On Tuesday, St. Louis Blues starting goaltender Brian Elliott left midway through a game with Ottawa after a collision with Senators forward Erik Condra. The Blues wasted no time in addressing the loss and on Wednesday announced that all-time NHL wins leader Martin Brodeur would begin practicing with the club:
And hey, if that doesn’t work, maybe the team can talk current Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy out of retirement or put in a call to 2014 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Dominik Hasek.
It’s absolutely understandable that the Blues would want to take action after losing Elliott, who is listed as “week-to-week” with a lower-body injury, according to Louie Korac of NHL.com.
Backup goalie Jake Allen, who will take over the starting job, has played a grand total of 24 NHL regular-season games and is still eligible for the Calder Trophy. Beyond Allen, there isn’t a lot of depth at the position either; coach Ken Hitchock told TSN’s Ian Mendes that “we really have no backup plan” if something were to happen to Allen.
Additionally, the team hasn’t offered much clarification on what Elliott’s situation is, but former St. Louis goalie coach Corey Hirsch guessed on Twitter that it’s potentially worse than the organization is letting on:
The question is why the team settled on Brodeur as its fallback plan.
It’s not like there weren’t other options on the market. Back in October, we looked at the players available and concluded that both Tomas Vokoun (career .917 save percentage) and Ilya Bryzgalov (who did a nice job stepping into the breach first in Edmonton and then in Minnesota in 2013-14) were superior options to Brodeur, who “hasn’t posted a league-average save percentage since 2009-10.”
It’s actually worse than that sentence indicates, as a comparison to the other two goalies to appear in at least five games for New Jersey over that span shows:
- Cory Schneider: 66 games, .919 save percentage
- Johan Hedberg: 80 games, .908 save percentage
- Martin Brodeur: 183 games, .904 save percentage
Schneider, a legitimate NHL starter, has posted above-average save percentage numbers since taking over the No. 1 job, so we can safely nix New Jersey’s defensive game as a problem. More startling is that even Hedberg, now the goalie coach for the AHL’s Albany Devils, managed to outperform Brodeur over this span of games.
Brodeur is plenty famous, and for good reason, but he’s also 42 years old and has spent the last four seasons proving that he isn’t up to the task of backstopping an NHL team any longer.
There is another problem, too, and that relates to how willing Brodeur is to accept a backup role. This is the same goalie who spent most of 2013-14 speculating aloud about the possibility of a trade away from New Jersey after it became clear that Cory Schneider was the team’s preferred starter.
Brodeur told CBS New York last week that he was “willing to play in any kind of role” but then added that it would need to be the “right fit and in the right market.” If a team signs him, is he really going to be content as, say, a 20-25 game backup goalie?
At this point, the argument in favour of Martin Brodeur is essentially that from the mid-1990s to 2010, when he was an exceptional goalie behind a very good team. The arguments against him come down to him playing poorly for four consecutive seasons and his clear dissatisfaction with the reduced role he was given last season. The Blues have decided that his career resume trumps the rest of it.
But this shouldn’t be a surprise, as the management team in St. Louis showed last season that it puts great stock in a goalie’s reputation and isn’t all that worried about measurable performance.
In March, the Blues paid dearly to upgrade from Jaroslav Halak (career .918 save percentage) to Ryan Miller (career .915 save percentage), landing Miller and role player Steve Ott in exchange for a package that included:
- forward Chris Stewart
- top prospect William Carrier
- a 2015 first-round draft pick
- a conditional selection that turned out to be a 2016 third-round draft pick
Miller struggled to adapt to St. Louis, posting a .903 save percentage over 19 regular-season games and then recording a .897 save percentage in a first-round playoff loss to Chicago. He’s now in Vancouver.
Obviously, the ramifications of getting the backup position wrong are a lot smaller than last year’s deadline decision to blow a mammoth pile of assets on (at best) an uncertain upgrade. But it’s still a mistake, one that reflects the same flawed thinking that motivated the Miller trade.