The current Hall of Fame goaltender can empathize with the future one.
When Grant Fuhr left the game he loves in the year 2000, fellow Canadian Martin Brodeur was in his prime. The staple of New Jersey’s crease had just claimed his second Stanley Cup, and third was just around the corner. Brodeur was in the thick of his prime then, and Fuhr believes the unrestricted free agent can still play.
Problem is, we’re already a month into the season, and no one Cup contender is knocking down Brodeur’s door with contract papers.
“He can still play; his skills haven’t eroded that much,” says Fuhr, 52. “When you’re healthy, it’s harder because you know you can still play. But now you’ve got to get a team to buy into that. And when you can’t find somebody, it’s a blow to your ego.
"Guys that get to 40 and are healthy and can still play at a high level … I know guys in different sports that have gone through that. They still think they can play, but suddenly there’s not offers. It’s a really hard thing to accept. I got lucky — my body was falling apart."
A fierce competitor who says he never wanted to be pulled from a game in his life – no matter how bad the blowout – and played an NHL-record 79 games in a single season as a veteran, Fuhr says he too kicked around the idea of keeping his career alive before announcing his retirement just weeks before his 38th birthday. After 868 games, Fuhr left with five Stanley Cup rings, two Canada Cup championships, a Vezina and a William Jennings Trophy.
"For me to retire, I was OK with it. I wasn’t getting any better. You get to a certain point in the hill where all of a sudden you’re on the downside of it. When you’re not getting better, is it fun to get up and go to the training room? I was starting to lose the fun of the game, so it was a good time to get out," Fuhr says. "He’s in a different boat because he’s still healthy, which makes it harder for him."
And, at 42, Brodeur still loves the game, still has the desire. Even if his save percentage has gradually declined from the .922 he posted in 2006-07 to the .901 his last two seasons as a Devil.
"If I’m 30 years old and this is happening to me, I would be really upset," Brodeur told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman in early October. "Now, I’ve played enough; I’ve done everything I’ve needed to do. What I’m trying to achieve right now is just something a little bit selfish because I want to play the game."
There’s the difference. Fuhr would’ve liked to have hit the 1,000-game milestone (Brodeur has played a NHL-record 1,259), but his knees and shouders ached so much, he was spending more time in the training room than on the ice. More important, he never wanted to be a backup.
"I could’ve played one or two more years and suffered through it, but what’s it going to get me?" says Fuhr, who upon retirement made the instant transition to goaltending coach for the Calgary Flames and, later, the Phoenix Coyotes.
"Your quality of life means more, so why stay in something you worked so hard to accomplish. If you’re not getting any better, then it’s probably time to say, ‘I gotta go.’ "