If this was to be written as a fairy tale, Rick DiPietro would be getting his first NHL start in over a year at the Nassau Coliseum, against the New York Rangers, on his birthday, in front of a sold-out crowd, in a shutout performance where he was named the first-star. Too bad we live in reality. But that doesn't mean a fairy tale ending is out of sight.
Yes, DP will be standing between the pipes tonight. It won't be on a practice rink with Mike Dunham and it certainly won't be for a forty-minute stint with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It will be with the New York Islanders in Dallas, Texas as the team visits Mike Modano and the Stars.
My curiosity to Islanders fan reactions will remain since he will be out of state tonight, but regardless of anyone's internal thoughts, it has to be a brief sigh of relief and cautious reason for optimism that the Islanders 2000 first overall pick is back in action. The team needs this in so many ways. No matter how you see it, Ricky has always been a leader. Even if you look passed his ridiculous 15-year contract, his attitude and desire to win on Long Island is a result of his heart pumping nothing but orange and blue through his veins. With players such as Okposo and Tavares carrying the torch in his absence, the team will have it's backbone, it's nucleus back in tact. At least for one night.
There are many fans that are holding their breath with Ricky's return. How long will it last before he blows out his hip again? When will he decide to skate out to the blue line to play a loose puck and get hit by an opposing forward resulting in another concussion? Will Ricky have the same luck as Valiquette did years ago and break his toe in a freaky pre-game accident? ...and by the way, when Valiquette injured himself it paved the way for DP to get his first NHL start so many years ago.
It definitely is not encouraging to see that the team's goaltender has over a decade left on his contract and has had so many injury problems. Maybe all he needed was this long absence to heal and he will be fine for the rest of his career. Only time will tell.
But tonight, for at least one game, the Islanders have the face of their franchise back on the ice. If you don't think the guys are going to play their hearts out to get him his first NHL win in over a year, you are without a doubt mistaken.
In addition, the trade rumors now are going to start to swirl around the crease. The Islanders are going to be carrying three goaltenders, one whom will sit in the press-box tonight. It hasn't been announced which of the two active goalies will sit, but my bet is on Marty Biron. Roloson was signed to be Ricky's back-up, and that's what I am expecting to see tonight. Biron was signed with the intentions of helping this team stay in it every night when Roloson couldn't play, to avoid another tandem that was comparable to MacDonald and Danis - and although he hasn't won as many games as everyone as hoped, he has done exactly that.
I've heard some say that the Islanders should try to trade Roloson since his return would be greater. I am not so sure about that. He has hands down been the better goaltender, but he is also 40 years old with another year on his contract. I don't see many teams wanting that on their hands once the playoffs are over. Biron, on the other hand, is a UFA after this year and would be going to a team with most of his salary already paid. He is capable of handling the starting role and would be valuable to a team that needs depth in net going into the playoffs. He may not bring us back alot in return, but he is the likely candidate to go. Just because someone is performing well, like Roloson, doesn't mean that his value to the team he is currently playing for should be forgotten.
There will be plenty of speculation over the next few weeks. I don't expect the Islanders to do anything until they see for a stretch that Ricky is healthy, comfortable and capable of coming back as the team's number one goaltender. But it sure will be fun to listen and read all the rumors.
But tonight it's all about Rick's return. Let's raise our glasses and cheer him on for his first NHL win of 2010.