July 1 is the day when NHL free agency starts and brings with it a flurry of action as teams scramble to sign the new, high-priced superstar who will plug a hole in their lineup and help to bring them a Stanley Cup. While that will be a concern for the Devils too, what is more pressing for Devils fans will be the future of the greatest goalie certainly in the history of the franchise, if not the game.
Martin Brodeur has had the position of starting goaltender for the New Jersey Devils since 1993-94. In that magical season, Brodeur led the Devils to their best record up to that time with 106 points on 47 wins (the team has since topped both of those totals). He led them deep into the playoffs, only losing to the eventual Cup champion Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. He topped that off by taking home the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year that summer. The following season he would lead the Devils to their first Stanley Cup, knocking off the heavily favored Red Wings. He would win two more Cups, defeating Dallas in 2000 and Anaheim in 2003. He led the Devils to two other Cup Finals in 2001 (where they lost to the Avalanche) and, most recently, 2012 (losing to the LA Kings). His other individual accomplishments include four Vezina Trophies as the NHL’s best goaltender (2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008) and five William M. Jennings Trophies as the goaltender(s) on the team with the fewest goals scored against it who played at least 25 games (1997 (with Mike Dunham), 1998, 2003, 2004 and 2010). He has been named to the NHL First All-Star Team three times: 2003, 2004 and 2007; the Second All-Star Team four times: 1997, 1998, 2006 and 2008; as well as the NHL All Rookie Team in 1994. He is the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie (with 688 wins as of the end of the 2013-14 season), the all-time leader in shutouts with 124 (as of the end of the 2013-14 season). As of the end of the 2013-14 season, he is also the all-time NHL leader in games played, minutes played and playoff shutouts. A skilled puck handler, he has two regular season goals to his credit as well a playoff goal (3 goals total, a record for NHL goaltenders). Brodeur has also had success on the international stage, winning the 2004 World Cup of Hockey for Team Canada, as well as leading Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002 and being a member of the 2010 gold medal winning Canadian team.
Now Brodeur is at a crossroads for his career: he has stated that he wants to play another season, as he feels capable of it. Most likely, that season will not be played in a Devils uniform, since the Devils feel that the goalie position is one that they need to get younger at and have a fully prepared Cory Schneider ready in the wings to take over the full-time starting position (not to mention netminders like Keith Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood waiting on the AHL Albany Devils). Although the Devils did not trade him at last year’s trading deadline (rumors had him going to the Minnesota Wild at one point), they will not likely be resigning him this off season. Besides losing the franchise goaltender, the only other thing that would make Devils fans unhappy is that the team, because they are losing him to free agency and not trading him, would be essentially giving him up for nothing, not getting a player or a draft pick in return for him. Things could change, but it seems that is the way the team is looking to go.
Will Brodeur go to a team and sit behind a younger goalie there, existing only to sell replica jerseys for his new team? Will he decide to retire after all? Or will he stay with the Devils in some capacity, resigned and ready for a 23rd season in Devils’ black and red? As far as the free agent market looks for him, most teams are set at the starting goaltending position, but some could use the recognition and fan excitement that signing a superstar on the level of a Martin Brodeur could generate. When thinking of an athlete trying to hang on too long, any sports fan is immediately reminded of Willie Mays’ time with the New York Mets. The difference with Brodeur and Mays is two-fold, though. On the one hand, athletes today have better training habits and keep themselves in better shape year-round (look no further than Marty’s teammate on the Devils, who just resigned with the team for another year, Jaromir Jagr for that). Brodeur is, of course, no exception to this rule and should be able to handle the rigors of another NHL season. Which brings us to the second argument of whether or not Marty should just hang them up: because he feels like he can still go, Marty will want to be a starting goaltender on his new team. Is this possible? As stated above, most NHL teams are pretty much set with young goalies (and they are only getting younger). Hockey is a young man’s game; there is no secret about that. Where would Brodeur end up should he decide to play the 2014-15 season and give the Devils up to Schneider?
Should Marty decide to retire, there would undoubtedly be a place for him in the Devils organization should he want it. However, that is most likely true regardless of whether he retires this year, next year or five years from now, as a Devil or not. He will have his number 30 hanging in the rafters of Prudential Center within months of his official retirement. WFAN radio personality Mike Francesa has often said that athletes, unlike the rest of us, have to deal with growing old twice: once when their careers end and again towards the end of their lives. Knowing this makes it easier to understand where Brodeur is coming from. But will there be a place for him in an NHL where youth is being served? We will all find out in about a week, but no matter what happens, we must know that Martin Brodeur’s Devils and NHL legacies are set in stone.