— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) June 28, 2013
New York Islanders beat writer Arthur Staple tweeted today that the Islanders would be interested in swapping Rick DiPietro for Roberto Luongo. On the surface it looks like a swap of two albatross contracts, but both Islander fans and Canucks fans know there is a lot more to this potential deal than meets the eye.
Luongo was drafted 4th overall by then Islander GM Mike Milbury in 1997. He made his Islander debut in 1999 and played 24 games for the Isles during the 1999-2000 season. In a surprise move at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Luongo was traded along with Olli Jokinen to Florida for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish.
The deal was made because ‘Mad’ Mike Milbury fell in love with Rick DiPietro, a cocky freshman goaltender from Winthrop, Mass. playing for Boston University. Milbury was so taken with this DiPietro character that he traded a surefire franchise goaltender in Luongo away and picked DiPietro first overall.
It was the first time in NHL History a goaltender was taken with the first overall pick in the draft. In fact, before DiPietro, Luongo was the highest selected goaltender of all-time.
For Islander fans this series of moves serves as a reminder that Milbury almost ruined the franchise, setting them back so far that it has taken almost a full decade to recover from the losses during ‘Mad’ Mike’s Reign.
Luongo went on to flourish in Florida and DiPietro developed into a promising goaltender, coming into his own around the same time Luongo was asking out of Florida to play for a chance to win a Cup. Luongo was traded to Vancouver before the 2006-07 season. The Canucks were on the cusp of becoming one of the elite teams in the league, and ‘Bobby Lu’ was their alleged missing piece.
Also during that off-season the Islanders signed DiPietro to a landmark 15-year deal. Despite having only played two full NHL seasons as a starting goaltender, the Islanders committed to DiPietro until 2022. It is a move the Islanders and DiPietro will never live down. DiPietro played pretty well the first couple of seasons under his new deal.
Then in 2008, at the same All-Star Game in Atlanta that Luongo skipped to be with his wife. During the All-Star Game’s Skill Competition, a mic’d up DiPietro hurt his hip making a save on Marion Gaborik in the breakaway contest. Gaborik was selected 3rd overall in the same draft that DiPietro was taken. DiPietro started for the Eastern Conference the next night but was never the same goaltender again. It is fitting that an athlete known for his hubris met his demise during a meaningless skills competition.
As DiPietro battled injury, Luongo battled demons. He was one of the best regular season goaltenders in the league, but when the Canucks got into the playoffs, he would fade. The Vancouver Media was all over him. Undeterred by his anointment as a choke-artist, the Canucks named Luongo captain (naming your goaltender captain is a big no-no in the unwritten rules of hockey) in 2008 and then signed him to a 12-year extension in 2009. The deal would end in 2022, the year after DiPietro’s contract would come off the Islanders’ books.
Luongo enjoyed a terrific 2010-11 season, bringing the Canucks within one win of the Cup. He played well in the first three rounds of the playoffs and pitched a shutout at home to get the Canucks within a game of their first ever Stanley Cup. Then, with the Canucks up 3-2 on Boston, Luongo was pulled in game 6 after giving up three goals in the first three minutes of the first period. He then let up three goals on 20 shots in game 7, which the Canucks lost 4-0. Luongo was on the hot seat in Vancouver. His contract was all of a sudden considered a burden and the Canucks had another promising young goaltender shooting through their ranks in Cory Schneider.
3,000 miles east, DiPietro continued to rehab and worked hard to reclaim his spot in net for the Islanders. He was finally healthy enough to start a few games for the Islanders when his arrogance again got the best of him. Down 3-0 in Pittsburgh, DiPietro threw his body at Matt Cooke as he skated by his crease. This drew the ire of the entire Penguin team and led to Penguin goaltender Brent Johnson moseying down to challenge DP to a fight. DiPietro, despite his laundry list of injury problems, obliged Johnson and got socked in the cheek so hard it ended his season.
Heading into 2011-12, DiPietro and Luongo were both back at square one. Luongo was being run out of town in Vancouver for failing when it mattered most, and DiPietro was being run off Long Island for failing all the time. Luongo’s contract was now a terrible burden and Canucks fans wanted to see what they had in Schneider. Luongo was turning into public enemy no. 1, a spot that DiPietro is all too familiar with on Long Island.
Luongo and Schneider were platooned in goal for the Canucks in 2011-12, Schneider looked like a legitimate starter and put up better stats than Luongo. The tandem led the Canucks to the President’s Trophy, given to the team that accrues the most points during the regular season. Former Canucks’ head coach Alain Vigneault started Luongo in the Canucks’ first round playoff series vs. the LA Kings, but he lost both games despite playing well. Vigneault wanted to change the momentum of the series. Luongo wouldn’t start again for the Canucks as they succumbed to the eventual cup winners in five games.
During the off-season Schneider signed a three-year extension and Luongo said he would waive his no-trade clause if the Canucks could find a suitor for him and his ginormous contract. Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis tried to trade Luongo to several teams, but nobody wanted to take on his wild contract. Trade talks stymied as the NHL and NHLPA headed towards a bitter lockout that saw almost half of the 2012-13 season cancelled.
When it was announced that there would be two amnesty buyouts included in the new CBA, both Luongo’s and DiPietro’s names were bandied about as potential amnesty candidates. The Islanders and Canucks didn’t use their buyouts before the season and both Luongo and DiPietro were on their team’s opening night roster when play resumed. DiPietro would serve as Evgeni Nabokov’s backup on Long Island and Luongo would serve as the backup for Schneider.
As the trading deadline approached Luongo’s name came up in several rumors. Many in the media had him pegged to be dealt to Toronto, but James Reimer was playing well enough there that Leafs GM Dave Nonis (who formerly worked as the GM of the Canucks) didn’t want to disrupt his team’s chemistry by trading for Luongo. A press conference was called by Gillis in which he announced Luongo was staying for the rest of the season. At the press conference Luongo said ‘his contract sucks’ and that is why nobody wanted to trade for him.
DiPietro’s awful play led to his demotion mid-season and Luongo continued to adapt to his new role as the second goaltender in Vancouver. Without DiPietro the Islanders went on a terrific run to close out their season and clinched their first playoff berth since 2006-07. The Canucks rode Schneider into the playoffs but they were embarrassed in four games by the Sharks.
The Isles valiantly lost to the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. They could have gone even further, but they didn’t get good enough goaltending to push the Penguins to the brink.
The Isles were now in need of a goaltender they could rely on, the Canucks had a reliable goaltender they didn’t need. The Isles also had plenty of cap space. The stars were beginning to align.
It’s believed NYI would, under right circumstances, have interest in VAN G Roberto Luongo, tho 1st order of biz is to gauge cost on Nabokov.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 30, 2013
Nabokov is UFA. As for circumstances on Luongo, almost goes without saying it would mean VAN taking Rick DiPietro for compliance buyout.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 30, 2013
Sunday at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft all eyes will be on Gillis as he tries to finally find a spot for his talented, but overcompensated goaltender. The Isles will be using the opportunity at the draft to upgrade their goaltending situation.
Could this actually happen?
Back in 2000 when the Islanders traded Luongo to pave the path to stardom for DiPietro, one would be hard-pressed to make up a story wild enough that would see the two goalies get traded for each other. But now, after the way events unfolded, things got just about crazy enough for this to be feasible.
DiPietro will likely never play another game in the NHL, so why would the Canucks want to trade Luongo for a goaltender they don’t plan on using?
Well, since both goaltenders contracts come off the book in the same season, buying out DiPietro would pretty much be the same as buying out Luongo.
So why don’t both teams just buy out their respective albatrosses and be done with it?
Well, the Islanders need a goaltender and the Canucks are desperate to get anything in return for Luongo — who is still a really good goalie — if that means they need to swap these dudes and the Islanders have to toss in a pick and/or prospect to get Luongo it is probably the best option either team has right now.
The bottom line is that if someone suggested this trade a few years ago on an HFboard thread, they would have been banned and mocked. Now, since life is weird and the unexpected is to be expected, it seems like an actual possibility.
Here we have two goaltenders with two of the most unorthodox career paths in the NHL. One was derailed by an insane contract followed by terrible luck and the other by perceived inability when it matters most.
The two career paths of Roberto Luongo and Rick DiPietro are so curvy and unorthodox, that you’d think at some point they’d had to have crossed. But they never really did. Now, 13 years after the infamous Milbury Shuffle the two are on a collision course.