There was a time when New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur
wondered what it would take to finally catch up with one of the NHL's legendary goaltenders — Dominik Hasek
— in the voting for the Vezina Trophy.
These days, NHL goalies are wondering the same thing about him.
Brodeur, who finished second to Hasek in the voting as the League's top goaltender in 1997 and '98, was awarded his fourth Vezina Trophy in five seasons during the 2008 NHL Awards Show at the Elgin Theatre on Thursday night.
After establishing an NHL record with 48 victories in 2006-07, Brodeur's mastery between the pipes continued for the New Jersey Devils
Brodeur finished with a 44-27-6 won-lost record — extending his own NHL mark with his seventh career 40-win season — along with a 2.17 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and four shutouts. He was first in minutes played with 4,635, second in victories and fifth in goals-against average. Brodeur became just the second goaltender in NHL history to reach the 500-victory mark and concluded the season with 96 career shutouts, seven shy of all-time leader Terry Sawchuk
. He has 538 career wins in 968 games, trailing only Patrick Roy
, who won 551 times in 1,029 games.
Amazingly, while Brodeur has registered three straight seasons of 40 wins, no one else in League history has had more than three, including Hasek. Brodeur hopes to break the records of Sawchuk and Roy in 2008-09 and establish new standards for the next generation of goaltenders.
"Hopefully, (breaking the records) will happen more sooner than later, so we can put it to rest, move on and raise the bar for the next guy," Brodeur said. "But I'm just happy that I'm able to play at the level that I like to play. I realize the records I'm approaching are something to be recognized, that's for sure, but I don't play for these things — I play to help my team win a Stanley Cup."
The grind of playing 77 games, the second-highest total of his career, never got the best of Brodeur.
"I think the lockout (2004-05) actually helped me, in a way," Brodeur said. "It gave me some time off. The coaches are always managing my practice time really well, and even though having a new coach (Brent Sutter) was a little adjustment, it really worked out very well. This is a good time for me in New Jersey, but this is still about winning championships and we hope to rebound after losing to the Rangers in the first round of the Playoffs this season."
Brodeur won back-to-back Vezinas for the second time in his 14-season career, beating out fellow finalists Evgeni Nabokov of San Jose and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. In the closest race among all the awards presented Thursday night, Brodeur edged Nabokov, 113-106. Nabokov, however, was named to the First All-Stars Team, while Brodeur earned Second Team honors. The Vezina is voted on by the League’s 30 general managers; the All-Star teams are voted by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
"It's nice to go out and work as hard as you can, wanting to have an impact for your team and give them a better chance to win every night, and when people recognize you with this type of honor, it’s fantastic," Brodeur said. "I sat behind Dominik Hasek for many years and I used to think, 'Wow, he must be something special.' Now I'm doing it to a certain extent, but I know all these young goalies are coming up and are all right there, so it's only a matter of time. But we’ll cherish these for now, that’s for sure."
Hasek, who announced his retirement from hockey earlier this week, won six Vezinas in 15 NHL seasons.
Said Sutter: "At the end of the day, we were where were at because of Marty. He played extremely well for us this year. He played outstanding from the end of October on. He was a big answer why we had the success we had."
This might have been the most challenging season for Brodeur because the Devils ranked a dismal 27th in the League in offense, averaging just 2.42 goals per game. Yet the 36-year-old never relinquished his stranglehold as the League's best at his position.
"It was a tough year, especially at the start," Brodeur said. "We did play down the stretch to get ourselves into the playoffs, but it's tough to compare teams from year to year. Our club struggled in some areas and it was a lot different than in previous seasons, but the past is what it is. I was very happy with the way I played throughout the season."
Brodeur is optimistic the Devils will rebound next season.
"That's the beauty about playing in New Jersey; you always know you have a chance," Brodeur said. "We've made the Playoffs so many years in a row, and that's quite an accomplishment. I do feel we were a good team, but just ran out of gas in the end this season. Regardless of the reasons why we struggled, we do have higher powers in our organization who I'm sure will make the right decisions. I have tons of faith in them to do it for us to be successful, whether that comes through trades, free agency or guys coming up through the system."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.