Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:October 12th, 2006 07:02 EST
DiPietro Deal Another Symptom of Islanders Wackiness

DiPietro Deal Another Symptom of Islanders Wackiness

By Tyler Collins

When the New York Islanders signed goal-tender Rick DiPietro to a 15-year, $67.5 million contract on September 12, many eyebrows around the NHL were raised. After all, DiPietro has never won a Stanley Cup or a Vezina Trophy. He didn’t even win the Calder Trophy in his rookie season. If one were to look into the happenings on Long Island within the past decade, they would see that this contract, the largest ever in NHL history, is just another run-of-the-mill transaction for the Islanders.

The New York Islanders were once one of hockey’s most respected franchises. They won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980’s, boasting a roster with such stars as Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Billy Smith, and Denis Potvin. However, in recent years the team has fallen on hard times. They haven’t won a playoff series since 1993, and have only qualified for the post-season twice in the last decade. Their on-ice troubles are only overshadowed by the bizarre occurrences that have taken place in the General Manager’s office. From outrageous trades to an owner who may not even follow the game, there is no doubting that the Islanders are a team in turmoil.

DiPietro, 25, became the first goal-tender in NHL history to be selected first overall, when Isles’ GM Mike Milbury chose him in the 2000 entry draft. Milbury chose DiPietro ahead of both Dany Heatley and Marion Gaborik, even though his roster already included the highly regarded Roberto Luongo, who is arguably the best goal-tender in the game today. With DiPietro now in the fold, Milbury felt Luongo had become expendable and shipped him and Olli Jokinen to Florida for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. While Luongo and Jokinen became big-time producers for Florida, Parrish and Kvasha did not shine nearly as brightly. This is just one of the many lopsided deals engineered by Milbury that have earned him the moniker of ‘Mad Mike’.

Milbury is a central figure in the Islanders’ recent woes. He became the team’s General Manager in 1996 and orchestrated a number of deals that shocked the hockey world. These trades did not shock simply because they were blockbusters; they shocked because they were highly illogical and often weakened the Islander team and its future. In 1998, for example, Milbury traded Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and a third round draft pick to Vancouver for Trevor Linden. In 2001, he traded Zdeno Chara, a draft pick (that turned out to be Jason Spezza) and Bill Muckalt for Alexei Yashin, whose game seems to falter steadily every playoff season. Milbury has also traded away Brian Berard, Wendel Clark, Felix Potvin, Wade Redden, Eric Brewer, Tommy Salo, and Mike Peca.

This wackiness does not end with Milbury. It goes higher; all the way to the team’s owner, in fact. Charles Wang, who bought the team in 2000, has demonstrated to the entire world that he has less hockey sense than a French Polynesian. His two major contract signings have been awarded to players who are unproven and lack the characteristics to be the cornerstone of a franchise. Rick DiPietro has played all of five games in the post-season, with one win to show for it. He has been highly touted his entire career, but has yet to lead the Islanders past the Conference quarter-finals. The other contract, a 10-year pact doled out to Alexei Yashin, is equally puzzling. While usually a strong regular-season performer, Yashin’s is all but invisible in the post season, a career minus 16 with 27 points in 43 career post-season games. Ottawa couldn't wait to unload him.

Wang has made mistakes outside of the owner’s box, as well. In 2000, he was the defendant in a class-action suit which claimed that Wang’s company, Computer Associates International, had grossly over-inflated its revenue in order to increase the company’s stock price. He was also fingered by Forbes magazine for underreporting the Isles’ cable broadcast revenue by over $7 million.

For long-suffering Islander fans, it seemed that hope had finally appeared on the horizon during the 2006 playoffs. Wang hired the respected Neil Smith to assume the General Manager duties of the team. Smith was the architect of the New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup championship in 1994, and the surrounding years of success the team experienced. His reign as GM would last a mere forty days. On July 18, Wang fired Smith and introduced the Islanders’ backup goalie, Garth Snow, as the team’s new General Manager. While giving his introductory speech, even Snow looked shocked.

These events have led many in the hockey world to wonder what really is going on in Long Island. Perhaps the strangest fact of all is that Mike Milbury remains employed with the organization. All we know is that Rick DiPietro will be between the posts for the Islanders for the next fifteen years, and that if he falters, or gets hurt, the mad scramble that has characterized this franchise for the past decade will reach a new level. For the sake of this once-proud franchise, let’s hope this never happens.