NEW YORK - Rick DiPietro's season ended before the New York Islanders' franchise goalie really got a chance to get it going.
Lingering persistent swelling and soreness in his left knee that required surgery twice in four months kept DiPietro out for all but five of the team's 46 games this season and led to Tuesday's decision to shut him down.
"Everyone's consensus is that Rick should rest the knee, allow the post-operative swelling from two surgeries in a relatively short timeframe to resolve, and get him ready for next season," said Dr. Elliott Hershman, an associate team orthopedist, who participated in the second operation.
"At this time, we're not anticipating any further surgery but we're certainly following this knee to make sure that the inflammation and swelling does resolve on a more permanent basis so he is able to return fully," Hershman added.
DiPietro is in the third season of a landmark contract, having agreed to a US$67.5 million, 15-year deal in the summer of 2006. Islanders general manager Garth Snow said he isn't concerned that DiPietro won't be able to play through the remaining years of the deal.
"We've taken all the correct measures and the right steps throughout this process. Talking to the doctors, that scenario has never come up," Snow said. "Obviously, when you have a goalie of Rick's calibre, it's disappointing when you don't have him in the lineup.
"We got more than one set of eyes to look at him and we just wanted to take our time and make an informed decision."
The 27-year-old DiPietro made a few early season appearances following surgery that was believed to be on his right knee, but was clarified to be the left on Tuesday by Hershman. He then was shelved again after a second tear of the lateral meniscus was revealed by an MRI and repaired with a second arthroscopic procedure in October.
After the initial knee surgery in June, DiPietro backed up Joey MacDonald for the first four games of the season, but didn't see any action.
The Islanders (12-29-5) will enter this weekend's all-star break with the fewest wins and points in the 30-team NHL, but Hershman said DiPietro's season would be over even if the team was in playoff contention.
Hershman didn't question his decision to clear DiPietro to play twice this season.
"We were incredibly cautious, actually, and I thought that at each time we had Rick trying to play it was the right time," he said. "If anything, we have been exceedingly cautious with him. At each juncture we responded to the way that Rick was progressing. I wouldn't second guess myself at all."
Several doctors, including famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews, either examined DiPietro or studied the MRI and determined rest to be the best recommendation now.
"There was a lack of improvement from the time of the first surgery to the second surgery," Hershman said. "It was up and down and we really didn't have a sense that it was progressing as it should when Rick tired to play on it. The response was not what we expected."
The injury is not believed, at this point, to be career threatening. DiPietro is expected to be re-evaluated in six-to-eight weeks to see if the swelling and discomfort has diminished.
Upon returning from his early-season break, DiPietro made three straight starts, but lasted only one period against Carolina on Oct. 25. DiPietro had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 31 to repair the torn meniscus. He allowed five goals on 33 shots in a loss at Phoenix on Jan. 2, his final appearance of the season.
"This has been one of the most frustrating situations I have ever had to deal with, but this is the right decision for me and the team," DiPietro said in a statement. "I am confident this will allow me to make a complete recovery, be ready in plenty of time for next season and compete to my highest ability for many years to come."
DiPietro has had three operations in seven months, including a hip procedure in March. That was the second time DiPietro had hip surgery, once on each side in consecutive years. He also has a history with head injuries.
"The problem is that the lateral meniscus when it's damaged and has surgery on it two times, it can take quite a while to recover," Hershman said. "A lot of the stress of the knee in hockey goes through the lateral compartment.
"I don't think it is related to the hips. I think both his hips are doing quite well right now. I do think he is recovered."
DiPietro, an NHL all-star starter last year, went 1-3-0 this season with a 3.52 goals against average and a .892 save percentage.
After becoming the first goalie chosen No. 1 overall when the Islanders took him in the 2000 draft, DiPietro has posted a mark of 117-112-8-24 with a 2.79 goals against average and a .905 save percentage in 273 NHL games.
He is expected to resume skating sometime during the summer.
"The most important thing is that at this point we give the knee some time to rest, free from on-ice activity, and see what the knee does," Hershman said. "When we do that, we'll have a better sense of where we're headed. We're hopeful that is all it takes."