Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pride on line for Brodeur

Martin Brodeur remains a legend even if it could be the end for the Devil all-time great.

There are a lot of No.30's in hockey. But none quite like Devil superstar Martin Brodeur. It's still hard to imagine the former 1990 first round pick stolen by Lou Lamoriello in a swap of picks with Calgary, who took Trevor Kidd instead. We'll let that sink in for a second.

Years since, the Devils have laughed all the way to the bank to the tune of three Stanley Cups, several division titles and four Cup appearances thanks to their No.30. Once, a 19-year old teenager was introduced to blood rival Rangers in a first round conference quarter that saw Broadway prevail in seven led by Mark Messier. Odd that only two years later, Brodeur was the man following some road heroics from vet backup Chris Terreri that aided the Devils past Boston. Marty opposed Mike Richter in one of the most memorable series when he was still a bright eyed rookie. He just didn't play like one, going save for save against Richter in a classic Conference Final that nearly didn't end until Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!

A heartbroken Brodeur cried as the Rangers celebrated their first Finals appearance since '79, on their way to erasing 54 years of curses in another epic series. But the all-time greats are able to bounce back and Marty soon was a Cup hero for the Devils' first of three championships, spanning nine years. One of the dominant runs by a franchise with New Jersey's repeat bid falling just short against boyhood idol Patrick Roy and Colorado. Despite losing out to Jean-Sebastien Giguere for the Conn Smythe, there was the franchise Devil reminding fans that all that mattered was the chalice they would soon drink from. He was right. Why all these years later some fans still get upset over that is befuddling.

That's the life of a franchise that went from laughingstock to elite when No.30 took over in net. Oh. They had Sean Burke before. He of the miraculous first playoff berth thanks to former franchise scoring leader John MacLean, who victimized Darren Pang (yes, that midget). Burke was eventually dealt to Hartford for Jay Pandolfo and Bobby Holik. One of Lamoriello's wisest moves along with getting future captain Scott Stevens as compensation for losing Brendan Shanahan to St. Louis. There also was the hoist that sent Tom Kurvers to the Maple Leafs for a first rounder named Scott Niedermayer, who finally had his No.27 retired in a win over Dallas last week.

It's this type of work that's made Lamoriello one of the best sports execs. He also had a hand in helping the Nets acquire Jason Kidd, who only led them to their first two NBA Finals appearances. There also was the reacquisition of Conn Smythe winner Claude Lemieux,who helped win a second Cup with as talented a group that included free agent steals Brian Rafalski and John Madden. Staples of two of the club's three Cups. The trade for Jason Arnott didn't produce right away but once he teamed with 'A Line' members Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias, they were unstoppable.

In the first ever 3-1 comeback versus the Flyers, everyone will remember Larry Robinson's post-Game Four tirade and Stevens' big hit on Eric Lindros. But without the clutch netminding of Brodeur, they never come back. He did some of his best work in '00 and '01 when the Devils beat the Leafs twice in grueling second rounds. He also was money against defending champ Dallas, who pushed them the limit before Elias to Arnott won Game Six following Mike Modano's triple OT stunner. Those were the best games the Devils ever played even though Hasan might argue what the '03 team did was even better.

Under Pat Burns, he squeezed every ounce of energy out of not the most talented squad that still boasted Stevens, Rafalski, Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko on the back end. Madden replaced Holik, who became Benedict Arnold by bolting for Manhattan. A trade for Jamie Langenbrunner a year prior that sent popular Cup heroes Arnott and Randy McKay to Dallas also landed Hall Of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk. Much like Arnott, they didn't have success right away, getting ousted by the upstart Canes the year before. But Langenbrunner became a fixture on the Madden line with Jay Pandolfo, with the trio stifling the opposition while scoring big goals. Sykora was also dealt to Anaheim for Jeff Friesen and throw in Oleg Tverdovsky.

They made it work with Friesen torching his former club in a topsy turvy final where the home team won every game. Before they reached that glory, there also was deadline pickup Grant Marshall setting up Friesen for one of the greatest goals in franchise history, beating the Sens with two minutes left in a classic series. Wade Redden was victimized but apparently, Glen Sather never noticed. If not for Brodeur, they don't upset Ottawa. He came up with some monster saves that prevented the Sens from turning the tables on the Devs after they led 3-1. Fans killed him for allowing an OT winner to Chris Phillips, noting Marty's shaky sudden death record. But the Sens were more dangerous, boasting Marian Hossa, who Brodeur flat out robbed following a softy to Radek Bonk that tied Game Seven.

Sometimes, fans don't realize how good they had it until a legend's gone. Even during the post-lockout as Cup pieces have moved on, Brodeur still was the backbone that got the club into the postseason 13 consecutive seasons. Only once ('95-96) had they failed to do so since last missing in '88-89. Three times since Lamoriello took over, speaking to how consistent the Devils have been. Marty has been front and center. Injuries finally caught up the past couple of years but he still returned during a second half surge, playing outstanding alongside Johan Hedberg, following a dreadful start.

It's amazing to think Brodeur owns the most ever wins (633) and shutouts (116) in league history, speaking to his durability and competitiveness. The man has a lot of pride, which is on the line in what could be his final season. If it truly is the end, an era will finally be over. One full of records that probably will stand the test of time.

He's a throwback athlete who won in a more wide open style ('95) even though the Devils get blamed for the neutral zone trap due to Jacques Lemaire. What people conveniently leave out is they had one of the highest scoring teams before becoming more conservative, which spelled the end of Lemaire I.

It's also easy to leave out Brodeur's athletic skills which included emulating Ron Hextall by scoring into an open net in a series win over the hometown hero's Canadiens. His puckhandling was so good, it was like having a third defenseman. No wonder Bobby Clarke helped institute the Brodeur Rule. Whatever you want to call it, it prohibits goalies from playing the puck outside the boundaries behind the net. A silly rule that's led to defensemen getting creamed. No wonder they must seriously consider taking icings out and switching to hybrid to help eliminate such dangerous collisions. Given the fragile state the game's in, there's no other choice.

Brodeur still adjusted by coming out to play pucks before they went in the designated area. He still makes some exciting outlets on the power play but sometimes gets caught due to the unfriendly rule. Even the best can be flawed. Marty will never not play the puck. If he can, he'll do whatever it takes to help his team gain an edge.

In recent years, with only one memorable series win in exacting revenge on the Rangers with a sweep at the old CAA, Brodeur's been more scrutinized due to the team's failures. Devil fans aren't accustomed to seeing their team out of the playoffs so early. Last Spring was a harsh reality that there are no guarantees anymore. Especially with the new realignment coming next year with the Devils, Rangers and Islanders having to deal with powers Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington. It won't be easy with only four making it. The league did doormat Carolina no favors in the new seven team conference. It'd be peculiar if Brodeur hung it up with the old format returning that includes Conference Playoffs, where you must win two rounds before advancing to the league semis.

He's been there for all of it. There are some nights where he turns back the clock and makes a jaw dropping save like the one on Phil Kessel that had the prolific Leaf scorer shaking his head in disbelief. Early on last night, he made a strong kick save on a Ryan Callahan shot labeled for far corner. But then there are moments like the odd rebound that went right to Marian Gaborik for the winner along with Carl Hagelin's shorthanded goal that beat the glove that used to be money. It's still there in spurts, duping opposing shooters in shootouts. Just not as accurate as we're accustomed to seeing.

Even from the enemy side, it's kind of sad to see a legend starting to show that he's only human. An old 80's tune from Human League. A man who will always speak up when asked about things such as HBO's 24/7, where he was opposed to all the expletives due to children who might be watching. We might not always see eye to eye with Brodeur but he's an influential voice that should be heard even after he retires. But as he warned Larry Brooks in a Sunday Post column, it'll be up to him.

Do the Devils use Brodeur's empty slot along with Bryce Salvador to re-sign Zach Parise? Hedberg is also up, meaning it truly could be a changing of the guard in net. The transition's already taking place. It doesn't mean Brodeur is finished just yet. He still wants one more chance to shine. Don't count him out.

1 comment:

Hasan said...

Very good read...figures when I finally get my internet back I get sick with a virus. I made it to last night's game (thankfully unlike Elias I didn't have to skate so I didn't miss the game but I was probably just as sick), probably would have been better off staying home but I'd promised my friend.

Brodeur may be saying it's up to him, but by the same token he's also said nobody's going to have to tell him to get out. I don't think he'll pull a Brett Favre, especially if he continues to struggle this year. It'll be intersting to see how PDB handles it, especially with the lingering shoulder injury that might not heal all year.

Regarding Salvador, he's played surprisingly well lately. At this point it might not shock me if he re-signed for a year or two as a stopgap until a couple of the other young defensemen are ready.

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