If the Islanders want to cloak Rick DiPietro's health status in mystery, that's their prerogative. But actions seldom lie, and by that standard it's undeniable that their level of concern about the man with the 15-year contract is very serious.
The signing today of former Philadelphia starting goaltender Martin Biron on the heels of the signing of former Edmonton starter Dwayne Roloson is evidence of that. Loaded with high draft picks and a desperate need for scoring, size and toughness, general manager Garth Snow spent the first picks of the second and third rounds on goaltenders Mikko Koskinen and Anders Nilsson. On top of that, he signed AHL veteran goaltender Scott Munroe, and he has Nathan Lawson already in Bridgeport.
That means the Islanders have three goaltenders (DiPietro, Roloson and Biron), the Sound Tigers have three (Munroe, Koskinen and Lawson) and the Isles have at least three prospects in the system (Nilsson, Kevin Poulin and Stefan Ridderwall). Their better-safe-than-sorry approach is a direct reaction to what happened last season when DiPietro pushed to be on the Opening Night roster before he really was ready to play.
He backed up the first four games, started the next three, leaving the third game after one period, and then made two more starts the rest of the season, the last of which was on Jan. 2. After two operations on his left knee last year, it's confirmed he underwent a third procedure on the knee before he was seen on crutches at a rehab facility used by the Islanders in early April.
DiPietro's father, Richard Sr., recently assured that his son is making good progress and that the problem with his left knee finally was "cleared up" after a series of medical consultations that correctly identified the problem. He was uncertain about his son's rehab timetable but was confident Rick won't return until he's truly sound this time.
That's the good news. At the same time, seeing is believing, and Snow has acted in prudent fashion to fortify what coach Scott Gordon identified at the end of last season as the most important concern facing the Islanders.
I spoke to Biron earlier tonight for a story that will appear in Thursday's edition of Newsday. He didn't go into free agency thinking about the Islanders, but when Philadelphia signed Ray Emery and Brian Boucher as its goaltending tandem and he didn't receive the kind of long-term deal he wanted, the Islanders began to make more sense. His agent, Mark Witkin, also represents Roloson, so, he had some insight into the opportunity the Islanders represent in this situation.
Biron never would have signed a one-year deal for $1.4 million with the Flyers, but as he said, "We looked at the opportunity with the Islanders in a different light."
He understands that DiPietro could be ready to come back at any time, and when he does, three veteran goaltenders on the NHL roster will be one too many. No coach can be expected to get regular work for three goaltenders. Yet, Biron took the chance on joining the Isles because he obviously expects to get a chance to showcase himself for the rest of the league and possibly land that long-term deal next July.
"I expect to play for many years," said Biron, who turns 32 next month. "I played the last two years with the Flyers and learned tremendously. We went to the playoffs two consecutive years, reached the conference finals last year and then lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in a long series this year. I feel I'm at the peak of my experience and maturity.
"This situation gives me the best opportunity to play and keep my level of play up…This was something that was good for both sides."