With the New Jersey Devils stuck in last place in the Atlantic Division and Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur having the worst season of his career, I think it is time to look at his career and dissect the numbers in order to truly figure out who is the "best ever."
Prior to this season, Brodeur had 602 career wins, 110 shutouts, a save percentage around .916 and a goals against average near 2.20. He had played almost 65,000 minutes and just under 1,100 games.
That doesn't include the 99 career playoff wins, 23 postseason shutouts, the 2.01 goals against average and the three Stanley Cups. Oh yeah, don't forget to mention the two Olympic gold medals.
Those stats put him near or at the top of the list of discussion for best goaltender of all time.
However, take a look at his stats this season: only 31 games played thus far, just seven wins (which ranks him 42nd in the league) and 18 losses (tops in the league). He's ranked 46th in save percentage and 36th in goals against average. Those are his worst statistics since his first four NHL games in 1991-92.
But wait, you say, isn't a goalie allowed to have an off year? After all, Patrick Roy had an .894 save percentage and 3.20 goals against average in 1993 with the Canadiens. Ed Belfour had a 3.29 goals against average with the Maple Leafs in 2005-06. Even Jacques Plante's statistics skyrocketed to a 3.38 goals against average in 1964 when he was with the Rangers.
So yes, goalies can have an off year or two and still be considered great.
Don't get me wrong—Brodeur is a great goalie, and I would put him among the top 15, maybe even the top 10 of all time. But to say he was the greatest just because his career stats rank first is ludicrous.
All throughout his career, Brodeur played on some of the best defensive teams of all time. When you have Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer playing in front of you for the majority of your playing days, in addition to a talented team playing the trap, you're going to win a lot of games. Any hockey fan can tell you that.
Although Brodeur often came up big when he needed to, the 2008-09 season suggests that Brodeur might not have been as great as you'd think.
When Brodeur was injured and Scott Clemmensen had to back up, Clemmensen posted a .917 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average, in addition to 25 wins in 40 games—easily some of the best numbers of his career. In fact, Clemmensen's save percentage was better than Brodeur's save percentages in each of his three Stanley Cup seasons.
Ironically, now that the Devils' defense is barren and their top player is an old, injured Anton Volchenkov, they are playing very poorly in their own zone. Though all goalies struggle when this happens, Brodeur is struggling more than most.
Roberto Luongo still managed to keep his team afloat the last few seasons when their defense was weak, and Patrick Roy didn't have dominant defensemen in 1993 when he stole the Stanley Cup for Montreal.
Once again, I'm not saying that Brodeur is a bad goaltender. Quite the contrary, in fact. He is great. But don't crown him as the best ever just because the numbers rank first. Crown him when you can prove that he was a main reason why they won Stanley Cups and made the playoffs for so many years.
Alan Bass is a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com. In addition to writing for Inside Hockey and Pro Hockey News, he has also worked for the Philadelphia Flyers' Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.