Rick DiPietro is one of the NHL’s most infamous busts due to his unlucky injuries, but what if the New York Islanders netminder never got hurt.
When the New York Islanders added Lou Lamoriello to the mix, New York sports talk stations actually began to mention the Islanders existence. It was a different phenomenon but one I could get used to as mentioning hockey on the radio in New York is considered a taboo thing.
Alan Hahn, who covered the New York Islanders for Newsday from 1999-2006, is now on ESPN Radio. He used to be on-air with Rick DiPietro, but now runs a solo show on weeknights.
Hahn mentioned that DiPietro blames himself for the Islanders still having problems in net. So, it got me thinking what if Rick DiPietro never got hurt? How different would things be, if anything?
Let’s start with some context. The Islanders took Rick DiPietro with the number one overall pick in the 2000 NHL Draft. From 2000 to 2013 DiPietro spent time with the Islanders but faced numerous injuries that derailed his career.
For four of his 11 NHL seasons, DiPietro was healthy. It was a run starting from 2003-2004 that went through the 2007-2008 season. We’ll use his numbers from those four years a lot in this exercise.
In 2003-2004 DiPietro finally had a breakthrough season at age 22. He had a .911 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.36. The goals against average was 36th and save percentage was 39th of 94 goalies who played in the league. So, DiPietro was above average that year.
He followed that up with a .900 save percentage and a 3.02 goals against average. For context the GAA was 49th and the save percentage was 36th out of 91 goalies who played in the league that year.
After a down year, he had a very solid season in 2006-2007. His save percentage went up to .919 and his goals-against average was 2.58. His goals-against average was 23rd and his save percentage was 11th out of 84.
The final year of health yielded a .902 save percentage and a 2.82 goals against average. The GAA was 56th and his save percentage was 58th out of 89 goalies who played in the league in 2007-2008.
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So since we’re only counting healthy years, his average save percentage is .908 and 2.70 goals against average. If he would’ve had his average year in 2008-2009 instead of only playing five games what would’ve happened?
Would the Islanders have landed Tavares?
If you remember, Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis was the Islanders goalie tandem that year in place of DiPietro. The Isles goalies combined had a .903 save percentage and a 3.23 goals against average. It led them to the number one overall pick and landing John Tavares. If DiPietro is healthy that year the Isles are still bad, but bad enough for the number one overall pick?
I’m going to say DiPietro wins the Islanders maybe two more games than the Isles goalie tandem of MacDonald and Danis. If that was the case, the Isles still would’ve finished with the worst record in the league, with the same chances to land Tavares.
Even when healthy, DiPietro’s career numbers aren’t sticking out as a goalie who you win with based on their talent. His healthy years were mediocre numbers. So, 2009-2012 probably has similar results.
2012-2013 would have a different ending
The one thing I might give you is the 2012-2013 season being different. Evgeni Nabokov gave the Islanders a solid regular season posting a .910 save percentage and a 2.50 goals against average but in the playoffs, things fell apart.
Nabokov had a .842 save percentage and a 4.44 goals against average. That ain’t good. Again, if DiPietro gave you his average of .908 and 2.70 you probably still make the playoffs as the eight seed. Let’s not forget the Isles were the eighth seed by four points and I don’t think Nabokov wins you two more games than DiPietro would’ve in the regular season.
With anything resembling an NHL goalie in the Pittsburgh series, the Islanders would’ve won the thing. It would’ve been the Islanders in six, instead of Penguins in six thus ending their playoff series drought three years earlier.
Sure, Boston probably would’ve walked the floor with the Islanders in round two, but that’s fine a playoff series win that year changes a lot.
2014-2015 and 2015-2016 Islanders playoff story would be different
The next time the Islanders would make the playoffs was 2014-2015. If Rick DiPietro was still the goalie there’s no chance they finish with the same record. Jaroslav Halak was brilliant in 2014-2015 with a 38-17-4 record a .914 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average.
In the playoffs, Halak stood on his head against the Capitals with a .926 save percentage and a 2.30 goals against average. A 33-year-old D.P. doesn’t give you that.
Also, the 2016 dramatic win over the Panthers in the playoffs doesn’t happen. Greiss had a .938 save percentage in that series, one of the main reasons why they advanced was Greiss, and Tavares playing hero of course.
Debunking that things would be different
If DiPietro stayed healthy very little would’ve changed. The Islanders probably would’ve ended their playoff streak three years earlier but it’s still likely just one playoff series win in 25 years.
Even a healthy D.P. was mediocre at best. His adjusted .908 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average is comparable to Cam Ward’s career numbers with a .909 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average.
If the Islanders had Cam Ward the past ten years do I think things are different? Absolutely not. So even if we daydreamed about a healthy career from DiPietro the Islanders would still have four championships, and a poor playoff history in the last quarter century.
Don’t worry Rick, this isn’t on you because you got hurt. If anything it’s on Milbury for committing to DiPietro instead of keeping Luongo. If we did this exercise with Luongo we may have a different story on our hands.