And so it ends, not the way Martin Brodeur hoped it would, but the way it does for most great athletes: With the decision to retire made for him.
He was not going to play for the St. Louis Blues as the No. 3 goalie this season, and after sitting out the first third of the season just to find a landing place, he wasn’t going to get another crack some place else. Brodeur is reluctantly leave the sport, but at least he’s doing it with a nice little legacy.
Simply put: He’s the best goalie in NHL history.
Oh, some hockey experts will favor Patrick Roy because of the extra Stanley Cup championship, or Dominik Hasek because of his ability to put less talented teams on his back, or Ken Dryden because of his unparalleled success (six Cups in eight years) in such a small window. All are good choices.
But while I’m a bit biased from covering Brodeur up close all these years — and enjoying his openness and candor with the media— I don’t think it’s much of a debate. Brodeur is the best.
And here’s why:
1. The massive win total. His detractors will call him a compiler because he played for a long time on a bunch of great teams, but that’s nonsense. Brodeur retires with 691 victories in his career. That’s not 10 or 20 or 30 in front of Roy, who is No. 2 on the list. That’s 140 victories in front of him.
It’s hard to imagine how anyone will break that record, and this is an era without ties. Brodeur has 154 of them.
Or how about this: Brodeur has twice as many victories as all but 17 other goaltenders in NHL history. Think about that. Gump Worsley, who is 19th all time on the win list, has less than half the number of victories that Brodeur does. It’s ridiculous.
2. Awards. They are subjective, of course. But Brodeur has won the Vezina Trophy, given to the top goalie in the NHL, four times in his career. Roy won it three times. Since 1981, only Dominik Hasek (with six) has more.
Roy has three Conn Smythe trophies as the playoff MVP, and that’s a missing line on Brodeur’s resume (although he should have won it in 2003 when Anaheim Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere for the losing team). Brodeur had to deal with the perception that he was a product of a great system, which was utter nonsense because …
3. He changed the sport. And that’s not an exaggeration. His puck handling ability forced the NHL to adopt rules to limit where the goaltender could play the puck. Jaromir Jagr, a rival turned teammate, summed up that impact to our longtime Devils writer Rich Chere like this:
“There are a lot of guys who can stop the puck or are quick. What made him special is he could move the puck. Being able to handle the puck, he never got into trouble. He helped himself that way.
“You had to play differently. You couldn’t dump it in. You had to try and carry it in, because once you dumped it in he took the puck and shot it down the other way. That’s what made him really special. He saved 50 percent of his job. Some goalies have to face 40 shots. He faced only 20 shots because of this.”
4. Durability/Longevity. This matters. When you consider the grind of the modern sport, Brodeur took on a greater workload than any of his contemporaries. He had 12 seasons with 70 or more games played. Roy had none.
He played for more than two decades, and played at an elite level for most of that time, and won three championships and played in two more Cup finals along the way. It’s possible to argue that other great goalies in NHL history are better. But it’s not easy.