I started following hockey a bit late—in 1994—well after baseball, football and even basketball were established as sports of interests. Living in the south, hockey was about as popular as cricket in the United States. I had no frame of reference with the sport and my father was clueless about it (well, he still is).
But a friend of mine had NHLPA '93 for the Sega Genesis, which did not have real team names (remember "Long Island"?). Playing that game and NHL '94 got me into hockey. I became a Quebec Nordiques, and now, Ottawa Senators fan. But I was still generally ignorant about hockey. After all, I equated Wayne Gretzky with the Los Angeles Kings and Mark Messier with the New York Rangers, neither with the Edmonton Oilers.
Nevertheless, the fresh fondness of hockey led me to follow the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Because my "new" teams did not make the playoffs, I initially watched with no rooted interests.
But the love affair with the Rangers led me to despise them, something that would be reinforced the following year when they bounced the top-seeded Nordiques. So when the Rangers met the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, New Jersey became my surrogate team.
That was when I really started to follow Martin Brodeur. It was his first full season in the NHL and he was superb. I immediately equated the Devils with Brodeur. What I did not realize at the time was that I was watching one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time.
Now, I will probably always hold Patrick Roy as the best netminder ever, but that is probably my Colorado Avalanche bias (still like them even though they left Quebec). But with Brodeur’s newest record, for most shutouts in NHL history, he is definitely challenging for the best goalie of all-time.
Just look at his stats (as of December 22):
- 1032 games played
- 60,962 minutes logged
- 580 wins
- 105 shutouts
- 25,988 saves
- .914 save percentage
- 2.20 goals allowed average
And some of those are records:
- Most wins all-time
- Most shutouts all-time
- Most minutes by a goaltender
- Most game appearances
- Most minutes in a season (4696)
- Most wins in one season (48)
- Most consecutive 30-win seasons (12)
- Most consecutive 35-win seasons (11)
- Most consecutive 40-win seasons (3)
- Most 40-win seasons (7)
- Most overtime wins (45)
- Tied [with Roy] for most playoff wins (23)
Oh, and for good measure, he is tied with Ron Hextall for most goals by a goaltender (2).
And, let’s not forget the awards.
- Calder Trophy (1994)
- Four Vezina Trophies (2003, 2004, 2007, 2008)
- Four Jennings Trophies (1997, 1998, 2003, 2004)
- Three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003)
- Ten-time All-Star
- And an Olympic Gold Medal for good measure
And keep in mind, he has done all of this with the same team—the Devils. Unlike my erroneous equation of Gretzky with the Kings, Martin Brodeur is synonymous with the Devils (just look at the logo on his personal website ).
Furthermore, it does not appear he is slowing down. The consecutive 30-win, 35-win, and 40-win records ended in 2008! Injuries stalled him last season, but he returned from elbow surgery to win four straight, including two shutouts!
So far this season he is 23-8-1 with three shutouts, a .921 save percentage while sporting a 2.10 goals allowed average. All these stats are among the best goaltenders, with the 23 wins being tops in the NHL. He is also second in games played and minutes logged.
Thus, he is still producing at a high level and showing durability and stamina.
I am not one to claim someone the greatest of all-time in any sport if that athlete is still playing. But once he hangs it up, it will be difficult to argue against Martin Brodeur as the greatest goaltender of all-time.
Certainly, some will try. They will claim it is the Devils’ system that has bred Brodeur’s success. Or that the equipment has given goaltenders a greater advantage than their predecessors.
But all of these can be countered—he still has to make the stops; the skill and athleticism of scorers offsets equipment advantages, etc. And it just delays the obvious and attempts to besmirch the accomplishments of Brodeur. He deserves to be in the conversation with Roy, Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, and Dominik Hasek .
Forwards tend to receive all the glory and are held as the leader of hockey teams. But Martin Brodeur has been the unquestioned foundation of the New Jersey Devils for 16 seasons. If goalies could be captains, Brodeur would like carry the "C."
There will come a day when someone other than Brodeur will be the number one goaltender for New Jersey. It will be strange because Brodeur as the Devils' goalie is all that I have ever known.
But I also think that due to Brodeur’s illustrious career with just one team, I am not the only one to make that association. It seems that he has always been in net for the Devils and when he steps away it will be strange for all of us.
This article originally appeared at Uncle Popov's Drunken Sports Rant on Tuesday, December 22, 2009.