The Devils haven't developed a bona fide successor to Martin Brodeur, who turns 41 in May. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
My parents are moving, so all the hockey cards amassed by my brother and me during the early 1990s have been foisted back upon us, to be separated and hopefully sold for some sort of return (back then they were investments surely as valuable as oil, now they’re mostly coasters). It’s actually a lot of fun looking through the stacks, particularly since many of the players now have new roles in the hockey world. I’ve already found new Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen during his Bruins days, a ton of Washington Caps coach Adam Oates from his salad days in St. Louis and even a “Russian Stars” card for Alexander Galchenyuk, the father of current Habs rookie Alex Galchenyuk. And yes, many baby-faced, mulleted cards of Jaromir Jagr as a Penguin. But the other night I found a stash of Martin Brodeur rookie cards and it got me thinking: Ye gods, these are 20 years old and he’s still playing. While it’s also remarkable Jagr is still playing at a high level, he’s only on the ice for one-third of the game; Brodeur is out there the whole 60.
For most of the past two decades, New Jersey has thrived thanks to Brodeur, winning the Stanley Cup more times than it’s missed the playoffs. And while it seems as though he will play forever, we know that’s not literally true. With Brodeur missing the past eight games due to a back ailment, the Devils have won just two games, which is ominous foreshadowing if you’re a Jersey fan. Simply put, what’s Plan B right now? Backup Johan Hedberg is one year younger than his battery mate and both will be at least 40 come the first week of May. The Devils don’t have a youngster beating down the door in the American League and though Scott Wedgewood or Maxime Clermont may become that challenger in the future, it won’t be for several years. Meanwhile, Keith Kinkaid is the perfect American League/NHL tweener.
Though it sometimes feels like goaltenders grow on trees and can be discovered at any time (Anaheim’s Viktor Fasth being the latest), ask the teams at the bottom of the standings how easy the position is to fill.
Other than suffering through a few down years and hoping someone steps into Brodeur’s skates, New Jersey’s other option is to find a replacement via trade or free agency. But again, it’s not that simple. The top UFAs are too valuable not to be re-signed by their teams or too old to have an impact in the future.
Which brings me to Montreal.
The Canadiens have a raft of great defensive prospects and the future has already arrived up front with Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, but goaltending is thin in the long view. While Carey Price is one of the best netminders in the NHL and currently in his prime, why not spend this year’s first round draft pick on a goalie?
Unless something goes epically wrong, the Habs will be picking in the final third of the first round, meaning local product Zach Fucale of the Quebec League’s Halifax Mooseheads may still be available. And if Fucale is gone, there’s blue-chipper Eric Comrie of Tri-City in the Western League.
Given how long the modern goalie takes to develop, you wouldn’t be seeing either in a Habs uniform for at least four years, at which point Price (himself taken fifth overall in 2005) will be 30 and likely in need of someone to spell off minutes (keep in mind part of Brodeur’s longevity has been attributed to the fact he does not play a butterfly style of netminding, which is seen to have an effect on long-term health, especially in the hips. He’s one of the last non-butterfly practitioners).
As awkward as the situation in Vancouver might seem, you have to believe the Canucks are happy to have both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo in the fold right now.
And yes, drafting goalies is an inexact science, but if Montreal wants to avoid what is looking like a troubling future in New Jersey, the Habs may want to go big again on a netminder in 2013.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.