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Unmasked: Old-school style helped Brodeur stand out

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

Martin Brodeur's place among the top NHL goaltenders of all-time may be up for debate, but most in the goal-preventing world agree there will probably never be another like Brodeur, who retired Thursday after 21 NHL seasons.

It's not just the staggering numbers and accolades Brodeur amassed during a career spent almost entirely with the New Jersey Devils, a list that includes the most wins (691) and shutouts (125) in NHL history, as well winning the Stanley Cup three times and four Vezina Trophies.

Records are made to be broken, after all. It isn't likely, however, that these will fall to another goalie using the old-style technique employed by Brodeur during his two-decade stay with the Devils and a short stint this season with the St. Louis Blues.

Brodeur rejected the butterfly revolution at a time when his peers were starting to embrace it. He remained on his skates when everyone else was learning to play from their knees. Brodeur did add some butterfly elements late in his career but never fully adopted them.

As more and more goalies followed the butterfly lead of Patrick Roy and his coach, Francois Allaire, by playing percentages and taking away the bottom of the net first and foremost, Brodeur was refining his reliance on skating, athleticism and an ability to anticipate and read the play better than anyone not named Dominik Hasek.

"Never say never, but Marty was a lot like Dominik Hasek and you can't emulate that," said Anaheim Ducks goaltending coach Dwayne Roloson, whose 15-year NHL career included two with Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres and plenty of games against Brodeur's Devils. "Dom was two steps ahead of the game and that's why he could play that way. Same with Marty; he was so far ahead of the game it allowed him to get away with things. I don't know if we'll see that again."

That's not to say another goalie won't come along with the ability to anticipate like Brodeur, or that the current generation of NHL goaltending stars don't also read the play exceptionally well. It's highly unlikely, however, another goalie will put those skills to use the same way Brodeur did in his prime.

There are elements of the reactive half-butterfly preferred by Brodeur in some of the patient, only-drop-to-one-knee saves made by New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but the saves are made at completely different depths in the crease. Lundqvist sits back and waits for the play more than Brodeur, who based much of his save selection on anticipation. Plus, the emerging trend is toward Lundqvist's inside-out approach to crease movement and a more conservative initial positioning.

Even Brodeur, who played with backward flow, starting well outside the crease and timing his retreat, backed off in recent years as attacking players got faster and more east-west plays made it harder to close the space created by challenging shooters excessively. But even if the game somehow slows down again and goaltenders start coming back out of the blue ice more, the paths they are now taught to take moving around the crease are different than the ones used by Brodeur, who moved around the top edge in an arc. Today, goalies are taught to cut through the blue, prioritizing angle before adding depth.

It's all about maximizing efficiency. That includes using the butterfly.

By dropping to both knees instead of one, goalies are able to recover to rebounds on either side without having to get back up first. When Brodeur (or Lundqvist or, at times, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings) drop to one knee in the half-butterfly, he can only push off the skate that remains on the ice. Presented with the need to move in the direction of the leg that is still in the air, the options for the goalie are to either get back up to both feet or dive headfirst in that direction, something Brodeur does during many of the highlight-reel saves in his career.

Those acrobatics caused by a style-be-damned philosophy is not something that's being taught, and therefore it's not something we're likely to see in the NHL from future generations. It's hard to even imagine kids getting a chance to play like Brodeur for long, which is too bad in some ways because relying so heavily for so long on athleticism and instincts helped Brodeur refine both skills. A lot of young goalies today don't get a chance to learn on their own.

"Highly unlikely especially with all the teaching going on with goalies now," Roloson said. "No one is really self-taught anymore where they just go on the ice and figure it out; there's a lot of instruction."

Even the manner in which Brodeur handled the puck is unlikely to be repeated.

Again, it's not just that Brodeur changed the game with his ability to make plays and act like a third defenseman for the Devils, a skill that led to the NHL creating the trapezoid to limit his effectiveness by cutting down on the legal space in which a goalie could handle the puck.

It was how Brodeur passed the puck, holding the bottom of his stick with his glove hand tucked underneath. That style is becoming increasingly rare.

Some goalies, including Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, still use this underhand method at times, but most are now taught to pass the puck using the "Turco grip," which has the goalie holding the bottom of the stick with the glove overturned and pressed down on top of the handle. It was named after retired goalie Marty Turco, who invented it while playing in college so he could pass with authority on his backhand and forehand, arguably surpassing Brodeur as a puck-moving goaltender by perfecting a new technique which gave him more options.

In many ways, that's also why the NHL will likely never see another goalie quite like Brodeur: Many of the techniques he was able to employ with excellent results were because of the incredible and varied skill set he possessed. Now, for goalies, those techniques have been replaced by more efficient options. Of course, all that can change again.

"Every generation is better and different than the previous," said Washington Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who worked with Hasek in Buffalo and Pekka Rinne with the Nashville Predators. "In five years, Rinne's style will be old-school. ... I just don't know what new school will be then."

The bet here is it won't look like the old-school style that made Brodeur so successful.

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