The choicest line involved some mathematical forecasting, where I posited that if Fleury “averages 35 wins over the next 13 seasons, he’ll be up to 682 wins, easily passing Brodeur, whom I can’t see winning enough games between the rest of this campaign and a possible return next year to get enough distance at the top.”
Guess how many wins Brodeur has after last night’s 4-1 triumph in Montreal? Yeah, 682.
So no one is catching Marty. Fleury, still an excellent goaltender in his own right (check with me again after the 2014 playoffs of course), has 275 career wins, putting him more than 400 behind Brodeur and the Devils icon is still playing – so every new ‘W’ pushes the ball a little further away from the Penguins starter.
The reason I picked Fleury as a potential successor in the first place was that he came into the NHL young and played for an excellent team that promised to be great for a long time due to players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in front of him. Brodeur also became a full-time starter young, taking over the New Jersey pipes at age 21 (Fleury became Pittsburgh’s No. 1 around the same age).
But even in the short time span since I wrote that column, the landscape of the NHL has shifted even further away from what I’ll call “starter certainty.” Netminders seem to be getting injured more, perhaps because of the demands of the butterfly style of puckstopping, meaning even a superstar like Jonathan Quick can’t be expected to play 70-plus games for too many seasons in a row. In fact, a groin injury he just recently recovered from means Quick can only play 56 games this season, assuming he doesn’t take a night off from here on out. Pekka Rinne has just nine games under his belt this season and still isn’t healthy yet from hip surgery.
Not only that, but you rarely see 21-year-old starters anymore. Ben Bishop is already 27 and just becoming a force in Tampa, while Tuukka Rask, 26, has won just 88 NHL games due to an apprenticeship behind Tim Thomas in Boston.
Will Brodeur play again next season? That’s in doubt, but last night certainly wasn’t his final victory in the NHL, so anyone aiming for the throne is going to have to keep aiming higher.