To use a phrase uttered by the man himself, Mike Milbury is depriving a small village somewhere of an idiot. It’s beyond provable that he has failed each and every time he has been involved with a hockey organization. It goes beyond the silly, inane things he says about the sport from his present analyst’s position. To Islander fans, the biggest Milbury blunder involves one man: Rick DiPietro.
Rick DiPietro was a brash cocky goalie with a winners attitude when he was drafted first overall in 2000. Many experts said what he lacked in size he made up for with intangibles. The scouting report on DP was that he doesn’t like to lose, and that he was a great teammate. To leave the comparisons Islanders related, he had Billy Smith type qualities. DP may not wow you with his season stats, but he will be here when need him most, making the big save at the big moment. Those big moments never came, and DP became the sink personifying all of the things to blame about why this team stinks and has stunk for years. On top of unfulfilled promise, the slew of injuries- some self inflicted- and the amazing amount of NHL rehabilitation games that the Islanders provided him at the expense of the team led to many Islander fans seeing DP as what’s wrong with this organization. They point to the trade of Roberto Luongo as a reason why the Islanders have lingered in obscurity. Fans around the NHL point to “the contract” and get a laugh at our expense. The Luongo trade and the contract are not DPs’ fault however, so we aren’t going to blame him for what he did or didn’t do. Yet they’re also two DP related factors that can’t be ignored, so they will be explored as we try to put a finger on what has ended up being the ruination of a career and the disabling of a franchise.
First, the trade. That trade sums up Mike Milbury. Whether Charles Wang and Sanjay “Fallguy” Kumar wanted Ricky, or Milbury did, Mike made a stupid trade. Flat dumb. It was stupid not just because he traded a top goalie prospect, but because of what he traded for in return. Milbury wanted Oleg Kvasha so badly that he traded the top goalie prospect in hockey. A guy who is still playing. A guy who is second in career wins among active goalies behind Martin “Cy Young of Hockey” Brodeur. Allegedly Milbury was mad that Luongo went apartment shopping on a game day, in which he later got shelled. So to teach a young player about the consequences of impetuous actions, Milbury took an impetuous action. Mad Mike went to his laboratory and cooked up a trade: Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen for Mark Parish and Oleg Kvasha. Parrish obviously had some nice years here, but was it necessary for this deal to be a two player for two player swap? Even if you argue that with the drafting of a goalie and the addition of a center and a wing shored up this team, in exploring what you traded – a center and a goalie- and looking at the players you passed up on with the number one pick – Dany Heatley and Marion Gaborik- this deal made no sense. As per centers, Jokinen still plays hockey. Kvasha doesn’t. Wing? Heatley and Gaborik still put up numbers, Parrish has been effectively out of hockey for years. And goalies? Roberto Luongo has 259 wins since 2005. The Islanders franchise in that same span? 235 wins. What’s especially worse for Islander fans is that the best goalie drafted in the 2000 NHL entry draft wasn’t DiPietro, nor Roman Cechmanek, nor Ilya Bryzgalov, nor Dan Ellis. It was a guy who went in the 7th round, taken 3 picks after the Islanders selected Ryan Caldwell, named Henrik Lundqvist.
The timing of the Luongo deal was atrocious. If the desire was to just move a guy, Luongo could have been dealt at the draft for a combination of picks and players, or at a later moment when teams were filling in their rosters and noticed shortcomings and excesses. It’s fair to assume that Luongo alone would have returned two players if the timing of the trade was during a “sellers” market like the trade deadline or upon another team’s starter becoming injured. We get that Olli Jokinen supposedly hated playing on Long Island, but Jokinen came in a trade that sent Ziggy Palffy to Los Angeles. Palffy was a great player. If Jokinen was in that trade, then the Islanders must have seen something special in a guy drafted third overall. That his return was Mark Parrish? That’d be like Carolina trading Jeff Skinner to the Islanders for Josh Bailey. Josh is a nice guy, but no team in their right mind trades a great player straight up for an average one.
Then there’s the contract. Ugh. While the annual pay – $4.5 million- is low for a starting #1 top flight goalie- the length of that deal- 15 years- is absurd. Everyone made jokes about it, except the teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Chicago Blackhawks, who did the exact same thing. Luongo signed a seven year deal at the age of 31. Hossa signed a 10 year deal carrying him into his 40′s, as did Kovalchuk in N.J. Think Detroit wants a do over on the Franzen deal? The Capitals are publicly complaining about what happened to Ovechkin, and that he’s 20% of their salary cap for the next decade. Think Penguin fans aren’t gasping every time Crosby turns his head too quickly? The real reason that the Isles get criticized for the contract is not for the dollar amount or years, but because of games played. This is something that the NHL is so afraid of that they actually made rules about it in the newest CBA. Injuries do happen. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality of sports.
Neither of these previous moves pertaining to DP should be focused on. You can focus on him costing his team wins by rehabbing at the NHL level, something we’ve never seen from any successful NHL organization. You can focus on him grandstanding at games, be it handing out hot dogs or yucking it up on the bench as his team is losing or fist fighting teammates in practice or making a plea for dog adoption as a PR move. You can focus on his “me first” quotes, with the personal favorite about how when asked about facing competition for starts because the team had three goalies, he was in disbelief that the team would consider anyone else to start. You can even focus on how former teammate Brendan Witt pointed out his inappropriate closeness with the team owner, his massive ego needing a barge to carry it to the minors, the week allotted for DP to travel the 100 miles to Bridgeport, DP’s bragging in the locker room about the terms of his contract, and that “it was always the DP show.” We don’t recall Witt taking a week when he was waived to Bridgeport, so we have to wonder why it’s taking DP an extra six days for the same move that Kevin Poulin made in an afternoon.
DiPietro’s supporters claim that you can’t question DP’s attitude and commitment to this team. We respectlessly disagree. Rick DiPietro oozes immaturity and selfishness. These are two qualities that a winning franchise would not stand for, yet the Islanders did it for 4 years too long. Let’s make one more comparison regarding DP and the NHL. Let us compare the two first overall picks on the Islanders. Which is a hard task, because can you find ANY basis of comparison between Rick DiPietro’s and John Tavares? Work ethic? Competitiveness? Desire to improve? Maturity? Selflessness? Rick DiPietro still makes the same stupid plays that he did in his rookie year. He still tries to toss the puck in the air and bat it away. This fails roughly every time he tries, yet he never lets it go. He still makes outlet passes to players on the other team, leaving his net unprotected in the process. He still overhandles the puck and causes chaos amongt his own defense. His teammates are out of position covering for him all of the time. In 12 seasons, he has shown zero growth. Contrast that with Tavares, who identifies weaknesses in his game by himself and works at righting his wrongs. Remember when his skating was bad? Now it’s above average. Remember when he had no one timer? Fixed. Remember when he was too small? Added muscle. And last offseason he decided to work on the release of his shot- he now leads the league in goals scored. Tavares hates losing so much that he learned how to backcheck to keep the opponents from scoring. DP hates losing so much that he got his face punched in by Brett Johnson so he wouldn’t have to be on ice at the end of the game. John Tavares is the real captain of this team. Compare that with DP, whose title should be “team clownshoes.”
Here’s a fair question: which was more of shock- Garth Snow waiving Rick DiPietro, or Garth Snow actually acting in the best interests of the team? Sending Rick to Bridgeport would have been a smart move four years ago. Not because Ricky was as awful as he is now, but because that’s when he could have actually rehabilitated his then lower quantity of injuries and possibly gotten back into some shape that resembled an NHL goalie. As fans we would have had the chance to ridicule DP for his over playing of the puck, flailing around aimlessly in the net and his unearned brashness. And even though we still did exactly that over the last few years, you kind of felt bad kicking a guy when he was down- which was a lot. Still, while this is being blown and overblown by the hockey media, let us point out that all of this hullabaloo was over a guy’s contract and understanding its colossal failure. We really hope that DP regains no form and never sees the NHL again, because he belongs on the ice about as much as we do.
However, if you look at this strictly as a personnel move, the Islanders swapped a washed up backup goalie for a promising backup goalie…who promptly delivered a loss in his first start, just like the last backup goalie. We know you can’t put all of the blame on the new guy. With Bailey, Okposo and Aucoin virtually useless, and the defense constantly out of position, with or without DP, this team is still shitty. Until the GM acts like one and tries to vastly improve his fading team, then lets welcome Kevin Poulin to…more of the same.
About the Author: We are two long time hockey fans who certainly have our own opinions and points of view. Feel free to share yours. Follow on twitter @joshbarely