It finally hit me. I was browsing the Devils newly re-vamped website on September 15 and watched a video of the new free agent signees settling in. They showed Martin Havlat and Mike Cammalleri skating across the rink puck-handling for the camera. Then they showed Scott Clemmensen in net posing for a still photographer. At one point, Clemmensen was shown skating off to the side and I saw Cory Schneider suiting up near the player’s bench. It was at that moment that it truly hit me: there will be no Martin Brodeur in the lineup for the Devils for the first time in twenty years. Seeing numbers “35” and “40” but no number “30” really hit me. And it hit me harder than I thought it would.
“It’s just the business of hockey” I had told myself. I comforted myself with the knowledge that he’ll be back for a “Martin Brodeur Night” and jersey retirement. But, really none of that could prepare me for not seeing him on the ice in that video. As weird as it may sound that was the moment where it all came home. The one constant for the last twenty NHL seasons has been that Marty Brodeur would be stopping pucks for the New Jersey Devils. Now he is not. This is nothing against Schneider, Clemmensen or any of the other goaltenders within the Devils system, it’s just that strange feeling of loss that I think we all, as Devils fans, have right now.
For some fans, he was the only Devils goalie they ever knew. Either they are too young to know anyone else, or they just became fans during the Brodeur era. These kids will be hit hardest, I think. Sports can be a rough reminder of the passage of time. One minute, it seems, Wayne Gretzky is young and breaking records like there is no tomorrow, the next, Sidney Crosby is the league’s young gun. Now people are talking about the legacy “Sid the Kid” will leave in the NHL and guys born the year Brodeur began his run are the next big things.
Marty’s legacy is set in stone. He will go down as possibly the greatest goaltender to ever take the ice. I say “possibly” because there will always be those who will try to counter with “he was a system goalie who benefitted from the Devils defense-first approach.” You will hear that mostly from Ranger fans who do not see the irony in the fact that some of Henrik Lundqvist’s best years have come when John Tortorella had the team blocking every shot that came towards the net (almost like he didn’t trust a goalie who I, begrudgingly, admit is one of the best in the game today). Flyer fans can say all they want about Brodeur, their team’s goaltending situation in, like forever, gives them no room to criticize. The fact is, when the Devils did loosen up and let their big guns free, say, in 2000 during their second Stanley Cup season when they were 26 goals above the league average in team Goals For, Marty was always equal to the task (his GAA was 2.24 and his Save Percentage was .910). My argument might seem a bit flimsy there, but for those who ever saw Marty make a spectacular save in a close game or a routine save in a laugher knows that the man could play no matter what the team was doing in front of him.
Marty had his last great run in 2012 when the Devils went to the Stanley Cup final only to lose to the up-and-coming Los Angeles Kings. In what may have been his last great moment in the NHL (depending on if he does sign with a new team or not) Marty made it known that he is the greatest and just added to his resume of wonderful memories. Who can forget his goal against his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens in a playoff game in 1997? “The Scorpion” save versus the Rangers? The paddle save he made during the 1995 Stanley Cup finals versus Detroit? But more importantly, who can forget his look of joy when the Devils won each of their three Stanley Cups during his tenure? Waving to the crowd after he broke the NHL record for wins by a goaltender? Marty Brodeur has done it all but that, perhaps, is not his full legacy. His legacy is in the bigger picture. As he was inspired by Patrick Roy to become a great goaltender, so will another goalie down the line, one which may already be in professional hockey or a kid just now getting into the game, be inspired by him. That goalie will then go on to break Marty’s records and the cycle will continue. Hockey, very much like baseball, is a game measured by it’s past. Those that come before inspire the next generation of superstars and the game endures.
So, while Marty may not be wearing Devils red and black this coming season, we have to be comforted with the fact that his legacy will live far beyond his playing days. The next Martin Brodeur could very well be a kid from right here in New Jersey, a kid who grew up going to Devils games and sat in the Meadowlands and/or Prudential Center mesmerized night in and night out by the skills of his idol. Who knows? What I can say right now, as I try to deal with the shock of a Marty-less Devils season, is “thank you” to a man who was gave his all to the team and the sport we all love.
The chant of “Mar-ty!” has not died out. It will be back when the team decides to retire that number “30” and it will rain down upon him like it did whenever he made a timely save when he won the Olympic gold medal for Canada in 2002 or the Stanley Cup three times. Martin Brodeur may no longer be actively playing for the Devils anymore, but his legacy and his greatness will live on forever in the annals of New Jersey Devils and National Hockey League history.