The end of Rick DiPietro?

The landmark contract Rick DiPietro signed less than 2½ years ago should have been the one he ended his career on.

Chronic injuries, though, will more than likely be the reason for an early retirement.

On Tuesday, the New York Islanders – last in the league with a 12-29-5 record – threw in the towel for 2008-09 when they decided to shut down oft-injured DiPietro for the season due to continued problems with his surgically repaired left knee.

DiPietro was in the third year of a 15-year, $67.5 million contract signed in September 2006. In 130 games since then, he’s 59-50-16 with a 2.73 goals-against average and eight shutouts.

Decent, yes, but elite, Vezina Trophy-level status? Hardly. This isn’t Martin Brodeur or Evgeni Nabokov or Miikka Kiprusoff.

Islanders general manager Garth Snow tried to put a positive spin on all this. I mean, seriously, what else could he do?

“After extensive consultation we feel this decision is in the best interest for Rick and the team,” Snow – a former goalie - said in a statement on Tuesday. “This will allow Rick ample time to make a full recovery for next year.”

Wait ‘til next year seems to be a familiar refrain from Uniondale.

The Islanders reached the conference finals in 1993-94 in their last season under four-time Stanley Cup winning coach Al Arbour, but have made the postseason only five times since then, and have been eliminated in the first round each time.

For DiPietro, there’s clearly disappointment in this latest setback to his career.

“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,” he 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.”

At 27, DiPietro also is probably sick of surgeons. He’s had his left knee worked on twice in four months, and has lingering pain and swelling in it. In a seven-month span, he’s had three operations, including one on his hip. It was the second time DiPietro had hip surgery, once on each side in consecutive years. He also has a history with head injuries.

DiPietro’s final numbers for 2008-09: 1-3-0, 3.52 GAA, .892 save percentage.

“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,” said Dr. Elliott Hershman, an associate team orthopedist. “When we do that, we’ll have a better sense of where we’re headed. We’re hopeful that is all it takes.”

Hopeful? That’s the best prognosis?

With DiPietro gone, here’s who the Isles are left with in goal for now:

Joey MacDonald: Thrust into his first season as a starter, has simply been overmatched. He’s 0-11-1 with a 3.99 GAA since last winning on the road in late November. When allowing at least four goals in a game this season, he’s 0-14-1.

Not the answer? Neither are these two …

Yann Danis: Still looking for his first win in a New York uniform – he’s 0-5-1 with a 3.53 GAA in seven games.

Peter Mannino: One game. Just 13 minutes played. Eight shots faced. Three goals allowed. Thanks for playing.

They tried to bring folk hero Wade Dubielewicz back from Russia, but he was picked up on waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets. At this point, the Isles might want to consider signing 36-year-old goaltending coach Mike Dunham – 141 wins in a 10-year career – just to have a veteran body in place.

DiPietro was selected first overall in the 2000 draft, the first goalie to be picked that high. He was taken ahead of such stars as Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik, and not to rub salt into an open wound, BUT … the Islanders could have had Henrik Lundqvist – a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist and headed to Sunday’s All-Star Game – who was taken 205th by the rival New York Rangers.

With the addition of DiPietro, the Islanders dealt Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to the Florida Panthers for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish.

Let’s just say then-general manager Mike Milbury got fleeced – bad – and leave it at that, shall we?

Playing with the Panthers and later with the Vancouver Canucks, Luongo has posted 201 wins, including 42 shutouts, and 2.56 GAA. Jokinen, now with the Phoenix Coyotes, appears headed to his fourth straight 30-goal season.

Kvasha? Last played in 2005-06 when he split time with the Isles and Coyotes. Never scored more than 15 goals or 51 points in a season.

Parrish was later dealt to the Los Angeles Kings, signed by the Minnesota Wild and eventually had his contract bought out by them. Picked up by Dallas in November, Parrish had a hat trick in his Stars debut, but just three goals and four assists in 29 games after that.

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