When Martin Brodeur was yanked after surrendering six goals on 21 shots to the New York Rangers during Sunday’s outdoor extravaganza at Yankee Stadium, it marked the rare outing where he was better suited to the bench than the crease.
It was jarring to see the future Hall of Famer lit up under a bright spotlight, but every goalie has his off-nights, and increasingly, Brodeur is no exception. What did feel like a new development, however, was the 41-year-old’s manner after the game. Brodeur called the outdoor ice the worst he’d ever played on, the clear implication being that it wasn’t really his fault a six-pack of goals slipped through.
When an athlete has a career as sparkling and sprawling as Brodeur’s, you give him the benefit of the doubt. The playing surface, surely, wasn’t ideal. But no amount of chipped ice and accumulated snow can conceal the fact there was some bruised ego driving those remarks. And during a season in which Brodeur—who is now on record saying he’s “open to anything”—is New Jersey’s second-best goalie for the first time in two decades with the club, you wonder how pride will factor into the final act of his magnificent career.
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello did two things at the 2013 drafted that clearly demonstrated what he thinks of Brodeur. One was allowing the most important player in the history of his franchise to pick his own son Anthony Brodeur, with the fourth-from-final pick in the draft. The other was sending the Devils’ ninth overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for puckstopper Cory Schneider.
From the moment Schneider joined the mix, the whispers started about whether Brodeur could be moved. Those questions have bubbled to the surface as the 27-year-old Schneider stakes his claim to the top job with a .927 save percentage, while Brodeur’s dipped below .900 after the debacle versus the Rangers.
Since then, Brodeur has declared himself open to all options. “I just want to play,” he told Tom Gulitti of The Record. “If there’s a better situation for me, I’ll take it. If it’s here or somewhere else, it doesn’t matter.”
The idea of an aging star getting one final crack in a new burg is a well-worn sports story, but a couple aspects of Brodeur’s narrative deviate from the norm. The first factor is obviously that he’s won three Stanley Cups, so he’s not chasing any elusive boyhood dreams. The second complication is that he makes a living in the crease, and in keeping with so many cruel characteristics of the position, there’s no way to age gracefully as a goalie.
Chris Chelios was able to transition from Norris Trophy-calibre stud to dependable second-pair guy to serviceable defenceman without tarnishing his legacy. Teemu Selanne can have his minutes cut to less than 15 per night—and even spend the odd game in the press box—but still be lauded for his ability to kick in secondary scoring at an opportune moment.
But Brodeur and his brethren aren’t afforded those forgiving margins. Skaters are like actors who, even when their leading looks are gone, can find meaty, age-appropriate roles. Goalies are like opera singers who either can or can’t hit the high note. And there’s no faking it when you can’t.
Brodeur’s been counted out before. The Montreal native was already 36 when he sustained an elbow injury—the first major ailment of his career—early in the 2008–09 season. After missing 50 games, Brodeur returned that spring and passed Patrick Roy as the NHL’s all-time wins leader, tacking 45 more victories on the next year to lead the league. Brodeur’s best days were also thought to be a thing of the past in 2012, when he turned 40 in the midst of leading Jersey to the Cup final for the fifth time.
The point isn’t that Brodeur is absolutely, positively done being a great goalie; the point is, no team can bank on greatness from him now. If a club believes it’s a fantastic stopper away from a Stanley Cup, it’s far more likely to chase down Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres than ring up Lamoriello to inquire about Brodeur. And if Brodeur was moved to a top team as insurance in case its No. 1 guy goes down, how does that satiate his desire to be the man again?
Any squad that views the 2013–14 version of Brodeur as a clear upgrade on what it already has likely isn’t sitting pretty in the standings. That raises the question: Is it worth it for Brodeur to pack his bags after 20 years in The Swamp just to be a starter for another three months, or maybe one more season after this?
Only he can make that call. And that’s literally the case in this instance, because no trade would come without Brodeur’s blessing. Staying put would involve setting aside some pride and settling into a reduced role. But more and more, you get the sense Brodeur’s feelings about being a backup are roughly akin to his thoughts on the ice at Yankee Stadium.