At 40, Martin Brodeur continues to pile up victories
Countless accolades have been thrown Martin Brodeur's way, but it may have been the simplest -- uttered by Jonathan Quick, the goalie at the other end of the ice in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final -- that is the most powerful.
Goalie - NJD
GAA: 2.02 | SVP: 0.923
"He wins," the Los Angeles Kings' star told a throng at Media Day at the Prudential Center on Tuesday.
In fact, nobody in the history of the League has perfected the art of winning more than Brodeur.
During the course of his two-decade career, Brodeur has 656 regular-season wins and 111 more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's 767 times Brodeur has stepped on the ice only to walk off a few hours later as a victor.
It's a number that is a testament to both his greatness and his longevity.
"When I got drafted I just wanted to play one game in the NHL," Brodeur said. "I didn't really care anything about winning. I had never won anything until I won my first Stanley Cup."
Wednesday night, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Brodeur made his 200th appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Only one goalie, Patrick Roy, has played in more playoff games.
Brodeur is unlikely to reach Roy's total of 247 playoff games -- although Brodeur has admitted he would like to come back again next season -- but he can equal the Stanley Cup output of Roy if he and his Devils find a way to solve the Kings and win four of the next six games in this series. New Jersey lost Game 1, but Brodeur may have been the best Devil on the ice in the 2-1 overtime loss.
A fourth championship certainly would put more fuel into the debate of who is the greatest of all time, but the more impressive achievement might be that Brodeur would join Roy as one of only two goalies to win a Stanley Cup in three different decades.
Elias stays in the shadows
At this point, Patrik Elias is probably used to being overlooked.
When you spend your entire career as a teammate of Martin Brodeur's, it's natural for the game's all-time winningest goalie to get the lion's share of the attention. When Elias scored the goal that put the Devils in their second-ever Stanley Cup Final and set up the goal that won a championship back in 2000, Brodeur had already established himself as the face of the franchise. Nine years later, when Elias became the franchise's all-time leading scorer against the Chicago Blackhawks, the achievement came in the same game in which Brodeur broke Patrick Roy's all-time record for regular-season victories.
Then again, Elias wasn't entirely overshadowed that night. The game was on St. Patrick's Day, after all.
This time around, Brodeur is getting most of the ink for taking aim at a fourth Stanley Cup in 17 years. But Elias is also on the cusp of an impressive feat of longevity, with a shot at his third Stanley Cup in a 12-year span -- not bad for someone who struggled at first to stay with the NHL club after his initial call-up.
"It took a couple of years to establish myself and be a regular in the NHL and all of the sudden it was back-to-back in the Finals and you think it's going to happen every time," Elias said this year. "You go three times in [four] years to the [Final], you think it's going to happen again, obviously. But, after a couple of years of not advancing and not being successful and you're getting older -- I'm 36 years old -- you cherish every opportunity you get and, obviously, being this far, you appreciate it more because you don't know how many more chances you're going to have."
Elias played his first game with the Devils on Dec. 7, 1995, and didn't play another for nearly a year. He didn't play a full season in the NHL until 1997-98 -- but from that point, Elias has flourished. In 1,042 regular-season games he has 894 points and turned in one of his finest seasons in years in 2011-12, finishing No. 10 in the League in scoring with 78 points.
In the 2012 playoffs, Elias' numbers have fallen off with just four goals and three assists in 19 games, but despite his surprisingly limited offensive contribution, he has still played his part as one of the club's veteran leaders. That kind of perspective has given him a new appreciation of this postseason run that is just as enjoyable.
"Seeing some guys that have never been in that position or this far even in the third round, just watching them enjoy it and experience the individual and, especially, the team success and having the opportunity to even experience this thing ... it's something special for the guys," Elias said. "For me, after eight years or nine years you forget how good it feels to be back here, so I'm loving it."
That doesn't mean Elias doesn't expect to chip in offensively. His six points through three rounds are the fewest of his career when the Devils have advanced beyond the first round. If he hopes to get his third ring, he'll likely have to contribute more offense. Until that happens, he'll contribute in other ways.
And if the team doesn't end up needing his offense, that's fine, too.
"My points are not there and production is not where I'd like it to be, but we're winning," Elias said. "I don't have to get a point as long as we keep winning."
Four wins this June will give Brodeur multiple Cups across a 17-year span, a stretch of sustained high-level play virtually unheard of in its longevity. The first Cup came with an unexpected sweep of Detroit in 1995, followed by wins against Dallas in 2000 and Anaheim in 2003.
The idea of adding a fourth Cup seemed all the more unlikely in recent years, given Brodeur's advancing age -- he turned 40 on May 6 -- and New Jersey's struggles. It's been nine years since the Devils have played this deep into the spring; last season, they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a dismal start.
In the nine years since the Devils beat Anaheim 3-0 in Game 7 of the 2003 Final, their playoff performances have been characterized by early flameouts. Before this season, New Jersey hadn't reached the second round in five years and endured one particularly brutal collapse in 2009, in which Brodeur surrendered two goals in the final 80 seconds of Game 7 against Carolina, watching a 3-2 lead turn into a 4-3 loss.
With those losses came the inevitable talk of whether Brodeur should hang up his skates. After all, he wasn't getting any younger -- and doubts that he could return to form were rampant among both fans and analysts.
No one doubts Brodeur is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but a fourth championship in the twilight of his Hall of Fame run would serve notice that he is still among the elite, even if his best hockey is behind him. And he knows it.
"When I was around 30 we had a big run," Brodeur said. "We won in 2000, we lost Game 7 in 2001. I was able to go to the Olympics and won the gold medal for Canada [in 2002], and then '03. That was kind of the prime of what I was doing. That was a kind of really good ride. And, you know, we had some tough years.
"I just wanted to have a good season and bounce back from last year."
Even that seemed unlikely in October.
Brodeur injured his shoulder in his second game of the season -- ironically against the Kings -- and ceded a number of starts to backup Johan Hedberg upon his return because, at times, Hedberg was the better goalie. Eventually, Brodeur rounded into form with 31 wins, but his 59 starts were still well below the 70-plus-game workload that has been a hallmark of his career. As recently as two seasons ago Brodeur started 77 times.
In the playoffs, however, Brodeur has looked almost like the Marty of old.
He has a 12-7 mark in the postseason with an impressive .923 save percentage and a 2.02 goals-against average. That he is putting up those numbers at his age is all the more remarkable given the completely different cast he has around him now.
Only four other players were a part of all three of New Jersey's championship teams, on which the rosters seemed mostly fungible. Now forward Patrik Elias is the only other player left from the Devils' last title. Another Cup so long after the first would be a testament to Brodeur's ability to continue winning while the team, the rules, and the very game itself, have all changed dramatically -- even if the man himself hasn't.
"He is the same person that came in here when he was 17 years old as he is today," said Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, who drafted him in the first round in 1990. "Same love of the game, same work ethic, same personality, same respect of his teammates and, as far as a player goes, he's changed different things in his game to adjust for the game. He's one of the most intelligent players in the League. He studies the game, he watches, he has his own style in how he plays, but he did not change his style because goaltenders were changing.
"He does what is best for him as far as the athleticism he has. His athleticism is at the highest level and he takes care of himself, but he really hasn't changed at all other than just changing certain elements because of the way the game has changed."
Petr Sykora has known Brodeur longer than any other Devil -- the two played together for the first time in 1995.
"I think Marty is pretty much the same -- I mean, Marty is Marty," Sykora said. "I think it's amazing, especially these days. I don't think you're going to see it very often because the League's gotten so much tougher. I don't think I'll see a lot of guys play until 40."
Brodeur recognized one thing Tuesday that's changed since that first Cup in 1995 -- "I've got five kids now," he noted -- but his mindset is the same as it was when he was drafted 22 years ago.
Waiting as long as he has for another shot at the title can put into perspective how difficult the achievement is, however. If New Jersey's three Cups in nine years with a revolving door on the locker room can make winning seem easy; not reaching the third round of the playoffs for nine years proves that is not the case.
Still, despite the recent struggles, it bears reminding that the Devils have missed the playoffs just twice in his career.
Only the Red Wings have been more consistent in making the postseason during that span, and even though Brodeur deserves most of credit for his own records, he's cognizant of knowing just how different things could have been in a different city.
"Our organization is doing things that are important to be successful in the regular season and into the playoffs, so for me to be a part of that for so many years is great," Brodeur said. "I think every day I came to the rink knowing that we had a chance to win almost every game that I played."
Conversely, neither the Devils' scouts nor their GM could have imagined getting their starting goaltender for the next two decades with a later pick (No. 20) in the first round 22 years ago. Lamoriello admits as much, often saying that if he knew Brodeur would be this good he wouldn't have traded down in the draft before taking him.
These days, each postseason series brings a new stat to put Brodeur's age in perspective. In the first round, it was the fact that Game 7 against Florida ended on the 20th anniversary of his first postseason appearance. In the second round, it was that he and Philadelphia's Jaromir Jagr were the last players from the 1990 draft still active in the NHL. In the conference finals, it was that overtime hero Adam Henrique was all of four months old when Brodeur was drafted.
In the Stanley Cup Final, Brodeur is the oldest player on the ice for either team; he's almost five years older than Willie Mitchell, the Kings' elder statesman and briefly a teammate. Quick, who received several comparisons to a young Brodeur in the run-up to this series, was just 9 years old when Brodeur won it all for the first time.
Brodeur quickly deflected that comparison.
"I was never that flexible, that's for sure," he said. "And it ain't getting better at 40."
Still, Quick could do worse for a career model, and if Brodeur has his way during the next six games, it will provide a telling, if painful, lesson as to why.