Depression. Frustration. Anger.
Those are just some of the many feelings fans have experienced this season watching Martin Brodeur, a 41-year-old goaltender who at times has looked every bit like a 41-year-old goaltender in what is potentially his final NHL season.
The latest indignation suffered by Brodeur occurred Monday night, as the New Jersey Devils watched the future Hall of Famer allow three goals on nine shots, transforming a 3-0 lead in a must-win game against the abominable Florida Panthers into a 4-3 advantage. It was a deviation from the usual script with Brodeur these days, as none of the three goals he allowed could be classified as soft, something that has plagued him in a lot of his starts this season.
But save for Brandon Pirri's deflection goal, which perhaps doesn't get through a goaltender who plays on his knees in that situation, it's not like the other goals were impossible to stop, either. Time erodes the quickness and reflexes of us all, and Brodeur is not immune to that. He has won three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies relying on a hybrid style that requires quickness and cat-like reactions, and they have diminished to a point that make Brodeur hard to watch.
It took less than five seconds after the Panthers' third goal for Devils coach Peter DeBoer to tell Cory Schneider that he was going into the game for Brodeur. The NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts, playing on home ice no less, was being yanked from a game the Devils were winning with 34 minutes remaining.
Brodeur skated to the bench and proceeded to head directly to the locker room, before returning to the bench about five minutes later. He sat and watched Schneider make 13 saves to preserve not only a win for the Devils, but a win that would be credited to Brodeur, the 687th and likely least-satisfying victory of his career.
In a fitting representation of their 2013-14 season, Schneider was asked to carry the New Jersey Devils to success in the face of a fading goaltender's inefficiencies, and he did so with aplomb.
Legacies for athletes are usually quite a silly topic, as sports writers love to wax poetic about great players who either hang around too long and tarnish that legacy, while others rush to the front of the line to praise great players who go out on top of their games.
Legacies should never, ever be decided by people in the press box. They should be decided by fans, individually, not as a collective, who can say they experienced the career of an athlete without concern for whether he spoke to reporters after a game or gave them a great quote. One person's "this guy hung around too long and ruined his legacy" is another person's "he loved to play, so he played for as long as he could, and that's all that mattered to him."
That's what makes these past two seasons for Brodeur so compelling—most Devils fans seem to believe that he has given them so many wonderful memories in his 21 seasons with the team that watching him struggle to reach a .900 save percentage and serve as an anchor weighing down a team on the cusp of a playoff spot this season isn't doing a thing to change their feelings for him.
They're not exactly enthusiastic about missing the playoffs this season, in large part because of Brodeur, but there aren't too many grudges out there.
There is depression, anger and frustration for sure, but the love for Brodeur seems to be winning out.
I went to Twitter to solicit responses from Devils fans about their feelings for Brodeur. About 30 people responded and answered questions about his play this season, how they'd feel about him wearing another team's jersey next season and if there was any bitterness about him asking for a trade at this year's deadline. To non-Devils fans and objective viewers of hockey, it may be surprising to know there are almost nothing but good feelings for Brodeur.
There's no limit to the goodwill a player can build with a fanbase when he provides them with 800 wins, postseason included. To an objective onlooker, it looks as though Brodeur is taking advantage of that goodwill.
But to most Devils fans, none of that matters.
"This season and the last few really haven't diminished anything he's done in his career with the Devils or how great he was," says Richard Woodwell, a former resident of Bergen County in New Jersey. "He was never going to stay the best and he just got old and can't do it anymore. That doesn't take away from what he did an accomplished until about 2009/2010-ish.
"I was born in 1990 so how good he was played a huge role in how much I love hockey and the Devils. If they were a bad team when I was growing up, who knows if I actually ever really like the team, but they were great and I got to go to a lot of games and watch them on TV. He's the reason why. Him hanging on to long is not going to change that."
"Nothing about this season has done anything to ruin what Brodeur has done for the Devils in his career," says Josh Burnett, a season-ticket holder from Carteret, N.J. "His legacy has been long since solidified, and I don't believe there's anything that could really happen to change that."
While that's the prevailing feeling, there is a small minority who feel somewhat differently.
"I wouldn't say it has ruined his accomplishments in New Jersey, but my memories of him may be a little tainted," says Alex Rosen of Livingston, N.J. "I saw him win the Stanley Cup in person in 2003, as well as his record-breaking 552nd win. But he's become the Brett Favre of hockey. He doesn't know when to quit, and it's actually sad watching him play like a shell of his former self, thinking he can still be what he once was."
As an objective writer (theoretically) who once cheered for the Devils and pitched a fit at his junior prom when Stephane Matteau scored in Game 7 in 1994, it's easy to lose sight of the difference between someone who writes about hockey for a living and someone who watches it because they love a specific team, player or the game itself. While I can present all kinds of facts and numbers about how Brodeur's presence this season has ruined what could have been (and still could be) a playoff team, none of that matters to most fans.
Anyway, here are some facts and numbers about how Brodeur's presence this season has ruined what could have been (and still could be) a playoff team.
• Out of 47 eligible goaltenders, Brodeur ranks 43rd in save percentage at .900, the worst mark of his career.
• Brodeur ranks 52nd in shootout save percentage at .615, although Schneider is at an abysmal .520. The Devils are 0-11 in the shootout with three goals in 39 attempts, which makes what Brodeur and Schneider have done in the skills competition moot.
• Schneider has a .916 save percentage yet has made just two more starts (39) than Brodeur (37) this season. Any sane coach would have long since gone away from using a goalie of Brodeur's caliber on a regular basis, but Brodeur's stature with the organization and penchant for complaining about his playing time when asked about it by the media puts pressure on DeBoer to settle the locker room and keep his star happy.
• The Devils rank sixth in Fenwick differential this season yet have been done in by a lack of scoring and poor goaltending from Brodeur. Despite facing 84 fewer shots, Brodeur has allowed eight more goals than Schneider. For a team that is three points out of a playoff spot and only scoring 2.45 goals per game, that's the difference between a playoff berth and a second consecutive season of staying home in mid-April.
Things could've been much different this season if Brodeur graciously receded into the shadows, content to be a support system for the superior Schneider. Instead, he was looking for a way out of New Jersey at the trade deadline or discussing playing for Minnesota or Ottawa next season or passive aggressively referring to Schneider as the No. 1 and talking about how he wants to play more.
Brodeur even decided to throw Lou Lamoriello under the bus for letting Zach Parise get away in free agency in 2012.
|Team||Goaltenders under control for 2014-15|
|Minnesota||Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper (RFA)|
|Ottawa||Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner (RFA)|
|Chicago||Corey Crawford, Antti Raanta (RFA)|
|Montreal||Carey Price, Peter Budaj|
|N.Y. Islanders||Anders Nilsson|
|New Jersey||Cory Schneider|
Everyone sees all of this, but analysts and fans see things in different ways—analysts are watching with their eyes while fans are watching with their hearts, and the heart is far more understanding when it comes to judging someone they love, especially in Brodeur's case.
"I think he's been played more than he should have, but I can't fault him for that," says Alex Dellin, a Boston transplant who grew up in New Jersey. "That comes from Peter DeBoer and management. There's only one net and a goalie wants to play. Aside from his inability to adjust to sliding on rougher outdoor ice, he's played pretty well most times. Cory's been better, but not ridiculously so."
But some are down on Brodeur because of this season, at least a little bit.
"I have soured on Brodeur—his poor attitude and poor play have been too much this year for me to take," says Ted Heffner of Flemington, N.J. "His comments on Lou's inability to re-sign Parise may be right, but he is still playing on Lamoriello's team. You can't comment on those things. You don't get to decide how much you play and whether you get pulled or not in a game, especially when your starts are terrible and have been for years now.
"After a bad game he looks to everyone else for the blame and on the flip side, Schneider after every loss gives himself the blame whether he was at fault or not. I guess I just don't like Brodeur's arrogance."
Yet when Brodeur is announced as the team's starting goaltender at Prudential Center, he continues to get the loudest ovation of any other Devil. There's almost this desperate need from fans to see him excel, as he's probably one of their last connections to a lot of their youths. It's almost sad when Brodeur makes a routine save and it results in a "Mar-ty!" chant that was once reserved for only his biggest saves.
It does, however, speak volumes about the love for Brodeur in New Jersey, considering Zach Parise, David Clarkson and Scott Gomez have all been vociferously booed when touching the puck in their returns to Newark in the past two weeks. Even Scott Niedermayer, one of the all-time Devil greats, was booed in his return after he signed with Anaheim as a free agent.
Niedermayer won three Stanley Cups in New Jersey; Gomez has two, yet neither were treated with the understanding Brodeur has received.
Would fans care if Brodeur took the ice next season in another jersey? What if he returned to the Devils for an official farewell tour but was once again stole starts from Schneider? What would that do to the mindset of Schneider, an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season who must be sick of his career as a part-time goaltender despite his full-time statistics and credentials?
"I honestly couldn't care less," says Rupesh Das, a Manhattan resident and season-ticket holder. "If he plays for another team, it doesn't diminish what he's done in his career for this franchise. He is one of the primary reasons they have three Stanley Cups, and he's a legend."
"If Marty decides to return for one last season, I won't mind," says Anthony DiPaolo of Dumont, N.J. "The only thing is, he must be the backup. If I were the coach next year, I'd put Cory in for at least 50 starts. He's been eager from the get-go to become a No. 1 goaltender, and he has definitely proved his case."
There are less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, and the loyalty for Brodeur could endure its greatest test. For all of his talk about wanting to play next season, which NHL team is in the market for a 41-year-old with a .900 save percentage who complains through the media about playing time? This feels like the end for Brodeur, and if Schneider doesn't give DeBoer a reason to bench him, he could make the remaining six starts for New Jersey.
The Devils' final regular-season game is April 13 at home against the mighty Boston Bruins. It's a 3 p.m. start that could mean everything or nothing for the Devils, depending on how the previous five games unfold.
If it's meaningful, Brodeur is unlikely to find himself between the pipes, as the reason the game will be meaningful will be because Schneider made it that way.
If it's not meaningful, it makes sense to start Brodeur and let him play one final game in front of the fans who love him.
For all the love fans have shown Brodeur, if the playoffs are at stake, that love only goes so far.
"In the unlikely event that the season finale vs. Boston means something for playoffs, I would hope that Marty is not starting that game," says Tony Laurita of Riverdale, N.J. "That being said, if they are out of the race, I would like Marty to start and have that be his final game."
"I'm conflicted on whether or not I want the season finale to be Marty's last game," says Daniel Adams of Ruston, La. "If the Devils miraculously still have a shot at the playoffs, then I want Cory to start that game. However, if they have no chance, it would be a nice gesture by the team to give him one last chance to win a game in New Jersey."
Should Martin Brodeur retire after this season?
The fans love Brodeur, despite what he's done this season, and there's very likely nothing that will change that, even if he signs elsewhere this summer. That's how a legacy should be judged.
Brodeur's final image as a Devil could be him stumbling to the ice as Pirri's goal trickled through his skates, then being pulled in favor of Schneider, who had to clean up Brodeur's mess.
If the trade-off for that painful final image of their declining hero is a playoff berth, Devils fans would be OK with that. They love Brodeur, but the only thing they love more is watching the Devils win hockey games.
(If you’d like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.)
Lunn (@Feneban) April 1, 2014
Yep. Game of Thrones. Uh-huh. It's a TV show I watch and enjoy. It sure is. Game of Thrones.
Thanks for the submission.
Suedbeck (@suedbeckd) April 1, 2014
He's not bad. He's fine. He's above average. He's serviceable. He has a .918 save percentage. The league average is .913. His save percentage at even strength is .926, 10th best in the NHL. "Bad" should not be a word to describe Crawford this season.
But if you don't want to trust him in the playoffs, I'm fine with that. Yeah, he won a Stanley Cup last year, but I don't put much stock in what happens in a 48-game season, especially when it deviates so wildly from what a player did in his previous 82-game seasons.
Crawford is not bad.
@DaveLozo More annoying nostalgia: Whalers Nostalgia or Expos Nostalgia?— RM Cooper (@RFCapsMoustache) April 1, 2014
I don't know anyone outside of Bobby Big Wheel who ever references the Hartford Whalers, so it's hard to get sick of nostalgia I never hear about. I follow a lot of Montreal people on Twitter, and I won't lie—the Expos stuff gets to be a little much.
I mean, there's an "official" Montreal Expos Twitter account, and the team does not exist. Can you have official Twitter accounts for things that don't exist? It's quite the existential question regarding social media, I know.
The Expos weren't even good. That's what I don't get. Imagine if the Expos had actually won something when they were there? Then what would the nostalgia be like?
Go watch a Montreal Canadiens game. Live in the now. Be the present.
Walking from Penn Station to the Prudential Center right now to watch Marty get shelled by the B's. Anyway, top five stadium food vendors from around the league? Please try the Italian sandwich with provolone and broccoli rabe from that Italian place at the Prudential Center if you haven't.
I owed this guy an answer, and as you can tell, his question is from about two weeks ago. Still, arena food is a timeless, important topic.
The problem for me is that I'm a media elitist, and when I eat at the rink, which is rare, I'll play it safe with some chicken fingers and french fries. It's usually around $10 at Madison Square Garden or Prudential Center and it's hard to screw up.
I can break down press meals for you. If you ever snag a media credential, the five places you'd want to eat are Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Carolina. You can't have a bad meal in any of those arenas.
If you want baseball stadium advice, I'm way more helpful. Eat everything at Miller Park in Milwaukee and deal with the consequences later. The bratwursts are totally worth spending a few hours getting to know your toilet the following day.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.
(And thanks to everyone who responded to the call for thoughts on Martin Brodeur. I'm sorry I couldn't include all of them, but I assure you I read everything and even if I didn't use it, everything was very helpful and provided great insight. You're all the tops.)