It's hard to believe, but Martin Brodeur is still playing like an All-Star at age 40.
The New Jersey Devils' longtime goalie has been playing phenomenally of late, and has proved that he can help the team be at least a Conference Finals contender. Now he just needs to see his venture through.
Brodeur will face free agency this season. At his age, an expiring contract would normally mean retirement, but he is no normal goalie. While things remain uncertain, he's expected to return,
This postseason could still end in many scenarios, and each may have a different result on Brodeur's career, but if the Devils bow out in the Conference finals, or Stanley Cup Finals, he really needs to stay in New Jersey and finish what he started.
It was 18 years ago that the Devils and Rangers faced off in the infamous seven-game Eastern Conference finals Game 7, with Stephane Matteau and his stupid wraparound in double overtime. In that 1994 game, baby 22-year-old Brodeur was faced with the frustration of coming that close to the finals and falling short. It marked a frustrating end to the rookie's breakout season.
In the years that followed, he rose to the top tier of goalies in the NHL, among the likes of Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek. Some said he was the best in the league—some didn't.
Here's what we know for sure: in 1995, Marty backstopped his team to its first Stanley Cup. In 2000, he won another Stanley Cup, and another in 2003. He made it to the finals in 2001 as well, as far as Game 7 in fact, but eventually lost to the Avalanche.
He's also won his fair share of accolades: a Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year), four Vezina Trophies (Best Goalie—2003, '04, '07, '08), a handful of Jennings Trophies (fewest goals allowed) and a whole lot of league records—most of them, in fact.
But every great career must come to an end, and many thought that the expiration of his contract would also mean the end of what is surely a Hall-of-Fame career. With the way he's playing, that seems like the worst possible idea.
Brodeur is looking great. Mike Vorkunov wrote a piece for the Star-Ledger about Brodeur's great play in Game 1 of the Conference finals, even going so far as to say that he out-dueled Henrik Lundqvist (a notion I fully back).
Brodeur kept the team in the game with superb play, and after 40 minutes of 0-0 hockey, eventually a screen worked and something got through the goalie. Unfortunately, that was all that was needed to beat the Devils that night.
But the play of Brodeur was not at all a cause of the loss. He looked like a playoff goalie, trying to carry his team, and he got pretty far. His team couldn't give him support last game, but that will change at some point, and at that point they will look like an extremely dangerous team.
And that's the thing. Brodeur has been playing great for years. But since the departure of the Big Three on defense (Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko) and the breakup of the A-Line, he hasn't had a good enough team behind him. That's not the case this year.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise represent a more dynamic duo than the Devils have ever seen. Few teams have a pair of talented players like those two. Throw in Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac and a bunch of other guys, and there's actually a contender-quality team.
Should Martin Brodeur return to the Devils next season?
It's great that Brodeur has been able to enjoy so much success this postseason, getting what may be his last taste of the latter half of the playoffs. But he is on a team that is only just finding its stride. Coach Pete Deboer has put together an offensive system that includes a lot of forechecking, and the players are seeing results.
The Devils may finish things out this season, or they may fall short. It really could end in any way, and I have no idea where the team will finally fall*. But if Brodeur is willing to put in another year, we're seeing a team that is capable of really competing, and it seems fitting that he might cap off his career with some big flourish.
This all goes under the assumption that Zach Parise re-signs with the Devils, a lofty one to make. But I believe he will re-sign, and his absence wouldn't necessarily change things.
Should the earth shatter and Parise leaves New Jersey, it would be nice to have Brodeur's calming presence in the city, even if just for a season. His re-signing would mean the Devils would not have to adjust to two gaping roster holes in the same year, and gives them time to try to sort things out.
*In the wake of the LA Kings