Hall of Fame: Martin Brodeur

In writing this post, I decided to do things a little bit different. Instead of spotlighting a player who is already in the Hockey Hall of Fame or who is borderline, but is not enshrined, I decided to go with Martin Brodeur. Brodeur is neither of those things: he is not in the Hall of Fame yet, but is almost a 100 percent first ballot shoo-in. Basically, it is just a matter of time as he has not been retired long enough at this point to be selected to the Hall of Fame yet.

I picked Marty because he is the player most identifiable with the New Jersey Devils. Say “New Jersey Devils” to any hockey fan alive in a game of word association and their first thought would most likely be of Brodeur. It might be positive, it might be negative, depending on their fandom, but their mind will go to Marty almost immediately.

Widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest goaltender in NHL history, he was idolized by a legion of young goalies (including the Devils’ current backup, Keith Kinkaid) yet his style was not one that was not easily copied. So while many goalies coming into the NHL now might list him as one of their favorites growing up, they are not as likely to be using his composite, stand-up/butterfly, highly athletic style as it would seem. Marty’s style was all his own.

The signature save that probably best encapsulates that style was his famous “scorpion save” against Marian Gaborik of the Rangers on a partial breakaway in the 2012 playoffs at Madison Square Garden. It was game two of the Eastern Conference Finals; a game the Devils ultimately won 3-2. He swung his right leg behind him as he was flat on his belly, stopping the puck midair with his skate in a most unorthodox way. Almost any other goaltender would have been beaten when they were down and would not have had the wherewithal or presence of mind to make that kind of a save. Marty, because of his athleticism, was able to make the save in a beautiful, yet at the same time, almost awkward, way.

Even Marty’s goaltending mask was different. In an era of greatly elaborate paint schemes on goalies’ headgear, Brodeur went with a simple horned and tailed “J” on the forehead with simple flames up the sides and on the chin in white and red on black. The “J” has a story, as Brodeur was not sure if he was going to stick with the big club when he had the mask made and wanted something that would be generically “devilish” so that he could use it in the American Hockey League with the Utica Devils or in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils. When he stayed in the NHL, the look became his trademark. He tried to change it briefly with the “MB30” logo on the forehead, but once the team began to lose, he was right back to the old style that he used for the majority of his career.

Brodeur was born into sports. His father, Denis, was the official team photographer for both the Montreal Canadiens and the Montreal Expos. In fact, his older brother, Claude, pitched in the Expos’ minor league system for five years. An injury ended his career, but he, like Marty, was simply following in his dad’s footsteps. Denis was an Olympic bronze medal-winning goaltender for Canada in 1956 and briefly played shortstop in minor league ball in North Dakota. Marty himself would lead Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002 and compete in two other Olympic Games (2006 and 2010) for his country.

Brodeur, a native of St. Leonard, Quebec born on May 8, 1972, was drafted by the Devils from the St-Hyacinthe Laser of the QMJHL in the first round (20th overall) of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft in a now-famous move that saw General Manager Lou Lamoriello and the Devils (originally slated to pick 11th) trade down with the Calgary Flames and the Flames choose goalie Trevor Kidd in place of Brodeur. Kidd would go on to have a decent NHL career over 12 seasons playing for Calgary, Carolina, Florida and Toronto. But he would not be Martin Brodeur.

Brodeur made his NHL debut on March 26, 1992, as the Devils beat the Boston Bruins 4-2 at the Meadowlands (ironically, 22 seasons later, in 2013-14, his final game in a Devils jersey would also come at home – this time the Prudential Center – in a 3-2 win over those same Boston Bruins).

Although he would play a handful of regular season games in 1991-92 and even appear in a playoff game for the Devils against the New York Rangers, he would ultimately spend the next season, 1992-93, honing his craft in the AHL for the Utica Devils.

He was in the NHL for good during the 1993-94 season and, with his first start of the year – October 20, 1993 at the Meadowlands against the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a game he and the Devils won 4-0 – he did not look back. That season was the Devils best to that date. As they finished the year with their best record up to then (47 wins, 25 losses and 12 ties for 106 points) and the second-best overall record in the NHL behind only the eventual Stanley Cup champion Rangers, who they would battle in a classic Eastern Conference Final later that Spring. That series, extended to seven games with the Devils finally losing in double overtime, heralded a team that was truly on the rise and a goalie who was ready to rise to the challenge of being the best.

It was also during the 1994 playoffs that Brodeur would have one of the first big moments of his career. It was April 27, game six of the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals against the Buffalo Sabres at the old Memorial Auditorium. Brodeur and Dominik Hasek battled through a whopping six full periods of scoreless hockey: three regulation and three overtime periods until Dave Hannan of the Sabres finally beat Marty in the fourth overtime session. The Devils would go on to win the series two nights later with a 2-1 game seven victory. In game six, Marty saw 50 shots and was equal to 49 of them in taking the loss. Still, it was a building block to the legend that Marty would become, as Hasek at the time was at the top of his game and Marty matched him save-for-save. Marty was in the crease that night for 125:43 of ice time.

Brodeur shared most of the goaltending duties that first season with Chris Terreri, who played in 44 games to Brodeur’s 47, with Peter Sidorkiewicz playing in three games. Yet, even with that comparatively light load, Brodeur still walked away with the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year (the first Devil to win that award) and even finished seventh in Vezina Trophy voting as the NHL’s best goalie.

The following year got off to a rocky start for the NHL as a whole. A player lockout delayed the season until January and then resulted in a shortened 48-game campaign. Although the Devils slipped a little, falling to third in the Atlantic Division, tied with the Washington Capitals with 52 points, they still made the playoffs and were able to go on a memorable run. When the dust settled and the Devils had swept aside the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals, Brodeur had won his first of three Stanley Cup championships. He would finish that season eighth in Vezina Trophy voting as well.

The following season, the champs were unable to repeat as the Devils did not qualify for the playoffs in 1996. Marty did, however, make his first All-Star Game in 1996. It was the first of nine All-Star appearances in his career, with six straight from 1996 to 2001 and then appearances again in 2003, 2004 and 2007.

The following season the Devils were back in the postseason and Marty achieved one of his classic moments. It was game one of the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals against the Habs on April 17, 1997 at Continental Airlines Arena. With less than a minute to go in the third period, Brodeur picked up the puck behind the Devils’ net and heaved it down the ice toward the empty Montreal cage. The puck went in and Brodeur had his first of three goals he would be credited with during his career. (He was credited with a playoff goal in 2000 against the Philadelphia Flyers and one more in the regular season against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013 – on both of those occasions, he was the last player to touch the puck from the Devils before it went into the opponent’s net.)

Brodeur’s proficiency in puck-handling was so great that the NHL changed its rules to try to rein him in. They created the “trapezoid” behind the goal net outside of which a goalie could not play the puck on risk of a penalty. For many years prior to that rule change, Brodeur was like a third defenseman for the Devils, able to headman a puck to start a breakout and give the Devils a leg up on the rush. Only a select few can say that they have been so good at something that the league had to change its rules to keep them in check.

Also in 1997, Marty would win his first of five William M. Jennings Trophies, awarded to the goalie(s) who have played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the lowest amount of goals scored against it in the regular season. He would share it with Mike Dunham – his backup that season – and win it again in 1998, 2003 (sharing it with Roman Cechmanek and Robert Esche of the Flyers), 2004 and 2010.

Brodeur would also lead the NHL in shutouts that season with 10 and in goals against average with a 1.88. In his 22 year career, Brodeur would amass an NHL record 125 shutouts. He also ranks first in the NHL record books in games played by a goaltender (1,266), wins (691), saves (28,928), shots against (31,709) and minutes (74,439). His wins totals are even more impressive when you factor in that, (injuries aside – he was pretty durable during his career, really only missing time when he got older to due to nagging wear-and-tear injuries – nothing too major), due to the NHL’s labor disputes during this time, he essentially missed two full seasons during his career (half of the 1994-95 season, half of the 2012-13 season and all of the 2004-05 season, which were all wiped out by player lockouts).

It would take another couple of years, but Marty and the Devils would get back to the top of the mountain in 2000, winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in franchise history by defeating the Dallas Stars in a thrilling double OT game six where Jason Arnott notched the Cup clincher. Marty, of course, played a vital role in that win, as well as the team’s epic comeback in the Eastern Conference Finals against Philly, being down 3 games to 1 and coming back to advance to their second appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals – only Patrik Elias, arguably, played a bigger role in that series.

The following year, the Devils would be back in the finals to defend their Stanley Cup championship against Brodeur’s childhood idol, Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche. Brodeur was a huge fan of Roy growing up in the Montreal area while Roy was between the pipes for the Canadiens. It was a faceoff of goalie generations, two of the all-time greats going head-to-head. Unfortunately for Devils fans, they were not able to finish off the Avs and Marty’s one shot at outdoing his idol was not to be. But he still had the respect of Roy, who would be present later when Marty would surpass him as the NHL’s all-time wins leader.

The Devils next shot at glory came in 2003, which was a watershed year for Brodeur. He won the Stanley Cup, was a first team NHL All-Star, won the Jennings Trophy and his first career Vezina Trophy, the first of four. He also finished third in Hart Trophy voting as NHL regular season most valuable player, the closest he would ever come to that hardware. He was also in contention to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP but, because the votes were spread across several Devil candidates, that award went to his Mighty Ducks of Anaheim counterpart, Jean-Sebastien Giguere instead. This denial is still a point of contention amongst Devils fans to this day, as Marty had an amazing seven shutouts that playoff season and could have easily walked away with the trophy.

The following season, 2004, Marty repeated as Vezina Trophy winner, but the Devils could not defend their Stanley Cup title. In fact, he would only get one more shot at the big trophy in his career, as the Devils made their Cinderella run in 2012, ultimately losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the finals.

Brodeur would lead the NHL in games played in a season six times in his career, wins in a season nine times (including a league record 48 wins in 2006-07), in shutouts in a season four times, minutes played in a season seven times and goals against average once and saves once each.

On March 17, 2009, Marty reached one of his greatest milestones, surpassing Roy with career win number 552, a 3-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center. Following the final horn, he would cut the net off the goal cage in celebration, giving us some iconic scenes as he became the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie.

Fittingly, he had tied the record the game before on March 14 at the Bell Centre against the Montreal Canadiens, a 3-1 win. Marty always got a warm reception in Montreal, where fans treated him as one of their own. He was arguably the most beloved visiting player there during his time in the NHL.

But Marty also made a home for himself in New Jersey. All of his kids were born there and, even though he was playing in the shadows of New York City and the Rangers – who seem to monopolize all of the hockey coverage in the area – he was able to carve out a niche for himself without most of the pressure that comes from playing in a Montreal or a Toronto or, yes, even a New York.

One of Marty’s final accolades as an active player came when he was selected to be on the cover of EA Sports’ popular NHL video game series, appearing as the cover athlete of NHL 14 (released in 2013). He won a fan voting contest and it was largely due to the respect that many fans around the league have for him that they set aside their own fandom and voted him on. It sort of served as a “lifetime achievement award” from the fans, showing that they truly respected a goalie that, undoubtedly, victimized their team with a magnificent save or play that stole a game for the Devils at some point in his career.

Marty also had the honor of drafting his son, Anthony, to the Devils in 2013 when the NHL Draft was held at Prudential Center. Anthony, a goaltender like his dad, was the Devils’ final pick that day and Marty was allowed to call his name out over the PA system as the newest member of the Devils “family.” Anthony has since moved on to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, but that gesture will live on in the hearts of Devils fans who witnessed it as a truly touching moment.

Marty’s career would come to an end during the 2014-15 season. He would suit up for seven games for the St. Louis Blues, finishing that season with a 3-3-0 record (he would start in only five of those seven appearances) and one shutout. He would announce his retirement before the conclusion of that season, joining the Blues’ front office as Assistant General Manager, a post he holds to this day.

Last season, on February 9, the Devils retired Martin Brodeur’s number 30, raising it to the rafters of Prudential Center in front of a sold out crowd. The team also unveiled a statue of the greatest of all Devils that weekend immortalizing the man in bronze in his signature salute to the crowd and his family. The Devils faithful did not have much to cheer about at that point, as the team was falling out of playoff contention quickly and the season was fading. But on that night, as they defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 2-1, it felt like old times again. Marty was back and the Devils won.

In the end, that is Marty’s legacy in the National Hockey League: he was a winner. And ultimately, that is what professional sports are all about, winning. That is why Marty Brodeur will be honored in the Hockey Hall of Fame when the appropriate time comes and will forever be honored as one of the true all-time greats of the game.

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