Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How Does DiPietro Fit In?

The Islanders have a new identity. It has been forged over seven months, starting when Garth Snow hired Scott Gordon to build a new team. The identity is not only that they show up every night—it's that they're a tough opponent and they're going to get better.

Since August, numerous figures in the organization have contributed to this identity. Thus, it is an organically developed new identity, as opposed to the manufactured identities that have failed to take hold the last several years.

Start with Gordon, who implemented his system rigidly, and then quietly adjusted when he saw an opportunity to help the team perform better.

Go to Snow, who didn't hesitate to remove the players who were rotting the core of Gordon's apple.

Look at Brendan Witt and Sean Bergenheim, who were unhappy—one with the team's approach and the other with his role—but chose to make themselves part of the solution rather than part of an infection.

Look at Mark Streit, who wasn't satisfied to produce on scale with his new surroundings but instead has already set a career high in goals and now has people legitimately mentioning the Norris Trophy thanks to his all-around fantastic play.

Look at Kyle Okposo, who became determined to show that he is all that he was cracked up to be.

Look at Blake Comeau, who accepted the responsibility of being an NHL player and understands what that takes.

Look at Bruno Gervais, who may have been running out of chances to be a key player and now has his career on the upswing again.

Look at Tim Jackman, who makes the most of his ability and the time he's given to prove himself.

Look at Frans Nielsen, who now trails only Streit and Doug Weight in assists despite missing 23 games.

Look at Mike Iggulden, Jesse Joensuu, Jack Hillen, Joe Callahan, and many more, fitting in seamlessly when called upon

Look at Yann Danis, who has obviously put in the work necessary to convert his talent into that of NHL starting goaltender.

Funny thing about looking at Danis and talking about the team's identity—you can't help but think about Rick DiPietro. For years, DiPietro, as the team's most talented player and only star (Yashin aside), has been the Islanders' identity. He was indispensable.

That is no longer the case.

Before this run of winning hockey, before this season, it was only possible to imagine the Islanders being successful with DiPietro in goal. Whether by pedigree or contract, he was going to be there. He earned the All-Star label, and goaltender was simply the one position the Islanders were not going to be concerned with for many years.

Quite suddenly, it is evident that the Islanders can be successful with someone else in goal. And, by all accounts, the current squad gets on as well off the ice as they have been on the ice.

What happens, then, when you throw DiPietro back into the mix?

It's an odd thing to consider—wondering how much time the star goalie is spending with the new-look Islanders as they find their way in the NHL and set expectations for the future. How much a part of it does he feel? How will they feel about him reasserting his presence on the ice and in the locker room?

You know as well as I do that answers to those questions are not forthcoming. At least, not beyond something like, As a player you can't worry about that sort of thing. You support your teammates, no matter who's on the ice. And they'll go on to express, genuinely, that DiPietro is a great teammate and a great goalie.

Ultimately, that's what it comes down to. The next time DiPietro steps between the pipes, he will be stepping into a better situation than he was in the last time he played. If that means that the Islanders are no longer his team exclusively, they are better for it. If his absence extends further, they are prepared for it.

The leadership and talent need to be more balanced going forward, rather than having such a strong presence emanating solely from the net. The Islanders have the pieces in place to make that happen now. DiPietro can return and just be the goalie, as opposed to being the singular face of the franchise.

It is a little complicated that I no longer consider him indispensable, considering he has 12 years remaining on his contract. But worrying about that serves little purpose until he's actually back on the ice.

(This post was originally published at on March 17, 2009.)


Dominik said...

'Nother sweet post, Ken! (I should be commenting at HB on these, but I had an issue with my telco and confirming membership via a mobile phone).

It's interesting particularly with how much DiPietro has the role of vocal locker room guy, too. Maybe a summer off for everyone let's him reclaim that role.

If I had to bet, I'd say he'll be back in good form sometime next season and everything will be relatively smooth -- but then we'll go through this same quandary in about five years when some "30s and feeling 40" injury comes up.

Islanders Outsider said...

I'm happy to have the comments here too!

I also anticipate that it will be smooth and didn't mean to suggest that DiPietro would be without a role next season (as some may have interpreted it).

It's just something I've been thinking about lately—that all this excitement has been building lately without the guy who has been the face of the franchise.

Dominik said...

Yeah, it's an interesting topic.

He's a big enough personality that there's a wild card to throw in -- imagine if Danis is re-signed and starts hot and DiPietro is still not right? Lot of possible outcomes there.