Though not shocking––the Devils have been playing poorly for quite some time now, including an 11-game losing streak that ended last week––the lost season is still hard for fans to swallow after last season's surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final.
But now, with the season's meaning gone, thoughts turn to the future, and a question that's been nagging some people for a while comes to the table: Is it time for Martin Brodeur to end his career?
Brodeur was drafted in the first round of the NHL draft some 23 years ago in 1990. Since then, he's had one of the most prolific careers in the history of North American sports.
Just to give his career some perspective, consider this: Though there hasn't been an NHL expansion in 12 years, Brodeur still has more career wins than seven NHL franchises, including a couple of Stanley Cup winners.
But now, a few weeks before the goalie's 41st birthday, things are looking bleak. As time has passed, Marty has become more prone to injury and has been capable of playing less and less.
Marty's worst year came in 2010-11, when he suffered the first losing record of his career, finishing 23-26-3. The team missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996 and things looked dreadful. But then the team pulled together for 2011-12, and it did something pretty amazing.
Thirty-nine-year-old Brodeur managed a 31-21-4 record, and he was able to backstop the Devils all the way to the franchise's fifth final appearance (all with Brodeur). Though the team failed to win the Cup, it was a showing that Marty was not yet done, and a reminder of what he had once been.
But now, a year later, he may need to seriously start thinking about hanging up his skates.
Simply put, the Devils were bad this year. Losing captain Zach Parise to free agency didn't help, but the whole team struggled. Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac all performed below expectations, and Marty wasn't immune to that decline: In 28 games, he's 12-9-7 with a 2.26 goals-against average. His current .900 save-percentage would qualify as the worst of his career as a starting goaltender.
Now, before getting into reasons to retire, it's worth noting the following: Martin Brodeur is one of the greatest goaltenders of all time. His longevity and consistency are a big part of what's made him so special, and he should be allowed to keep playing as long as he thinks he's still capable of playing.
In the end, no one knows whether Brodeur can play except for Brodeur himself.
With that said, there are numerous reasons for Marty to quit after this season, first and foremost of which is the fact that he's no longer helping his team. Brodeur isn't doing worse than some NHL goalies might play, but the Devils just had a lot of games they needed to win, and he didn't come through.
Sunday against the Rangers, to keep playoff hopes alive, Brodeur was able to stop just 18 of 22 shots. The game before that, he allowed two goals on 13 shots. Two games before that, he allowed a goal while only facing 12 shots; the game before that, he allowed two goals on 11 shots.
These were the games where Marty needed to come up big, where he needed to steal a few points for the team, and he just didn't.
Also, while Marty has never been to narcissistic, he's only hurting his legacy at this point. With more than 100 more wins than any other goalie has ever managed, he's clearly solidified his spot in history. He holds the all-time record for shutouts, and likely will for as long as they keep the records. He has three Stanley Cups, two other final appearances and four Vezina Trophies—he's left his name all over the record books.
Each season Brodeur plays, he lowers his career save-percentage and goals-against average. And when it all comes down to it, is he really helping the team?
Well, sadly, it seems like the franchise has finally arrived at a place where it does not make sense to keep putting out Brodeur. In his advanced age, he's unable to take on a full starter's role, and as was witnessed this past season, Johan Hedberg is not capable of managing the team the rest of the time.
No, the Devils need a change in net. It's not clear if that goalie will come from their current farm system––perhaps Jeff Frazee or Scott Wedgewood––or if they'll have to acquire someone, but it simply doesn't make sense to keep trying Brodeur. He's missed the playoffs two of the last three seasons, and there's no reason to expect different moving forward.
The Devils had quite an impressive run; they were arguably one of the best franchises. But the window has closed, and the Devils have to accept that it's time to move on. The first place that starts is finding a replacement for No. 30.