900 save percentage this season. He played parts of five games in 2008-09.


DiPietro told John Jeansonne of Newsday today that this was a good year because he “proved I could come back and play in the NHL.” That may a nice personal milestone, but he has not proven enough to anyone to be posted in permanent marker on the NHL depth chart for 2010-11. The Islanders would be crazy to enter next season with just Roloson and hope. DiPietro also told Jeansonne the knee is “good” and he is in the best shape of his life. Alrighty then.


This has been sad, when you consider the immense talent and desire of DiPietro, who achieved status as an NHL all-star and U.S. Olympian at an early age and was only improving as a goaltender before hip and knee injuries derailed his career. This all happened, quite improbably, after Islanders owner Charles Wang created and oversaw the negotiations on a landmark 15-year contract with the goaltender.


In an interview with Howie Rose on MSG Plus on March 11, Islanders GM Garth Snow said he “fully expects (DiPietro) to play at some point” this season. Snow also called it “important” for the goalie and the team that he return for some game action over the next month.


If DiPietro has been unable to practice with the team the last two days, it’s now virtually impossible to make the case that his return for meaningless games in April will benefit anyone. At this point, the goalie needs to focus on getting as strong as possible when training camp opens in China in September.


The good news for the Islanders is, DiPietro’s chronic condition does not in any way prevent the team from spending money and fielding a quality NHL team next season and beyond. Last summer’s crafty, cost-effective signings of Roloson and Biron by Snow is the latest proof. Only those looking to make excuses for Islanders management see it any other way. Thoughts of DiPietro’s $4.5 million “opening up some cap space” are, frankly, hilarious.


The team is currently more than $15 million below the salary cap, has shed Andy Sutton’s $3 million and has a handful of veteran UFAs they will likely bid farewell. Snow has been on record all year saying he has the money and the green light from Wang to spend to improve his team.


While the Islanders can go about their business of getting better in year three of the rebuild, everyone can root for DiPietro’s healthy return to the profession and team he loves so much. He is just 28 years old.


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