UNIONDALE N.Y. - As Rick DiPietro’s long, strange trip back to starting duties with the Islanders nears its end, Martin Biron’s not-so-Magical Mystery Tour of the NHL will likely start again in 2010.
DiPietro, who will reach the one-year anniversary of his last win on Boxing Day (4-1 over the Leafs where he was second star and had an assist), is awaiting final clearance from various knee surgeries to play net sometime in the next week to 10 days. He had his first full NHL workout of the season on Tuesday.
Three years after he signed a whopping 15-year, $67.5 million US contract that owner Charles Wang favoured him with, many hockey observers still wonder about such a big risk for a goalie who has 117 wins, but remains largely unproven because of health issues and mediocre hockey by the Isles.
Rivals such as Wade Dubielewicz and Joey MacDonald have come and gone, but the No. 1 job is still his to recoup and with 40-year-old Dwayne Roloson still going strong on a two-year contract and Biron with sub-par numbers on his one-year $1.4 million pact (2-10-2, 3.30 goals-against average), the latter is a good bet to be moved by the March 3 trade deadline.
Biron hoped to stick around here after Ryan Miller squeezed him out in Buffalo and the Flyers opted to bring back NHL exile Ray Emery from Russia rather than re-sign Biron after two seasons.
Biron, 32, has three seasons of at least 20 wins since the lockout and more than 60 victories since the start of 2007-08.
“When Ricky comes back, it’ll get sorted, but it’s a situation that other teams are monitoring, (general manager) Garth Snow is monitoring and that my agents are active on,” Biron said yesterday. “You have to be patient. This hasn’t been the best start. I’ve had some of the craziest bad luck, but in some ways, you have to make your own luck and muddle through it.
“When the opportunity presents itself to play some games, I’ll be ready. I’m trying to get in the right rhythm. In the first month and a half here, things were good, my save percentage was in the .915 range and I was playing every other day. But last month, I haven’t been in that rhthym and I’ve played one of the last eight.
“I just want to have a chance and after that, we’ll see what happens. I want to contribute here. I’ve always been the kind of guy who gets on a (new) team and wants to give it his all.”
Biron’s company on the trade block could be the spare goalie on the other bench Friday night. As long as Jonas Gustavsson’s star keeps rising, the Maple Leafs will be less inclined to retain Vesa Toskala as the last months of his $4 million contract expire.
DiPietro has been bothered by knee, hip and concussion problems since 2007.
“Rick’s accustomed to playing at a certain level and for him to have to wait this long and have that much patience with his re-hab speaks volumes about him,” said Isles alternate capatin Richard Park. “I think we’d be first overall if we played all three goalies at once, but (deciding on who stays) is not up to us.
"Every game our goalies give us a chance to win and that’s all you can ask for.”
Coach Scott Gordon, whose team had lost four straight at home before last night and is badly in need of someone to take pressure off of star forward John Tavares, won’t try to rush DiPietro, even as precious playoff points have been slipping away.
“I’m not eating myself up about when he’s coming back,” Gordon said. “We have two good goaltenders. Everything will take care of itself. We aren’t going to mark the calendar and say ‘this is the date for Ricky’. We’ve been patient enough to this point and we’re not going to change that.”