Fantasy Islanders

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

If you're a fan of the Maple Leafs, here's how you put Rick DiPietro's signing into perspective.

Think back 12 years to 1994 and the brilliant young goaltender who had shown through two solid seasons that he was the long-term answer to the Leafs' goaltending problems.

His name was Felix Potvin.

Had the Leafs given Potvin the kind of contract the New York Islanders gave DiPietro yesterday -- 15 years, $67.5 million US -- they still would be looking at paying him for three more years.

In the actual case, the Leafs didn't have to pay Potvin after he moved on in 1999. But in DiPietro's case, a salary cap and a restrictive collective bargaining agreement are in place. With this deal, he's virtually untradable.

If he goes into the tank, he'll still get paid. No one will take that contract off the Islanders, the one team that should be the most acutely aware of that given the Alexei Yashin millstone they have to carry.

And what happens if DiPietro is very good, but the Islanders, through the kind of sheer dumb luck this organization would need to do anything right, get a better goalie? That's what happened to Potvin when he was supplanted in Toronto by Curtis Joseph.

The Islanders would now have two great goalies, but so what? Presumably, even Islanders owner Charles Wang realizes you can play only one at a time. But you can definitely pay two at a time.

Simple logic, a commodity not in great supply on Long Island, tells you that the deal DiPietro signed yesterday has to lead to acrimony and failure. There is no other possibility.

He's going to get the same $4.5-million salary every year. But what hockey player is ever worth the same price season after season? Every year in the National Hockey League, hundreds of veterans get new contracts. How many of them are identical to the previous contract?

If DiPietro provides great goaltending, he'll be worth a lot more than $4.5 million and he'll resent the fact he's being underpaid. Anybody would. Well, almost anybody, but there's only one Martin Brodeur in the world.

In that scenario, DiPietro will find himself surrounded by players who aren't as good but are earning more. Nothing creates more instant turmoil in a dressing room than a heavily imbalanced team salary structure.

Wayne Gretzky, acting on foolish advice from his agent at the time, once signed a 21-year contract. But that was in 1979 and before long, it became so apparent that the concept was idiotic that even the notoriously parsimonious Peter Pocklington rewrote the deal.

But that was a different era. Under the new CBA rules, this contract cannot be torn up. Nor can it be restructured.

It either runs its 15-year course or it gets bought out -- at two-thirds of the remaining value.

So if DiPietro fizzles out, which is the case with so many goaltenders who look good in the early stages, the Islanders will still be stuck with a contract powered by the Energizer Bunny. They'll be paying and paying and paying and paying.

During the CBA negotiations, the NHL tried to limit the length of contracts in order to avoid this kind of lunacy but it was one of the few provisions in their favour they didn't get.

Twenty years ago, the average NHL salary was about $220,000. In the next 10 years, it quintupled. Who knows where salaries are going to be over the course of DiPietro's contract? During that 15-year span, there almost certainly will be three new CBAs forged by the league and players.

Ten years from now, maybe the entry-level salary will be $4.75 million and DiPietro will be playing for the minimum. That doesn't seem too likely, but in 1986, neither did the million-dollar salaries that were 10 years away.

The point is that you would have to be absolutely nuts to try to predict economic factors 15 years down the road. Or part of the New York Islanders organization. If there's a difference.


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