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Analysis: Brodeur defined era with staggering totals

by Corey Masisak / New Jersey Devils

There is one name at the top of every compiled statistical category for goaltenders in the NHL record book, and that name is Martin Brodeur.

There are others who have a stake to the claim as greatest goaltender in NHL history, but no one is close to Brodeur in the categories that involve longevity, and it is possible no one ever will be.

The raw numbers are incredible. He retired Tuesday with 691 wins, 140 more than any other goaltender. There are 19 goaltenders enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame who did not win half as many games as Brodeur, a feat that rivals Cy Young in baseball.

Brodeur stopped 3,121 more shots than any other goaltender. He has the most minutes played, the most losses, and the most shots faced, all by significant margins.

His 125 shutouts are 22 more, nearly 18 percent more, than the next goalie on the list. He has more shutouts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs than Patrick Roy, who played in 42 more postseason games.

For some perspective on Brodeur's longevity, take his games played record. Roberto Luongo becomes the active leader upon Brodeur's retirement, to be announced by the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. Assuming Luongo, who will soon turn 36 years old, plays 30 more games in 2014-15 for the Florida Panthers, he would need to average about 57 games per season for the next seven years to match Brodeur.

Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, given the amount of experience he accumulated at a young age, may have the best chance to match some of Brodeur's feats. Again, assuming Fleury adds 30 more games this season, he would need to play an average of 60 games for the next 11 seasons to catch Brodeur. If Fleury averages 36 wins for 10 seasons, he'll have a chance at Brodeur's record … in 2025-26.

Beyond the statistics, Brodeur was a goaltender who defined an era. Roy is credited for birthing a new army of butterfly goaltenders, but Brodeur spent most of his career using his own blend of standup and butterfly.

The New Jersey Devils became the most successful team to use the neutral-zone trap, and Brodeur's skill set helped make their version of the system work better than others. Brodeur was one of the greatest puck-handlers in the history of the position, and his ability to work like a third defenseman allowed the Devils to turn dump-ins around before their opponent could get to the chase part of that strategy.

He worked in concert with Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens and Brian Rafalski, and the result was some of the best offense suppression the NHL has ever seen. So good, in fact, the League altered the rules to help the offense by limiting the areas where a goaltender could handle the puck.

"Most goalies can't be in a standup style, cover the five-hole and cover the corners," former Devils television analyst Chico Resch told NHL.com last season. "He's the only goalie I've seen that could do that. Tim Thomas maybe, but he does it a little bit. The uniqueness of Marty's style to go along with his puck-handling and assists, it's something to behold."

The Devils won the Stanley Cup three times and reached the Final five times with Brodeur in net. He won four Vezina Trophies, a total bested only by Jacques Plante, Bill Durnan, Dominik Hasek and Ken Dryden. Brodeur finished in the top three of the Vezina voting nine times.

Brodeur won two Olympic gold medals and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Though he lost the starting job during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, his play at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and in the 2004 World Cup was spectacular.

In 10 games across those two competitions, Brodeur went 9-0-1 and allowed a total of 14 goals.

Is he the best goaltender in the history of the NHL? Probably not.

Of the three all-time talents who played during Brodeur's career, Hasek had the more dominant peak and Roy has a better postseason resume.

Trying to compare goaltenders across eras is particularly difficult because of massive changes in the game and how it is played. Roy spent several years playing in a far more wide-open NHL, and Hasek was older when he finally had his chance.

Brodeur's longevity also hinders his resume in this argument as much as the extra counting stats help. Roy retired at 37, and that was Brodeur's age when he had his last great season, leading the League with 45 wins in 2009-10 and finishing third in the Vezina voting.

"I'm sure it's different for every one of us," Roy said. "When I made my decision, it was clear in my head. It seems like Marty wanted to play more and he played I don't know how many games with the Blues, and he played well. He had a shutout against us. I think he wanted to give it another shot, and I respect that as well. When you're not ready, I'm sure it's a tough decision, but when you're ready when I was, it was a lot easier."

Brodeur's save percentage slipped, finishing at .908 or below in each of his final five seasons. As an example of the trouble with comparing eras, Roy led the NHL with a .908 save percentage in 1988-89, and Brodeur's .908 in 2011-12 was 34th.

Is Brodeur one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time? Certainly. Whether he is first, second or fifth is a matter of mostly arbitrary debate. Three years from now he will take his deserved place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Soon his No. 30 will hang from the rafters at Prudential Center and the crowd on his number ceremony night will fete him once more with the "Mar-ty! Mar-ty!" chant that filled the old Meadowlands while he vexed the greatest offensive players of his generation.

Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer

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