Martin Brodeur has added another chapter to his remarkable storybook career in the 2012 playoffs. No matter the result of the Stanley Cup Finals, Brodeur deserves much credit for helping the New Jersey Devils reach it this season. He saved their backs during the first round in a double overtime Game 7 against the Florida Panthers. His active puck handling was a critical factor in limiting the Philadelphia Flyers' attack. Finally, he outplayed Henrik Lundqvist in the conference finals.
Brodeur accomplished all of this as a player past his prime at age 40. It adds to the argument for him as the greatest goalie in history. He holds numerous NHL records, the most important being wins and shutouts. He has the most playoff shutouts of all-time and is second all-time in playoff wins.
Brodeur has played in five Stanley Cup Finals series, winning three thus far. He has won the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender four times, as well as the Calder Trophy for best rookie. His seven shutouts in the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs are a record. Also, he has won two Olympic gold medals for Team Canada in the Olympics.
Perhaps the greatest argument for Brodeur is the legacy that he has left at each rink in the NHL. The trapezoid area that limits where goalies can play the puck behind the net is a direct result of his remarkable skills handling the puck.
The only comparable situation in another sport is Wilt Chamberlain's dominance leading to the NBA changing rules regarding rebounders at the foul line. That is the extent of Brodeur's dominance; the NHL considered it so unfair that they changed the rules to prevent him from having it. Despite the rule changes, he won two Vezina trophies.
Brodeur's critics point at mainly two factors. The first being that he benefited from the defensive system of the Devils. Secondly, he never dominated the league in terms of save percentage.
On the first argument, it is true that Brodeur benefited from the Devils' system. However it overlooks the more important fact that Brodeur was directly responsible for the efficiency of the Devils' system. His puck-handling skills nullified the ability of other teams to dump the puck in and crash behind the boards, the classic way to beat a neutral-zone trap.
Brodeur essentially was a sixth skater during these situations. He affected the game in ways that other goalies did not; it was not just about stopping pucks. His influence affected nearly all aspects of the game, leading to a tremendous advantage for the teams he played on.
As for the argument over save percentage, I believe it to be a very flawed statistic. The main reason for this is that save percentage assumes all shots are of equal quality. As a former goaltender, I can tell you first hand that a game when you face 13 shots can be much more taxing than a game when you face 30.
Yet if you allow two goals in each game, the 30-shot game appears to be the much better one if you go by save percentage. Save percentage is no more perfect of a statistic to judge goalies than goals against average is.
Martin Brodeur is the most prolific winner in history and recorded the most shutouts as well. In the end, those numbers are hard to argue against. Brodeur's puck-handling skills made him a bigger factor in the context of a game than a goalie would normally play.
The bottom line with Brodeur is that he has the individual and team records, and the NHL changed the rules because of his ability. That is a trio of factors that makes it very difficult to argue against him as the greatest goalie of all-time. While I believe that a solid argument can be made for other goalies being better at purely stopping the puck, I think Brodeur has a greater net positive effect for his team than any other goalie.
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