On Tuesday, the team decided it had seen enough and agreed to a contract with the legendary goaltender:
The pact between Brodeur and the Blues is entirely unsurprising. After all, the team wouldn’t have brought him in for practices if it wasn’t 99 percent convinced that it wanted to add him to its roster. What was surprising—shocking even—was the statement that Ken Hitchcock made on the team’s official website.
“If he’s here, he’s going to play,” Hitchcock told Chris Pinkert. “We’ll figure out what game it is and what games they are, but if he’s here, he’s going to play. He’s not going to back up.”
In some quarters, that statement was greeted positively. Goaltending expert Kevin Woodley, a regular contributor to NHL.com and InGoal Magazine, tweeted that Brodeur’s mental approach made this a necessary decision for Hitchcock:
There is, however, a problem.
The problem is that despite his formidable reputation and impressive career, Brodeur is probably the third-best goaltending option at the Blues’ disposal. Based on his recent work, he’s entirely unqualified to be an NHL starter at this stage of his career.
We might as well start with Brian Elliott, who has been the Blues’ starter for much of this season and whose injury prompted the team’s interest in Brodeur.
Originally listed as week-to-week by the team, Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that he’s already skating, which presumably means that he isn’t all that far from staging a return to the ice.
Elliott has been brilliant for St. Louis this season, posting a .931 save percentage over 14 games played, and he’s been excellent over four seasons with the Blues. That’s why the team was comfortable enough to roll with him as its starter this season.
His numbers since coming to St. Louis compare very favourably to what Brodeur was doing in New Jersey over the same span of time:
|Elliott vs. Brodeur, 2011-12 to present|
|Season||Brian Elliott||Martin Brodeur|
|2011-12||38 games, .940 SV%||59 games, .908 SV%|
|2012-13||24 games, .907 SV%||29 games, .901 SV%|
|2013-14||31 games, .922 SV%||39 games, .901 SV%|
|2014-15||14 games, .931 SV%||Has not played|
Even rookie goaltender Jake Allen is probably a better bet. His .918 save percentage over 11 games this year tops anything Brodeur has done since 2008. Even his career .911 save percentage trumps Brodeur’s work over the last four years by a healthy margin.
It’s understandable that St. Louis would want a backup plan just in case Allen hits some rough patches, but it’s awfully strange to shunt him to the back burner to make room for a 41-year-old who is clearly in the twilight of his career.
None of this, of course, is likely to hurt the Blues too much during the season. St. Louis is 16-6-2 on the year and has topped 100 points in two of the last three seasons. The club was also on better than a 100-point pace during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.
This is a good enough team that it can run out a league-average goalie and still finish inside the playoffs by a comfortable margin.
That should be the scariest thing of all for Blues fans, because it means that even if Brodeur is perfectly mediocre, it isn’t likely to show up in terms of wins and losses.
If he struggles early, that can get chalked up to rust—particularly if the team is still winning games. Even a middling run might be enough to keep him in the No. 1 slot, and the closer the team gets to the playoffs, the more that Brodeur’s reputation as a winner is likely to become a factor.
While the Blues can play whomever in net during the regular season and still win games, the same is not true in the playoffs. St. Louis shares a division with some awfully good teams and has to find a way past Chicago just to make it to the Western Conference Final.
That’s where differences in the margins are going to count for a lot, and where Brodeur is really likely to cost the team if he’s still starting hockey games at that point.