New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur’s 2013-14 season has been representative of a roller coaster so far, complete with all the rust and loose screws you’d expect from a ride that’s been around for more than 20 years.
Sure, Brodeur, 41, has played well for stretches this year. However, though his career has mainly comprised a long series of “ups,” the valleys in the recent past and into this year have been a lot closer together and longer-lasting as well.
One might logically assume the end is nigh—and it is, relatively speaking. However, Brodeur seems insistent not to go gentle into that good night and squeeze out as much hockey as possible, regardless of the ramifications to the franchise.
With three Stanley Cups and the record for most wins by a goalie under his belt, the politically correct thing to do would be to let him. He’s obviously earned that right, to continue to play a children’s game for a living for as long as he wants. Good for him if he can. That’s the dream, after all, to stay eternally young.
The reality, though, dictates the necessity for him to leave the game at the end of this season. Otherwise, by the time he finally decides to hang them up, the goalie the Devils got to replace him might end up retiring himself.
Obviously that’s a tad of an exaggeration. But the Devils could still conceivably lose Cory Schneider, who they got in exchange for a highly valuable first-round pick in last summer’s deep entry draft, due to their inability to see the forest for the trees.
So narrow-minded has this franchise become that it has probably not dawned on anyone (anyone but Schneider that is) that he is not that far away from becoming a free agent. His deal runs out at the end of the next year, you know, the season Brodeur just may end up playing.
“Maybe I’ll play another year. You never know,” Brodeur told Newark Star-Ledger reporter Rich Chere (via CBSSports.com) earlier this month.
Really??? After not posting a save percentage above .910 since the 2009-10 season?
If Jersey continues to take Schneider for granted, they’ll only end up facing the same dilemma they have been for the last half-decade: a lack of a viable succession plan, only this time with a half-decade older Brodeur in between the pipes (and no Bo Horvat, or whoever they would have drafted last summer, in the system).
When the Devils acquired Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks on draft day, it seemed as though general manager Lou Lamoriello was wisely planning for the future. But the common misconception is that Schneider is a prospect waiting in the wings. He’s not. He’s 27, entering his prime and instead should be considered the present.
However, his career has curiously been in limbo since the start of the season. At least in Vancouver, Schneider had actually wrested away the official No. 1 spot from Roberto Luongo before Mike Gillis realized his own stupidity in signing the latter to a non-tradable contract.
Thankfully, along came the Devils, who slyly scooped Schneider up…only to place him square on the sidelines.
To review: Schneider had all but forced Vancouver’s hand to deal Luongo for a bag of peanuts (an offer, by the way, for which Gillis probably would have been grateful after a year-long melodrama). New Jersey then decided to do Vancouver a favor, agree to a somewhat-mutually beneficial trade and in the process force Schneider to give up his No. 1 job, move to the Garden State and become a glorified backup once again.
Assuming little change to the status quo, what reason on Earth could Schneider possibly have to remain loyal to the Devils and re-sign come the end of his current contract?
Schneider has in essence been treated slightly better than a red-headed stepchild (Red-Headed Stopchild as a nickname, anyone?), caught between head coach Peter DeBoer’s respect for Brodeur and the need to win consistently. That latter bit? It’s not working out so hot.
The Devils are 13-15-6 and out of a playoff spot entering action Wednesday night. It may be true that Brodeur has the better record (9-8-2), but Schneider (4-7-4) has the better numbers (1.97 goals-against average vs. 2.31 with a .917 save percentage vs. .905).
The Devils as a team just haven’t been given the opportunity to acclimate themselves to a new No. 1. Meanwhile, the Devils as an organization just aren’t doing anyone but Brodeur any favors by coddling the future Hall of Famer and what must be his desire to match Dominik Hasek-ian levels of eccentricity. But nobody wins in that scenario, in which Brodeur plays until he’s 43, especially not the Devils.
Schneider has proven himself good enough to have secured a starting job by now, but he apparently must continue to wait, this time for Brodeur to realize the sad truth that he needs to retire at the end of this season.
Goalies wear helmets but Brodeur has taken his hard-headedness to new levels and at this rate may only decide to step aside once Luongo’s quarter-century contract ends. Now, how would that be for a cruel twist of fate?
No one is saying the Devils should force Brodeur out of the organization. You just don’t do that to a player that has meant as much to the team—and hockey—as he has. You instead appeal to his common sense, tell him how happy the team is to have him, but that it’s in the best interest of the team to give Schneider more starts. Brodeur should arrive at the only possible conclusion sooner rather than later.
Whichever road the Devils opt to go down, things can’t continue the way they are right now, because a roller coaster can only go down so often before reaching rock bottom and ending up in the hockey equivalent of hell. To keep with this path would mean Brodeur isn’t the only one with a few screws loose.