-- The question to Martin Brodeur
was simple and direct.
Can the Devils get into the playoffs this season if you play 60 games instead of 75?
Brodeur seemed stunned at the question and shocked that such a low number of games ever would be associated with him.
"Wow, 60 games," he said. "Now, that's, uh ... you never know."
Brodeur has played in at least 70 games in 12 of the past 14 seasons. The only times he didn't were in 1996-97, when he played in 67, and again two seasons ago when an arm injury cost him 50 games.
"We got into the playoffs and I missed 50," Brodeur said. "So there you go, it could work."
That's not an experiment the Devils want to test again, but curtailing some of a healthy Brodeur's playing time might be a consideration this season with 37-year-old Johan Hedberg
as his backup.
Brodeur is 38 years old, and if recent history means anything, the days of No. 1 goalies playing 70 or more games and then going on to playoff success are fleeting. Brodeur played a League-high 77 games last season, led the League with 45 wins and nine shutouts and was a Vezina Trophy finalist. But he busted out of the playoffs after five games against the Philadelphia Flyers
It should be mentioned that Brodeur's backup last season was Yann Danis
, a relatively untested goalie who couldn't even land an NHL job this season. While never mentioning Danis' name or even referring solely to last season, Brodeur admitted Monday that extenuating circumstances led to him playing so many games.
"Sometimes they had to use me different ways, and hopefully this year will be different," he said. "But if I stay healthy and play well, I'll play a lot of games, as well."
What, though, is his definition of a lot of games? If it's 70 or more, the argument can be made that it's too many.
No goalie since Brodeur led the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2003 has played in 70-plus games and reached the Stanley Cup Final. In fact, Marc-Andre Fleury
's 61 regular-season appearances in 2008-09 is the most of any Cup Final goalie over the last six seasons.
Of the six goalies that played in 70 or more games last season, two didn't make the playoffs and three were knocked out in the first round. Brodeur, of course, was one of them.
Two seasons ago, four goalies played in 70 or more games -- two didn't qualify for the playoffs and the other two didn't make it out of the first round.
But Brodeur still won't concede that 70 is too much.
"If I played 60 games, I'll be well-rested, that's for sure -- maybe rusty," Brodeur said with a laugh. "I've won Cups when I've played over 70 games, so it doesn't matter. It's about winning. If you don't win, there is always going to be that debate about if I play too much."
All coach John MacLean
would say on the subject is he plans to "play Marty as much as we need to and rest him as much as we need to." MacLean wouldn't speculate on how many games are too many, but he did mention that the Devils have Hedberg now and added, "I am fully confident that he'll be ready whenever called upon."
Hedberg averaged more than 38 games from 2007-10 with Atlanta, including 47 last season. If he plays in 38 or more games this season, it'll mean something bad happened to Brodeur, but half that number would be enough to cut down on Brodeur's work load and keep him fresh for the spring.
"The thing is, I don't have a personal agenda," Hedberg told NHL.com. "It's not about what I'm doing, it's about getting the team winning and this team has always been competitive. There has been talk about Marty getting more rest, but I have to deserve to get that opportunity to earn the team's trust, too."
Hedberg, naturally, is playing everything close to the vest. He said he wants to play a lot, but he's not the type that is going to come into a new organization, especially one that has been dominated for so long by Brodeur, and rock the boat.
"Oh, I wouldn't mind earning a 10-year deal," Hedberg joked, "but in a way, if I was 22 years old and trying to make my name and really wanted to crack the League, I would be more conscious of what the situation would or could be. In my case, like I said, I have no personal agenda. I just want to win. Whatever it takes to be a part of that, I'm willing to do it."
It'll take a definite sacrifice in playing time from what he was used to in Atlanta, but how much is up to Brodeur, MacLean and GM Lou Lamoriello. The bigger question is, are the Devils willing to sacrifice some of Brodeur's playing time for what could be the betterment of the team?
"I want to play every game because it's me and I feel responsible," Brodeur said. "I feel this is my team and I need be in there. If we start slipping and I'm sitting back because I said I want to take days off -- you know they'll give me my days off. I'll never ask for a day off. If they feel like I can play, I will play. It might be different this year depending on how we do."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl