As the Isles play Calgary tonight, Joey MacDonald is once again between the pipes for the visitors. And #1 goaltender Rick DiPietro is once again on the sidelines, with swelling in his surgically repaired knee.
For MacDonald, it is his 36th game of the season. He has done an admirable job up to this point, having a strong November before the Isles recent downswing. He is not a #1 goaltender, but he has shown this season that he is a good #2 option for the future, and is someone that can be counted on for at least 20-25 starts.
In the meantime, DiPietro continues to say the right things about coming back and helping the team in the second half. However, at this point, with DiPietro consistently not at 100%, GM Garth Snow needs to do what is best for the future of this organization and shut DiPietro down until the 2009-10 season.
The pros with this decision far outweigh any cons. First, it lets DiPietro become 100% healthy for next season - not 80%, not 95%, not 98%. Given DiPietro's lengthy injury history in a short span of time, this is a must for the Isles, who still have him under contract for another 12 years (keeping mouth shut here). Having him play what essentially count as meaningless games for the Isles this season only provides a greater chance for another major injury with little return - and at this point, another major injury could very well destroy his effectiveness permanently or possibly even end his career. As the money is already a sunk cost, the best way to gain value from this investment is for a healthy DiPietro to return to All-Star form next year and write this season off as a wash.
Secondly, if DiPietro does come back and play effectively, he could essentially kill the chances for the Isles to pick up John Tavares or Victor Hedman in the draft. If the season ended today, the Isles would be guaranteed to get one of those two in the draft, a potential turning point for what has become at times a moribund franchise. Fact is, the Isles really need to get either of these players, and really don't need to finish 24th out of 30 teams. While it has been nice to see the Comeau-Comrie-Okposo line gel over the past few games and the youth is finally beginning to produce, the Isles are still a complete work in progress. As such, a potential superstar like Tavares or a bedrock defenseman like Hedman is a must to get the fans excited once again. DiPietro returning to form only hampers any chance of getting either of these two.
Instead of constantly wondering whether DiPietro is fine to play or not (something that has occurred rather often this season), let MacDonald finish out as the #1 goalie, and let Yann Danis (or whomever) get some extra time in net to see if he is worth keeping around. A healthy Rick DiPietro in 2009-10, along with Okposo, Comeau, Bailey, Nielsen, Streit and Tavares/Hedman could actually provide some signs of life for long-suffering fans. Or, the Isles can roll the dice for no real reason, and if they come up snake eyes, the Isles will be looking for another #1 goaltender very quickly.