Putting a player with a contract like DiPietro's in the minors usually signals that the player will never suit up for the NHL club again. The player generally spends the rest of their contracted playing years in the minors, eventually either being bought out by the team or working their craft in the minors indefinitely.
It's been a long time coming, but the Islanders finally have decided that having DiPietro on the roster was no longer the best thing for the team.
Nearly two and a half years ago, as DiPietro was on his way back from a knee injury, Chris Botta wondered on this blog if it was time for the team to make DiPietro attempt his comeback in the AHL:
[sny-box color=E6F1FF]"...you wonder when the conversation turns to what is best for the long-term playing future of Rick DiPietro. If the goalie is not yet at his best, no one is doing DiPietro any favors. LeBrun also noted in his column DiPietro’s “close relationship with Islanders owner Charles Wang.”
...What DiPietro is trying to overcome has been minimized by the national media. The only question that should be answered in the next two weeks is, where is it truly best for the goaltender to be attempting his comeback?"[/sny-box]
It was abundantly clear that the team had soured on DiPietro this year. In 2011-12 the Islanders had carried three NHL goalies to keep DiPietro on the roster while guarding against injury, a plan that failed and created a circus around the goaltending position. In years past, they seemingly made every attempt to let DiPietro fully recover and regain his starting job something that never panned out given his injuries. This year, the Islanders only went to DiPietro when they had to for back-to-back games, as Evgeni Nabokov needed rest in those situations.
What lies ahead for the netminder is unclear. The Islanders could buy DiPietro out, or they could let him play in Bridgeport indefinitely.
(Ed note: The original version of this story mentioned that the Islanders could buy out DiPietro immediately, a la Scott Gomez and Wade Redden. This is inaccurate, as that would have had to occurred before the start of the season, and the post has been edited to reflect this.)
If they choose to buy him out, DiPietro needs to be injury free at that time -- teams cannot buyout injured players.
If the team does choose to buy him out in the summer, there are two ways the Islanders could do so. The first is under the old buyout rule, like how Alexei Yashin was bought out, where the player recieves two-thirds of the money due to him and his cap hit is counted against the cap for twice the remaining years on the contract. Capgeek breaks this down perfectly:
So, if the Islanders were to buyout DiPietro this summer under the traditional buyout rules, he would be a $1.5 million cap hit until 2028-29.
Alternatively, they could use one of the amnesty buyouts that were a part of the new CBA, where DiPietro is bought out and his cap hit disappears entirely. Teams get to use one of these in the summer of 2013 and one in the summer of 2014. For a team that just acquired Tim Thomas for cap purposes, this option seems unlikely.
Of course, the team could simply let DiPietro play out his career in Bridgeport. They're paying him money whether they buy him out of the contract or not, so maybe they let him be. DiPietro's cap hit would still count if he's in the minors, less $900,000, per the rules of the new CBA. This being the Islanders, who took a few years too many to waive him, it's not totally out of the realm of possibility that they have him play in Bridgeport for an extended period of time.
The only way the team is off the hook for his salary is if DiPietro retires.
General Manager Garth Snow was mum on buying out DiPietro, when reached by ESPN New York on Friday.
[sny-box]"We haven't given that any consideration at this point," Snow said when reached by phone Friday afternoon. "I'm not gonna speculate what the future may hold."[/sny-box]
Either way, this is a step towards the future for the Islanders and away from the past. DiPietro is one of only two players left in the organization drafted by Mike Milbury. It also seems like it will be the final chapter in the long saga of DiPietro.
After the 2005-06 season he was signed to the unbelievable 15-year deal, which is what he'll always be remembered for. He had two good years following the ink drying on the contract, and ended up starting in the 2008 All-Star Game after Martin Brodeur dropped out. In that All-Star Game, DiPietro got injured while mic'ed up in front of a national TV audience and was never the same again. He sustained a multitude of injuries over the last five years. Now, he's headed to Bridgeport.
This won't be the last story we'll ever have about DiPietro, but it's the first one where all parties involved can start moving forward.