The 41-year-old didn’t hang up his skates before his skills started to decline, however, and so now the biggest decision of his hockey career looms.
Should he stay or should he go?
New Jersey is the Devil he knows. Cory Schneider has supplanted him as the team’s starter and he has little to no hope of earning it back. Although Brodeur has more wins this year, the Devils have given Schneider the lion's share of the work since the calendar flipped to 2014. Brodeur has started just twice since Jan. 18, and has a 2-3-1 record since Jan. 1.
Brodeur’s contract ends at the conclusion of the season and it’s unlikely the veteran will sign a new one with the Devils to be a backup.
Where that leaves him is limbo. He could leave Jersey now—the franchise he’s played with since he was selected 20th overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft—either to chase one last championship or say goodbye as a starter. Or, he could wait until the summer to bid the Devils farewell and decide where he wants to play and what role he’ll accept.
If the Devils are looking to move Brodeur for draft picks or prospects, or some kind of package that may improve their own chances of making the playoffs or set them up better in the future, sticking around might seem selfish. But Brodeur has earned that right and has a no-movement clause, which means if he goes, it will be on his own terms.
The decision really a no-brainer
If Brodeur plans to retire at the end of the year rather than seek out a new place to start, he should stay with the Devils and humbly serve out the final days of his contract to finish his Hall-of-Fame career with the same franchise he started it with. He can point proudly to his many accomplishments—to his multiple Stanley Cup wins; his numerous NHL records; his franchise benchmarks that may never be broken—and be satisfied about the relationship he’s had with the team that drafted and developed him.
If he plans to continue his hockey career and sign somewhere else to fight for a starting role, it’s worth cutting ties early, allowing his former team to move on and get something in return, and to have his own shot at a fourth Cup victory before an uncertain summer.
It's entirely possible Saturday's 6-1 win over the New York Islanders was Brodeur's last performance in the Devils crease. He told Rich Chere of the StarLeger he wants to play more:
If I would agreed to (a trade), it would be just to get more ice time. I feel really good. The way I was playing today, I still have a lot left in me. If I need to play somewhere else next year, I need to make some decisions.
According to the NHL rumor mill, there are a few suitors for Brodeur.
According to Mike Russo of the StarTribune, the Minnesota Wild are in the market for a goaltender and missed out on Ryan Miller because of the hefty price and the fact Darcy Kuemper has been playing well as the number-one guy with Josh Harding unable to get his multiple sclerosis under control and Niklas Backstrom dealing with a nagging injury.
What should Martin Brodeur do at the trade deadline?
The Wild would be a landing spot that could offer Brodeur some playing time. Maybe not as the top guy but as part of a tandem with Kuemper that would allow Backstrom to get the rest or surgery he needs to recover from his injury.
Randy Miller of NJ.com suggests scouts from the Chicago Blackhawks were scheduled to take in Thursday’s Devils game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and that they’re linked to the Brodeur rumors as well.
With Cory Crawford proving capable of carrying the load in the playoffs last spring there won’t be as much playing time available for the veteran Brodeur, but he could offer the Hawks value with his experience and the ability to at least keep Crawford on his toes in case things go badly for the starter.
Perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins are also in the market. Tomas Vokoun was the team’s best playoff performer a year ago and it’s hard to have faith that Marc-Andre Fleury will finally get past the playoff jitters and be a solid number-one this post-season. Vokoun’s blood clot has kept him out of action this season but he’s been cleared to practice.
Pens goalie Tomas Vokoun has been cleared to participate in full practice with the team.— Allan Walsh (@walsha) February 25, 2014
The Pens could still make a play for Brodeur to ensure a healthy veteran presence behind Fleury in case Vokoun is unable to get ready for the pace of the playoffs in time.
Whichever team decides to pony up for Brodeur’s services and get GM Lou Lamoriello to ask the all-time NHL wins leader to waive his no-trade clause will have to hope it’s as attractive a situation for Brodeur as the package is for the Devils.