If he does indeed play in the NHL next season, Martin Brodeur won’t be the first player in NHL history to risk hanging on for too long. Playing for the Colorado Avalanche in the late 1990s, Jari Kurri was a shell of his former self. Heck, Wayne Gretzky only had nine goals in his last season. That used to be a good week for him.
Brodeur said over the weekend that he’s “80 percent sure,” he’ll play another NHL season. Here’s hoping the other 20 percent somehow wins out.
This is not a slam against Brodeur. Actually, Brodeur is one of the most charming, engaging and accommodating athletes I and others in my business have ever encountered. Whether he plays again or not and even if he does so poorly, his legacy and place in the Hockey Hall of Fame are secure. There’s nothing Brodeur could do in New Jersey or anywhere else that will tarnish that.
And he has earned the right to go out of the game on his own terms, even if they don’t turn out to be his own terms. We all just assume that a guy who has won three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, four Vezinas and has almost $82 million in career earnings should be satisfied with that and retire when everyone thinks he should.
But that doesn’t take into account two factors. First, with a few notable exceptions (Jean Beliveau was one), even the greatest, most levelheaded athletes in any sport are unwilling to admit the obvious. Everyone sees the reality and they probably do too, but they’ve risen to the top of their profession by having unwavering confidence in their abilities. Second, those who have never played at the NHL level can’t appreciate how difficult it is to leave. Whenever a player retires, he doesn’t miss the games or the training or even winning championships. The hole the vast majority of players have in their lives is created by the loss of the daily contact they have with their teammates.
And give Brodeur credit for being realistic. He acknowledges, “There are teams that have zero need for a guy like me.” He also realizes that even the New Jersey Devils might not want him. And how can you criticize a guy whose motivation is to play one more year so that his five-year-old son will have memories of him as an NHL player?
And if those were his only requirements, that would be fine. The Florida Panthers could sign him for one year as a marquee attraction and Roberto Luongo’s backup behind a maturing, but still struggling team. Nothing wrong with that. But not only does Brodeur want to play where he still has a chance to win, it looks like he wants to play about 40 games a year. He’s started 36 games for the Devils this season and said he doesn’t want to sit more than he has in 2013-14. That’s where there’s a disconnect here.
Putting it kindly, any team that is in a position to contend probably won’t be interested in Brodeur, who is 44th among goalies who have played 20 or more games this season in save percentage. Most of them are set with a workhorse No. 1 guy who would have to play 60-plus games. And if you’re that close to winning, are you going to entrust your goaltending to a 42-year-old whose performance and statistics have been trending downward?
The problem here is this has the potential for a world of awkwardness. The Devils will likely be put in a situation where they’ll have to cut ties with the all-time greatest player in franchise history, particularly if they want to keep Cory Schneider long-term.
The only thing potentially more embarrassing for Brodeur than being exposed would be for the summer to pass and for nobody to be interested in signing him.
Neither one is particularly palatable. So here’s hoping Brodeur joins Teemu Selanne in the ranks of the retired after this season. Hey, at least it will make for one hell of a Hall of Fame class in 2017.