Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is a savvy businessman and is known for his offseason acquisitions. The truth is that many veterans who have played with the Devils once before are brought back by Lou under the notion that they actually like playing for the organization.
Lamoriello has pulled off underrated moves for years as he has built a franchise the league can look up to in New Jersey.
However, this season is going to test Lamoriello in a way that he has never been tested before.
At the end of this season, New Jersey will have an unfortunate situation to handle with two of the biggest superstars on the team set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Zach Parise is supposedly going to garner the most interest on the free agency market in 2012 and Martin Brodeur is a living legend in New Jersey and the longest-tenured Devil on the roster.
While both players have reason to claim top dollar from the Devils organization, if Lou has to make a decision between the two for the sake of the franchise going forward, he would be best suited to make Parise the choice regardless of how much Marty has provided for New Jersey.
As heartbreaking as it would be to see Brodeur in another jersey, business is business after all.
The 2011-12 season will mark Martin Brodeur's 19th in the NHL, all with the Devils of course, while it would only be Parise's seventh. Needless to say, the future of the franchise rests in the hands of its youth, not with players past their prime.
If New Jersey has any hope to return to the glory years that included 14 straight playoff appearances and three Stanley Cups, it will rely upon its players to continue producing at their highest level.
Just this season alone, Parise has 11 goals and 28 points in 35 games. With the exception of last season when he injured his knee, Parise has played in at least 81 games every single season, including his rookie season in 2005-06. He is on pace to score over 70 points for the third time in his career.
Brodeur, on the other hand, is having a down season by his standards and is showing signs of slowing down all together. So far this season, Marty has been splitting time evenly with Johan Hedberg, and in 20 games played, he has a record of 9-9-0.
These numbers are significant on a few fronts. First of all, Brodeur traditionally plays in over 70 games per season. Right now, he will be lucky to break 45.
Secondly, his level of production is surely sinking. A .500 record is truly uncharacteristic for one of the NHL's greatest goaltenders. This is not to say that he cannot compete at the professional level, but it is becoming clear that he cannot produce at the level New Jersey needs him at in order to win another Stanley Cup.
Finally, not only does it illustrate his lower level of production, but it shows the decline in support that he is receiving from the coaching staff as well. For a coach to play a legend like Brodeur in only 50 percent of the team's games, it shows that Peter DeBoer understands his decline, and is attempting to take measurements that will benefit the team with Brodeur still on the roster.
The end result is a clear-cut choice when it comes to youth and productivity.
It's no secret that the Devils have sunk a lot of money into another superstar already in Ilya Kovalchuk. While many will argue that they were insane to even attempt signing Kovalchuk, the truth is that he is a prolific scorer and has already added offense to a team that has never been known for anything other than defense.
It is also clear that Lou Lamoriello is taking the organization in a different direction.
This offseason, Lamoriello worked out a one-year contract for Zach Parise worth $6 million. Although it seems counterproductive on Lou's part, it kept Zach in a Devils jersey for another year, and bought Lamoriello some time to clear cap space and put some pieces of the puzzle together.
I don't think there is a doubt in anyone's mind that Parise is well worth the money on his own.
Martin Brodeur is in the last year of a six-year contract and his annual salary comes out to $5.2 million.
As I said before, New Jersey is barely under the salary cap and both players will command a good chunk of the cap space in the coming years.
According to capgeek.com, New Jersey will have a total of nine unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2011-12 NHL season. Those nine players command a total of roughly $23 million in cap space. Brodeur and Parise make up about $11 million right now.
There are a number of players on the Devils roster right now who are also necessary to bring back and when push comes to shove, Lamoriello will have to decide the value of each and every unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Players like Bryce Salvador, Kurtis Foster and even Johan Hedberg could be brought back for a cheaper price tag than either Brodeur or Parise and at the end of the day, Lamoriello still has to fill out the roster.
When it comes down to the money, Parise is worth his price tag at this point in his career while Brodeur is simply overpriced.
One of the unfortunate effects of losing a great player to free agency is the fact that he will be playing against his former team at some point the next season.
As difficult as it is to imagine for a Devils fan, picture Zach Parise in a New York Rangers jersey playing in the Prudential Center. Not pleasant, but it could be a reality no less. The same goes for Brodeur.
Although it may be a tough pill to swallow, it would be more beneficial for New Jersey to play against Brodeur than it would be to play against Parise. As explained before, statistically at this point in both players' careers, Parise is far more productive than Brodeur and would likely hurt the Devils if playing for another opponent.
Looking at this from a player's perspective, it's not always easiest to pinpoint the specific strengths and weaknesses of an opposing forward—especially if that forward is Zach Parise. During practice, and especially at the professional level, there are not as many one-on-one drills used to develop the fundamentals for skaters.
However, players get an opportunity to shoot on their own goaltenders every single practice regardless of the drills. Therefore, it can be reasonably conceived that every shooter has had ample opportunity to learn about their own goaltender and where his weaknesses lie.
If New Jersey was forced to play against Marty, I think it would have much more success than if it were to play against Zach.
Contrary to popular belief, the Devils have been drafting prospects at goalie for a few years now.
It is no secret to Lou Lamoriello that he has an aging goaltender; he knows that Brodeur is in his 19th season.
As it stands right now, New Jersey has four prospects developing either in the minors or with junior organizations that it has drafted within the past six years.
Jeff Frazee and Keith Kinkaid are currently playing for the Devils' farm club in Albany. Frazee was drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft while Kinkaid was signed by New Jersey during his sophomore season at Union College.
New Jersey also has two younger prospects in Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont, both 19 years old. Although they are still playing for other organizations, it is clear that they are ready to take the next step in their careers and the door is slowly creeping open.
If Brodeur is on his way out, and by most stretches of the imagination he is, it may be time to start putting faith in these young prospects. With the exception of Frazee, none of them have been battle-tested at the professional level, but that does not mean that they will not succeed.
New Jersey is known for drafting well and developing talent within the organization (i.e. Brodeur and Parise), so there is no reason to believe that one of these young goaltenders won't be the next great thing for the Devils.
Sad, but true.
Martin Brodeur has been, without a doubt, the greatest player to wear a Devils jersey during their short history. He was the reliable backbone of the franchise during their three Stanley Cup seasons and is the winningest goaltender of all time in the NHL. There is no doubt that he has a spot in the Hall of Fame waiting for him when he retires.
The question is, however, when is it time to call it quits?
Right now, it doesn't seem that Marty is ready to hang up the pads in the NHL, but then again, when does anyone know when to stop doing what they love? When hockey is all that you know and love, it will never be easy to say goodbye.
This situation could go one of a few ways.
First, Brodeur could retire and that's that. He gives up the game and exits gracefully, knowing full well that he has made an impact on the NHL that no one will ever forget.
Second, the Devils could ease him out of retirement by giving him a position within the organization. Either something behind the bench as a coach, developing prospects and helping with young talent, or in the front office with Lou as an assistant with team operations.
Finally, and this would break the heart of every Devils fan, we could see a scenario similar to that of Brett Favre in the NFL, where Brodeur becomes a traveling salesman, playing for any team that is in dire need of a goaltender, leaning on his long list of accomplishments rather than his talent alone.
As sad as it may be to watch, sometimes a player just cannot say goodbye to the game.
In any case, it seems clear that New Jersey would be best served to retain Zach Parise at this point rather than Brodeur. At this point in time, Parise brings more to the foreseeable future of the franchise than Marty, and if New Jersey wants to get back to the playoffs, or better yet, the Stanley Cup finals, it would be best served to put its faith in No. 9 and hang No. 30 from the rafters.