While the next few days are crucial to the Devils’ present playoff chase, they’ll also be celebrating a big part of their storied past by honoring legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur early next week with both a statue outside the Prudential Center (to be dedicated before the Devils’ game against the Rangers at MSG on Monday night) and by retiring his number 30 before Tuesday’s home game against the Oilers. In fact, Brodeur will make an appearance before this afternoon’s game against the Capitals to drop the puck, kicking off a nearly weeklong celebration of the future Hall of Famer. For many fans – including me – of a particular age demographic who didn’t see the early-day Devils, Brodeur was the only starting goaltender we ever watched for nearly two decades. And for all Devil fans, while GM Lou Lamoriello was the brains of the Devils when they were perennial contenders, Brodeur was the face of that team. Many big-name and key players came and went but Brodeur outlasted them all by many years including the only other players to have their numbers retired by the Devils…Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer.
Of course each of those men and Lou will be at the Rock on Tuesday to celebrate a player who’s career was peerless. Just by virtue of having the most games, wins and shutouts in NHL history Brodeur presents a convincing argument for being the best goaltender of all time. When you add in his three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals and four Vezina trophies to the mix, that only enhances the argument for Marty. Of course contemporary fans might still favor Dominik Hasek or Patrick Roy, while old-time fans might pick Ken Dryden, Glenn Hall or even Vladislav Tretiak. While all were elite puck-stoppers, none were able to handle the puck like Brodeur – which also helped the forwards break out of the zone, helped reduce wear and tear on the defense and even added to the offense on occasion as evidenced by yet another NHL record Marty holds…most goals scored by a goaltender with three including his most famous one in the 1997 playoffs against his hometown Montreal Canadiens at the Continental Airlines Arena.
In fact Brodeur’s puckhandling famously resulted in the contreversial trapezoid rule being put in after the season-long lockout in 2004, where no goaltender was allowed to play the puck behind the goal line other than in a trapezoid-sized area directly behind the net. Generally only great players get rules made to stop them and at Marty’s peak when the rule was enacted there still weren’t very many other goaltenders that could play the puck well. In spite of that nonsense, Marty’s puckhandling was still an asset in the latter part of his career – even in 2012 when as a 40-year old he led an underrated Devils team to their fifth Stanley Cup final in seventeen years, though it was the team’s first appearance in the SCF since 2003. Of course, 2003 represented the last of Marty’s three ultimate triumphs, which he finished with a flourish getting a 3-0 shutout over Anaheim in Game 7 at the CAA. Yet, despite a playoffs where he had a 1.65 GAA. .934 save percentage and seven shutouts it was the other goalie (Jean-Sebastian Giguere) who would win the Conn Smythe that year. While many fans were bitter about that diss, booing commissioner Gary Bettman – it was Marty who turned the boos back into cheers making a lifting motion, signifying the real important trophy that would be making its way onto the ice next.
One of the key attributes that seperated Brodeur from his peers was his durability. Marty played 70+ games in an unfathomable twelve different seasons and didn’t suffer a major injury until 2008, fifteen years after his career began. As if his 691 wins and 125 shutouts wasn’t impressive enough, his 1266 games played might actually be just as hard if not more so to top, particularly with more and more teams splitting games among their goaltenders. Roy played 1029 games and never 70+ in even one season. And that’s including losing nearly two full seasons’ worth of games due to three different lockouts (thanks again, Gary). A goaltender would have to average 63 games played, 34 wins and 6 shutouts a season just to get close to Marty’s totals in all those categories. For twenty straight seasons.
Another thing that seperated Marty from many of his peers was his cerebral level-headedness. Back when goalies had a reputation for being nutty (just look at Roy for a prime example) Brodeur was a breath of fresh air for teammates, fans and media alike. Perhaps that atitude was a reason Marty had so much more staying power, always keeping things in perspective and yet always looking for ways to get better at his craft. Between work with his goaltending mentor Jacques Caron and his own desire to study the league and other players, Brodeur relied every bit as much on his brain as his skills, if not more so. Given that work ethic it’s little surprise Marty’s getting into the management side of the business now. Even as a player he was a resource Lou used, albeit surreptitiously as Marty recalled in his 2006 autobiography Beyond the Crease. According to Brodeur:
Lou never asked for my opinion on a specific player he might be interested in acquiring, although he might have thrown out 10 names for my thoughts without letting me know which ones were of particular interest.
At one point Marty also required making a comment to Lou about how having centers who could win a key faceoff was invaluable during his Olympic experience, and then weeks later the GM traded for Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk, with the latter being that extra faceoff-winning center the Devils lacked after Bobby Holik’s departure.
I could talk all morning about Marty’s dominance as a player, heck I could talk about my own personal memories for the next little while. One of the first Devils games I went to was in 1997 when Marty got one of his 125 shutouts, blanking the Bruins 2-0. I still recall after the game the Bruins coach, some guy named Pat Burns who said something to the effect of we played very well and thought we should have scored a number of goals but Mr. Brodeur wouldn’t let us. Of course Burns would later become a beloved Devils coach, winning the team’s third Cup in 2003 before his career and eventually his life got cut short by cancer. Widow Line is going to be one of the many honored guests on Tuesday coming together for the number retirement ceremony, which will start at approximately 6:15.
I’ve already alluded to a couple of my other favorite Marty Memories, as I was in attendance for the 2003 Cup clincher despite a bad flu, though the team’s win made everything worth it that night. I was at arguably Marty’s easiest shutout ever, the six-save blanking of the Leafs in 2000 that clinched a second-round series. Of course, being a season ticket holder since before 2012 I was at Game 6 against the Rangers where a 40-year old Marty turned back the clock and kept a sagging Devils team level with the Rangers late before Adam Henrique’s quick strike in OT sent the Devils’ biggest rival home while Marty got one more trip to the Stanley Cup Finals and the fans in the stands got easily our biggest moment of joy since 2003. Though I sit in section 120 now, I was in 208 for the first few seasons at the Rock but ironically by a fluke I was sitting in 120 during the St. Patrick’s Day game in 2009 where Marty broke Roy’s all-time record for victories with #552 while our own Patty (Patrik Elias) broke the team’s all-time scoring record. I had wanted to get tickets behind Marty’s net for a game and got a few tickets in 120 before the game wound up having the meaning it did and wound up flipping a couple of extras for a huge profit on E-bay, while I got a birds-eye view of Marty cutting out the net after the Devils hung on for a 3-2 win against an ascending Blackhawks team. And I was also there for Marty’s final game as a Devil in 2014 against the Bruins, again won by a 3-2 score when he saluted the crowd after the game, and that salute will be the pose used for the bronze statue which will be in Championship Plaza starting on Monday.
Ironically one of the key principals of the current Devil team – head coach John Hynes – admitted he’d never seen Brodeur play live. Of course Hynes still has an appreciation for Marty’s significance as a player:
“It’s a big weekend,” Hynes said. “He’s one of the pillars of the organization. I think when you think of the New Jersey Devils, you think about a strong culture and a championship culture and excellent goaltending and defense and Marty was a huge part of that. It’s special to even to be part of it.”
I’ll recap the Marty weekend probably on Wednesday when I get a chance to breathe again after going back and forth to the Prudential Center on both Monday and Tuesday for the seperate ceremonies. As a STH I certainly have no complaints with the Devils for the way they’ve handled not only this but also season ticket renewals (only a nominal – 1% – price increase if you renewed by a certain date which I did already). Everyone knows what kind of night Tuesday’s going to be but Monday itself should be fun as well with that ceremony starting at 6 PM. The team’s offering free food/drink and a viewing of the Devils-Ranger game inside the Rock after the dedication for all sth’s and their guests. Of course with snow in the forecast Monday night I might not stay too long but hopefully Mother Nature doesn’t throw too much of a wrench into the next few days.