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Devils stay the course

by Shawn P. Roarke /

"When you have a Marty Brodeur as a goaltender and he's out for a significant amount of time sure it certainly gives you a knot in your stomach, but you have to move forward."
-- Devils coach Brent Sutter

The long-term injury to Martin Brodeur doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of the world for the New Jersey Devils, although it may seem like that to fans at this moment.

The team announced Tuesday that Brodeur, 36, will undergo surgery to repair the distal biceps in his left elbow. Brodeur, who is just 8 wins from 552 wins, which would break Patrick Roy’s record for most career victories, will be out 3-4 months, according to Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello.

"When you have a Marty Brodeur as a goaltender and he's out for a significant amount of time sure it certainly gives you a knot in your stomach, but you have to move forward," Devils coach Brent Sutter told reporters Tuesday. "I'm confident and I trust the players here that they will do what needs to be done to move forward."

All is not lost for the Devils. There are options -- both internal and external -- available to the team.

Let’s not forget that Brodeur began ascending to the No. 1 job in New Jersey in part because of injuries to Chris Terreri, the team’s veteran goalie at the time.

Everyone knew that Brodeur would be the Devils' No. 1 at some point, but few believed it would come as early as the 1993-94 season when Brodeur, as a 21-year-old, took the No. 1 job and led the club to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in his rookie campaign.

The team’s current backup, Kevin Weekes, is capable of holding down a No. 1 job. In the past, he has been the go-to guy for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes, so being an everyday goalie is not a foreign experience for him.

It appears that the Devils plan to go with Weekes, at least for a trial period. Lamoriello said in his comments Tuesday morning that he has no plans to explore the trade market in an attempt to get a more qualified goalie. That’s because there are few goalies on the market with as much experience as New Jersey’s current backup.

In fact, Weekes, 33, has more than 300 NHL games on his resume and is one of the most experienced backups in the League. He is 98-159-33 with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in 334 NHL games. Coincidentally, Weekes had offseason surgery for the same injury this summer.

Weekes had appeared in just 24 games during the past 3 seasons before starting Monday night’s 2-0 loss to Buffalo. Weekes was sharp in that game -- his first start since Jan. 15 -- making 28 saves, including 19 in the first period.

"Injuries are part of the game," Lamoriello told reporters Tuesday. "There's no question Martin Brodeur is an integral part of our team. This is where other people have opportunities. Other people have to step up, but you don't approach it any other way. I still feel strongly about our team. We'll be getting some people part shortly, but the people in that locker room right now have more than the abilities to do what's necessary to have success."

Brodeur himself believes that Weekes is capable of handling the job.

"I believe he'll be fine," Brodeur said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. "Kevin has been such a great sport for the last year and a half, playing with me. He hasn't gotten a lot of time, but he's tsill involved with the team and so upbeat in the room.

"He's going to play in front of a great team, like I have for a number of years. Hopefully, he can hold down the fort until I come back."

After Weekes, the options to replace Brodeur are somewhat limited.

Scott Clemmensen, called up Sunday after Brodeur’s injury, was the starter in AHL Lowell, but he has never been a starting goalie at the NHL level and has just 28 NHL games of experience, most as Brodeur's backup from 2001-07.

Jeff Frazee, 21, is considered the brightest goalie prospect in the Devils' system, but as a first-year pro, he is not ready for primetime after just a few pro games.

The Devils' goaltending cupboard is particularly bare because the success of Brodeur has allowed the Devils to concentrate on building at other positions. Since taking Brodeur in the first round (No. 20) of the 1990 Entry Draft, the Devils have selected a dozen goalies in the following 18 drafts.

Of those goalies, only 3 -- Chris Mason, J.F. Damphousse and Clemmensen -- have appeared in an NHL game. None of Mason’s 135 NHL games have come with the Devils. Damphousse, a first-round pick in 1997, made just 6 NHL appearances, all with the Devils.

Damphousse, taken at No. 24, Ari Ahonen, at No. 27 in 1999, and Frazee, at No. 38 in 2005, were the only goalies taken in the first 2 rounds of the draft since Brodeur’s selection in 1990.

If Lamoriello changes his mind and decides to explore the trade market, he may find slim pickings, as well as being forced to pay an over-inflated price for any top-line goalie.

Chicago’s Nikolai Khabibulin, a Stanley Cup-winning goalie with Tampa Bay, was put on waivers by Chicago earlier this year. Khabibulin is in the last year of his contract, which pays him almost $7 million this season. He is the biggest-name example of the options that face Lamoriello.

Brodeur, signed through the 2011-12 season, is carrying a $5.2 million hit on the Devils' salary cap, but that money can be recouped and used for a replacement by putting Brodeur on the long-term injury list. Presently, the Devils are a little more than $1 million under the cap.

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