DiPietro Looking To Recharge Hockey Career, Disappointed In Canucks In Support Of His Development, Playing Time

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

‘A lot of players wouldn’t even be able to endure the lack of attention that maybe the organization had given to him.’ — Michael DiPietro’s agent Darren Ferris

By Ben Kuzma The Province

There’s usually some career significance and the asking price varies from a lavish dinner to something more extravagant.

With new Vancouver Canucks’ winger Ilya Mikheyev sporting the No. 65 he wore with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season — he donned No. 66 in the Kontinental Hockey League, but only two have worn those Mario Lemieux digits in the NHL — it had added meaning.

Michael DiPietro will now wear a different number, if he’s retained by the Canucks, but that’s not the plan for the player or his agent. He received permission earlier this month to help broker a trade.

DiPietro plunged down the pecking order in a crowded crease but maintaining his pride and professionalism have always been the measure of the dutiful and determined Windsor, Ont., native. He could have gone off about how the previous regime managed his development and playing time but he didn’t. 

However, the sobering realization is that lining up behind Thatcher Demko, Spencer Martin, Collin Delia and Arturs Silovs means a chance to recharge his career. And that won’t be easy. NHL teams invest heavily in drafting and developing young stoppers, especially in a position that’s in constant technical change, and there’s not much roster movement in the minors.

“There hasn’t been too much movement (in the off-season) in terms of an opportunity, but once we get through that period it should be easier,” DiPietro’s agent, Darren Ferris, told Postmedia News. “I think right now we have a shortage of good goalies of Michael’s ilk in the market. And he probably needs a new start.

“Whenever you have a change in the organization from management down, sometimes they look at who the other guys picked, and that’s a tough position to be in.”

If a singular or package-deal trade isn’t completed by the fall, then what? Would the Canucks loan DiPietro to a European team to keep him playing as insurance against injury? They did qualify the restricted free agent on a one-year contract that pays $US840,000 at the NHL level and just $70,000 in the AHL.

The Canucks contend there’s an upside in DiPietro, 23, and they marvel at the resilience of the 6-foot, 200 pound stopper and willingness to hone his game to match today’s standards. It might be more prudent to hang on to DiPietro than give him away for nothing. And you can never have too many goalies.

“Realistically, it’s stay-the-course until we’re able to find another team with an opportunity,” added Ferris. “That may come up prior to the season with a team that’s not happy with a decision it has made, so there are a lot of variables here.

“Europe is always a possibility, but they’re also pretty full over there with the commitments they have. And with KHL teams and the war going on in Ukraine, they’ve lended their players to other parts of Europe to keep playing.”

A bigger part of this puzzle is probably DiPietro’s appetite for change. Despite an upbeat personality to deal with adversity, the biggest test might be how he handles his latest challenge.

“He’s such a super kid,” stressed Ferris. “He’s really mature and a very special person and has handled everything quite well. A lot of players wouldn’t even be able to endure the lack of attention that maybe the organization had given to him.

“There are occasions where they’ve dropped the ball on his development. The truth of the matter is that the bulk is more on the organization that it is on the player in this instance. Hopefully, we can get him in the right position.”

DiPietro had a 15-13-4 record, 2.95 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 34 games with the AHL affiliate in Abbotsford last season. There was an encouraging six-game win streak in April, but a pair of 7-1 and 6-0 shellings to close out his regular season suggested a change in direction for the crease.

DiPietro was a third-round 2017 draft pick who captured a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires that year. But his NHL debut on Feb. 12, 2019, against the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena was a farce.

Jacob Markstrom suffered stiffness in his previous start and Demko was nursing a knee injury. Markstrom managed to be the backup, but DiPietro was thrust into the spotlight against the league’s second-highest-scoring team and shelled 7-2.

The COVID-19-afflicted 2020-21 season forced DiPietro to only practise at the NHL level and not play. He logged just one NHL start and four late-season AHL contests with the Utica Comets in New York.

There was also another circus that season when DiPietro was in Utica and the Canucks were in a conundrum. Demko suffered a lower-body injury during a morning skate in Kanata, Ont. Silovs was summoned to back-up Braden Holtby, and depending on the severity of the injury, DiPietro could have had to fly to Vancouver and quarantine to be a tandem option.

If that wasn’t enough, AHL protocols required DiPietro to quarantine for three days before playing.

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