Contrary to popular belief, these may not be the last days of Martin Brodeur’s distinguished NHL career, in which he has recorded more wins and more shutouts than any goaltender in history – and every night he plays, he adds to that expansive body of work.
Brodeur will turn 40 in May, and the prevailing wisdom going into the season was that with his contract expiring and his workload shrinking from its peak years, this may be the New Jersey Devils goalie’s swan song. It turns out, Brodeur isn’t thinking retirement thoughts at all.
“I’ve asked a lot of people about that,” Brodeur said in an interview Tuesday, “and the common theme is: When you quit, it’s over, there’s no coming back, so if they want you and you feel you can do it, then go for it.
“It’s funny, because I’ve asked a lot of players, and a lot of who are enjoying their retirement, but you know what? They all say they wish they could have maybe played another season. That makes me think, maybe I can stick around, if they still want me. So we’ll see.”
In the meantime, every win Brodeur clicks off – it was 637 and counting going into New Jersey’s game against the Calgary Flames here on Tuesday night – just puts more distance between himself and Patrick Roy atop the NHL goalie career wins list. Brodeur and Roy had the luxury of playing in an era in which there are no ties, which undermined the win totals of goalies from the Terry Sawchuk-Glenn Hall-Jacques Plante era.
Still, Brodeur has been so good for so long and so healthy that however many victories he ends up with, it is hard to imagine anyone ever dislodging him from the top spot on the list. Among active goaltenders, Nikolai Khabibulin (327) of the Edmonton Oilers and Roberto Luongo (325) of the Vancouver Canucks are next, but miles behind. Luongo, who turns 32 in April, would need to average 37 ½ wins a season for the next eight seasons to reel in Brodeur. Unlikely.
“The big thing with him, as with a lot of superstars, is consistency, year in and year out,” said Calgary Flames centre Brendan Morrison, who broke into the NHL with Brodeur in the Devils’ organization. “When you look at the goaltending position, demeanour is such a key. With him, he has that cool, calm demeanour. He doesn’t get rattled; and when you have that in your net, it filters through the whole team. When your goaltender is confident and he’s feeling it and you know he’s going to make the big saves, that just energizes the team.”
Brodeur said he’s had to adjust his habits to account for more nights on the bench this season – backup Johan Hedberg is getting about 40 per cent of the playing time. In practices, Brodeur actually practises now. Sitting on the bench, when he gets a night off, he enjoys watching the Devils’ Kiddie Corps play – Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson and all the pieces of the rebuilding puzzle that general manager Lou Lamoriello had added in the past 12 months.
The Devils have missed the playoffs twice in Brodeur’s career – in 1996, after their Stanley Cup win, and then again last season, when they dug themselves such an early hole that their extraordinary second-half push came up just short. It was no way to end a career, so Brodeur returned and said the difficulties might have been a blessing in disguise for New Jersey.
“Sometimes, it takes that – for an organization to kind of regroup. We discovered players that maybe, if we’d had success, maybe they would have never have had a chance to play with us.”
At midseason, the Devils were sixth in the tightly bunched Eastern Conference standings and would draw the Florida Panthers in the opening round if the playoffs began now. New Jersey hasn’t won a playoff series since 2007, the victims of multiple first-round upsets over that span. It gives Brodeur hope – that if they get in, anything can happen.
“This year, you’ve got Vancouver, you’ve got Boston, you’ve got the Rangers right now playing real well, but it’s really a coin toss. You come to these towns now and you feel you can beat anybody – or you can get beat by anybody, too. You’ve got to go and play every night. That’s what makes it fun.”
What would make it even more fun would be to get a game against a genuinely bad NHL team. Brodeur has been playing long enough to remember when parity wasn’t part of the NHL’s vocabulary, and there really were soft touches on the schedule.
Brodeur laughed at the memory. “Yeah, that was fun. Without taking a day off, it was almost like getting a day off. The games of eight, 10 or 12 shots [against]are long gone for us.”
For everybody else, too.