Thursday, September 14, 2006

Didn't want to have to do it

I didn't want to touch this story, in any way. But I can't get away from it - much the same way the Isles can't get away from Rick DiPietro now. Ever.

Charles Wang's idea was simple - keep the #1 goalie happy and fix costs at the same time. So, every year until he turns forty, DiPietro will collect an identical $4.5 million from the Islanders. It sounds so good, and so deceptively simple, and it's all just wrong.

Part of this, of course, is that the Isles are already crippled by Alexei Yashin's $7.6 million per year - a number which may be justifiable if Yashin were the best forward in the entire league, instead of maybe the fourth best on his own mediocre team. It's Yashin's contract that is really killing the Isles. That $7.6 million means that they couldn't even consider a run for Patrik Elias, or a trade-and-re-sign of Marian Gaborik. It's why they couldn't retain Roman Hamrlik or Adrian Aucoin, their two best defensemen from 2003-04. It's why they will be hard-pressed to keep Trent Hunter, Denis Grebeshkov, or Jeff Tambellini if they develop into top-flight talent.

But back to DiPietro. I'm not quite of the Scott Burnside opinion (or the Allan Muir opinion) that this is a hugely stupid move; it's more that the Isles outsmarted themselves. DiPietro is currently not worth $4.5 million, and especially not when that number is about 10% of the NHL salary cap. He may be later, but that's where the true anti-genius of this bad contract comes into play. The contract is too long, and thus too inflexible. If DiPietro regresses this season (as he did following the long lockout) he'll be overpaid and untradeable. If he suddenly emerges as a Vezina candidate, then he becomes underpaid, and wondering whether or not it may be in his best interests to hold out for more, or force a renegotiation. Somebody is going to be unhappy about this, no matter what.

Of course, as a fan I hope that DiPietro outperforms the contract, and I have more confidence than Burnside that it can happen. (Burnside even refuses to acknowledge his one lonely playoff win, against Tampa Bay in the first-round washout in 2004.) DiPietro improved as the year went on, behind a worse team defensively - a team that, in the end, had only one of their top six defenders from the previous season still in the lineup (Radek Martinek, not exactly the second coming of Denis Potvin). Check the numbers - he faced only 24.7 shots per game in '03-'04, but 28.5 per game last year. His team scored slightly fewer goals per game in front of him as well (2.9 to 2.8), and with the increased emphasis on offense producing higher scores league-wide, any decline was likely to be a disaster even if DiPietro had played better.

But still - between this, and Yashin, and the GM circus, the franchise is turning into a Ringling Brothers sideshow, and that's not the way to attract top talent on or off the ice. It's no way to keep a fan base. It's almost like a Slapshot/Major League scheme to move the team someplace.

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