Was Brodeur the greatest ever?

Co-authors: Sam Woo / Shane Lambert

Martin Brodeur, in what only amounted to seven games, may have finished his career with the St. Louis Blues. However, the sure-to-be Hall of Famer will always be remembered as a New Jersey Devil. The franchise will recognize Brodeur’s longstanding commitment, his personal achievements, and his contributions to the Devils on February 9th when they retire his jersey ahead of playing the Edmonton Oilers.

Brodeur, who will also be immortalized in a statue, played in 1259 regular season games as a member of the New Jersey Devils. Additionally, he played in 205 games in the Stanley Cup playoffs, winning the NHL’s postseason tournament three times.

Brodeur’s retired jersey will join three others in the Prudential Center. Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Ken Daneyko have all seen their jerseys retired already. With Brodeur’s jersey retirement the final player that was an integral part of the Devils’ glory days will see his number join the rafters.

That Brodeur personally played with all of the other players with retired jerseys was something that seemed to touch him.

“When they approached me about this and I started thinking about it, I said this is our team,” Brodeur said to NHL.com, apparently referring to the great nucleus that the Devils had between about 1994 and 2003. “The guys with retired numbers made up those great defensive teams. Now we’ll have three defensemen and a goalie. There are times when jerseys are retired in organizations where you have never met that retired player and they weren’t a part of your career.”

It is very fitting that Brodeur should acknowledge his teammates, especially the d-men. After all, a lot of goaltender stats are partly team-defensive stats. Stevens, Niedermayer, Daneyko, and others are a part of Brodeur’s 125 shutouts, the most ever attributed to a goaltender.

Martin Brodeur

Martin Brodeur in net.

But, as any long-time NHL fan knows, a big reason that the Devils only have players with retired jerseys from Brodeur’s era is partly because the franchise only experienced success during Brodeur’s playing days. The Devils were originally known as the Kansas City Scouts and then they were known as the Colorado Rockies. Neither the Scouts nor the Rockies did any damage in the NHL playoffs in limited years of existence.

It wasn’t until the 1993/94 season, when Brodeur was emerging as a star, that the Devils entered the radar as a franchise to be contended with. Behind a neutral-zone trapping defensive system that took advantage of the then illegal two-line pass, New Jersey was nearly impossible to come from behind against for much of the 1990s. In 1993/94 the Devils lost in the conference finals to Mark Messier’s New York Rangers in overtime of game seven. The next season, the Devils bounced back and won their first Cup.

While Brodeur is clearly the greatest goaltender that the Devils have ever seen his position as the all-time great goalie in NHL history is debatable. As far as popular opinion may go, Brodeur is the most recent great goaltender to retire. In the sometimes fickle world of sports analysis, where memories seem to fade too quickly, that circumstance will garner him some supporters for “greatest ever” in the same way that people think Kobe Bryant of the NBA is better than Michael Jordan. Fresher in the memory should not equal “better” and yet it seems to be the way opinions develop sometimes.

So, at the risk of slaying a sacred cow, I will state my opinion on Brodeur’s legacy: his career was clearly not as good as Dominik Hasek’s.

The Czech Republic’s best netminder proved way more than Brodeur in facing – and turning away – the seemingly non-stop barrage of shots that made its way through Buffalo’s porous defense in the 1990s. Hasek erased errors by defensemen, with both insane flexibility and instincts, better than Brodeur did, a player who got a lot of shutouts because of the players in front of him. Hasek had a better career save percentage, in fact his is best among all retired players. Arguably he faced more trying circumstances as well as he didn’t have Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, or Scott Niedermayer clogging things up.

It seems that the only knock against the Czech is poorer overall team success. Brodeur won two Gold Medals, Hasek won one. Brodeur got the three Cups, Hasek got two. Many people consider those achievements, which are team awards, when making their ‘best ever’ lists for individual players – a reasoning process that should formally be entrenched in logic as a fallacy.

But the ‘greatest ever’ debate certainly isn’t relevant to who New Jersey selects for a number retirement. Brodeur’s jersey belongs in the Prudential Center’s rafters as a great Devil.

Furthermore, the jersey retirement will help make the fact that Brodeur didn’t end his career as a Devil a thing of the past, something Brodeur is already comfortable with.

“You know what, I’m at peace with that decision,” Brodeur told NHL.com, regarding his decision to play with the St. Louis Blues at the very end of his career. “Looking back, I have zero regrets in how I closed out my career. In the perfect storm finishing up as a member of the Devils would have been great but I never thought it would happen that way, never saw it coming.”

His jersey retirement will surely be a touching moment for life-time Devils’ fans, fans who saw their once-obscure franchise rise right to the top of the NHL. Hopefully, when the 9th of February arrives, it will be a perfect night for everyone involved: New Jersey management, Brodeur, and fans alike.

Sam Woo is currently the executive producer of Hockey Unfiltered with Todd Lewis and Hockey Primetime with Conor McKenna, which is heard on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and local stations across North America. You can reach him VIA Twitter: @AskSamWoo or by e-mail Sam@PrimetimeRadio.com

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