Video: Martin Brodeur owns many key career goalie records
Nicknames were nice, but instead of one, Brodeur heard a frequent chant from New Jersey Devils fans: "Mar-ty's bet-ter!"
While debates may rage forever about, say, which NHL goalie would be the best pick to start a franchise or which one would have the best chance to win a Game 7, if the NHL record book is your frame of reference, Martin Brodeur really was better.
No goalie has more wins (691), saves (28,928), or shutouts (125), or played more games (1,266). He was the youngest goalie to win 300 NHL games. And 400. And 500.
Games: 1,266 | Wins: 691 | Losses: 397 | Ties: 105 | GAA: 2.24
"Some of his records are Gretzky-like," said John MacLean, Brodeur's former Devils teammate and coach. "They're going to be hard to break."
He received a number of well-deserved honors, winning the Vezina Trophy (for best goaltender) four times and the Jennings Trophy -- awarded to the goaltender(s) on the team allowing the fewest goals -- five times. He made the NHL First All-Star Team four times and the Second All-Star Team three times, and won the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie in 1993-94, when he nearly carried the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final. The next season, he helped make the Devils unlikely Cup champions.
Yes, he was more than just a standout regular-season performer. Brodeur's career playoff marks underscore how well he could elevate his game when it mattered most. His 113 playoff victories and 205 postseason games played rank second all-time to his boyhood idol, Patrick Roy. His 24 postseason shutouts are most all-time, one ahead of Roy.
"His net gets smaller when the games get bigger," Jaromir Jagr, who knows a few things about goal-scoring, said of Brodeur.
He was, as Charles McGrath wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 2013, "the backbone of the team's three successful Stanley Cup campaigns" in '95, 2000 and '03 -- not to mention the other two deep runs New Jersey made when it fell just short by losing the Cup Final, once when he was 40 years old in 2012.
That last fact speaks to two of Brodeur's more impressive qualities: durability and consistency. He played 1,266 games, 237 more than Roy, who is second. That's a margin of almost three full seasons.
And Brodeur, impervious to exhaustion, played at least 70 games 12 times, including 10 seasons in a row, only slowing down in his late 30s. In between his four games in 1991-92 with the Devils and his seven-game stint with the St. Louis Blues in 2014-15, his final season, his goals-against average was under 2.50 (and in one exception, it was 2.51) in 18 of 20 full NHL seasons, all in New Jersey. In 10 of those, it was under 2.25, including his remarkable 1996-97 season, when his 1.88 GAA was the NHL's lowest in 25 years. He followed that up with a 1.89 in 1997-98.
Video: Brodeur caps off sequence with awesome paddle stop
But let's stop here and talk about the elephant in the rink, namely, the Devils' famously stupefying defensive game, which, for much of Brodeur's career, limited opposing teams' shots and quality scoring chances. Critics railed against them -- to which the coach who brought the neutral zone trap to New Jersey, Jacques Lemaire, replied at the press conference following the Devils' sweep of the Detroit Red Wings for the Cup in '95, "Tough."
Much as Lemaire felt no need to apologize, neither should Brodeur's supporters. It can be just as difficult to play goalie facing 20 shots a game as when you face 45, and in some ways even more difficult.
Hall of Famer Ken Dryden similarly benefited from terrific defense with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s and, as he said in his book "The Game," it evaporates a goalie's margin for error and adds to the pressure. "On a good team," Dryden wrote, "a goalie has few near-impossible saves to make, but the rest he must make." He said that he believed the Canadiens needed him "not to be distracted by bad goals, by looseness or uncertainty in my play."
And so it was for the Devils. "Brodeur's numbers are terrific, but I'm not impressed by them," then-New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury told Sports Illustrated in 1997. "Here's a guy who plays for a team that puts a chokehold on the opposition's attack, so I'm not surprised [by the low GAA]. What I'm impressed by, and what makes him a great goaltender, is that he stops the puck when it needs to be stopped. He's cool. The pressure doesn't bother him. Night after night he seems to be involved in 1-0, 2-1 games, and the pressure never seems to be a factor."
Then-Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told McGrath, "Marty's mental toughness, his ability to overcome a bad game, is just phenomenal." McGrath spoke to numerous hockey people and concluded from them that "Brodeur's particular strength is his ability to bounce back from a bad goal and not let it gnaw at him."
He seemed to have the perfect temperament for the job, no matter the circumstances. A parade of teammates testified over the years that -- unlike the stereotypical goalie of erratic temperament and eccentric behavior -- Marty was just a "normal" guy.
Teammate Sheldon Souray described to Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber a representative Brodeur moment: "There's Marty after the second period, having his Sprite and half a bagel, working on a shutout, and he's talking and joking with the guys in the room. Then he'll go out and stop 10 shots in the third. There's just this calmness about him. Maybe it's because he still thinks of hockey as a game."
"He relishes the big game and big moments and wants it on his shoulders, but he's very relaxed about it," Bill Guerin, a Devils teammate for four-plus seasons, told Farber. "Marty's like, 'Yeah, let's go win a game.'"
As Brodeur himself said, "I just don't get nervous at a hockey rink."
Perhaps his ease on the ice could be traced to his perspective on his job, which he embraced as an art as well as a craft. In his autobiography, "Brodeur: Beyond the Crease," he wrote that being a goalie was "to be the most creative player on the ice. It demands innovation and imagination, an ability to adapt and consider alternatives in a split second, the capacity to generate multiple answers to the same, or similar questions."
For him, that meant eschewing the popular butterfly style of goaltending. "I needed to be able to poke-check, to stack the pads and be able to play the puck behind the net," he wrote. Brodeur created his own hybrid style that was unpredictable to shooters. "I could come down the right side three different times and shoot the same shot and he'd make three different saves," Ottawa Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson said.
It also meant being a shooter as well as being shot at, and he scored three goals -- two in the regular season and one in the playoffs -- the most by an NHL goalie.
Video: Devils' Marty Brodeur notches first career NHL goal
He also may have been the best puck-handling goaltender ever, aiding his defense by corralling dump-ins and dumping them right back out or passing to a teammate. It made him, in essence, a third defenseman, and a reason why the NHL installed the trapezoid behind the net to restrict goalies' movements with the puck.
He defied goalies' conventional 1-on-1 approach that said he should be patient and force shooters to move first, then react. He wrote, "I didn't mind making the first move if I could dictate the moment" and force the shooter to react to him.
Plus, he had the Gretzky-like gift of otherworldly anticipation, and from a goalie's perspective, that meant being square to the shooter far more often than not. "He probably read and tracked the puck and he saw the game before it happened better than, I think, any goalie," said current Devils goalie Cory Schneider, who admired Brodeur first as an opponent and then a teammate. "I think he knew where the puck was going to be before any of the shooters did."
Much of this came from his partnership with Jacques Caron, a pioneer among goalie coaches. He arrived in New Jersey around the same time as the Devils' first-round pick (No. 20) in the 1990 NHL Draft did. Brodeur called him "a second father."
His real father, Denis, had been a fine goalie as well, winning a bronze medal with Canada at the 1956 Olympics, then becoming an esteemed sports photographer. But Denis rarely offered goaltending advice; instead, he made his biggest impact helping his wife, Mireille, in raising a well-grounded son, the youngest of five children, in the St.-Leonard neighborhood of Montreal.
Young Marty began hockey as a forward and, at 6 years old, added backup-goalie duties on a second team. He eventually supplanted the starting goalie and when, at 7, he was asked which position he wanted to play that winter, he chose goalie. "I wanted to play 60 minutes a game," he said. "I learned the way you play will decide the outcome of the game and that was a fun pressure to have."
He had so much fun that he made it to the top of the mountain.
For more, see all 100 Greatest Players