Brodeur’s jersey retirement set to heal any Devils wounds

Former NHL star Martin Brodeur joins Chris Simpson and talks about his role as assistant General Manager with the St. Louis Blues and the scoring issues the NHL is facing at the moment.

They’ve done it for Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky, erected statues in their likeness and their honour, immortalizing their connections not only to the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers, respectively, but to those cities.

Now, it’s Martin Brodeur’s turn.

“I’m gonna have some pigeon living on my shoulder,” he chuckled.

“The Salute” will, eventually, live in bronze on the corner of Lafayette and Mulberry outside the Prudential Centre in downtown Newark, not the site of the vast majority of Brodeur’s brilliant performances with the New Jersey Devils, but a building that might never have been built without his crucial contributions to the hockey club’s history.

We now know what the piece, created by Devils fan Jon Krawczyk, a sculptor based in southern California, looks like. It was unveiled to Jersey fans – and Brodeur himself – at a special party on Monday night as the Devils were battling the Rangers across the Hudson, and it will be formally introduced tonight prior to the Edmonton-New Jersey game.

Brodeur will be there along with 18,000 of his closest friends. About 100 of them will be family members and long-time allies invited for the occasion, and the rest will be either those who watched the future Hall of Fame netminder lift the Devils into prominence in the 1990s, or now hear stories of his exploits, victories and championships.

Fundamentally, and crucially, it will heal any wounds that may have existed in anyone’s mind when Brodeur decided to leave the Devils organization to join the St. Louis Blues as assistant general manager.

“I hope so, at least for the people who thought anything of it,” said Brodeur in an interview with Sportsnet. “I made my own decision. The team was more than willing to do whatever I wanted. So hopefully this will put back the memories to what they should be about.

“I feel like a Devil again for first time since I left.”

His goaltending sons, Anthony of the BCJHL Penticton Vees and Jeremy of the OHL Oshawa Generals, played on the weekend before joining their famous father on Monday night, and one can only imagine that seeing his boys follow him into the family business must feel something like what Brodeur felt about becoming a goalie just like his dad, the late Denis Brodeur, who ultimately became more famous as a photographer than a masked man.

“I think he would be really emotional about what’s going on this weekend,” said Brodeur. “I played, but it was through him. That’s what he would have been. He’s up there with a big smile on his face, proud as a peacock.”

The Devils organization has done this very well, turning it into a multi-day celebration instead of just one night. On Saturday, Brodeur dropped the puck between two goalies, New Jersey’s Cory Schneider and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals.

Not only are Schneider and Holtby two of the game’s best at the moment, they are championing the effort to reduce the size of the goaltending gear, an issue that is near and dear to the heart of Brodeur, who kept his gear small compared to his colleagues when NHL netminders started looking like Michelin Men.

On Monday, Brodeur proudly unveiled a scholarship program for aspiring Jersey City high school photographers in his father’s name, a nice touch. Tonight, they’ll put the statue on display, and retire Brodeur’s No. 30 for good.

“I’m a New Jersey Devil. No way around it,” said Brodeur, who played 1,259 regular season games and 205 playoff matches for the Devils, plus seven regular season games for the Blues in his final season.

“I always took a lot of pride being a Devil.”

These are changing times for a New Jersey hockey franchise that has struggled to put down deep roots despite all its successes. Three Stanley Cups were won with Brodeur in the net, all up the Jersey turnpike in East Rutherford, and while the Devils played out of the Prudential Centre when they made a surprise visit to the Cup final in 2012, they’ve yet to shake the inconsistent attendance issues that have always plagued the team or the sense they run second to the Rangers in local popularity.

Both Brodeur and the man who made him a Devil and made the team matter, Lou Lamoriello, are now gone from the hockey club. Recognizing Brodeur is a way of establishing that connection between present and past, and you can bet they’ll be doing the same for Lamoriello in the not-too-distant future.

“Me and Lou. He needed me, I guess, and I needed him,” said Brodeur. “We had a great working relationship for years.”

Lamoriello is the first to say he didn’t imagine Brodeur would be the star he turned out to be, pointing out the Devils traded down in the 1990 NHL entry draft before selecting Brodeur with the 20th pick. The two ended up forging a unique relationship, one that was mostly business for years but has added an emotional element in more recent times.

“He’s an incredible person,” said Lamoriello. “(Tonight) will be great for the fans to remember all the nights he gave them.

“He always had one thing in mind; always doing it the right way.”

The two men visited last month when Lamoriello’s Maple Leafs were on the road playing the Florida Panthers.

“It was in the middle of the game and the Leafs were down 4-1, and we talked for a bit,” said Brodeur. “When I was in New Jersey, that NEVER would have happened. You can tell he’s in a good place in Toronto. He’s embracing it.”

The Devils contacted Brodeur in the summer to get his thoughts on what they had in mind to recognize him, including the statue. He worked with Krawcyzk to find the right pose.

“I wanted my face to be shown. So we couldn’t do a pose making a save,” he said. “That salute picture was whenever I was first star, or did something special. That same pose with a wink. I thought that’s how people saw me the most. It was a long ways away when they first told me. Now, it’s surreal. I’ve been kind of going down memory lane, thinking about my whole career. It brings back amazing memories.

“I’ll be emotional (tonight). They’re going way above and beyond what I thought this weekend would be.”

He’s unsure about his future, although there will always be speculation that ultimately, he could end up back with the Devils, perhaps running the team one day.

He admits possibly becoming an NHL general manager is on his mind.

“At the end of the day, that’s probably what I’d like to do,” he said. “But I don’t know if three years from now I’ll feel the same way. Maybe I’ll think I don’t need that pressure.”

For now, he’ll revel in being a Devil again, unable to really fathom how it all might have unfolded had he been drafted by another NHL club or left the Devils partway through his storied career.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I stayed here, I wanted to be here. I made my own bed with them. I ended up doing way above what I ever thought I could do.”