Brodeur’s Brilliance Still on Display

Savor the greatness that is No. 30 for the New Jersey Devils, because we may never see it again.

The Blues were manhandled by New Jersey on Tuesday night, losing 7-1 in an embarrassing performance that may have been better had they not even taken the ice. But that’s not the story here.

The story is someone whose presence was actually absent in Newark, Martin Brodeur.

Just typing that name makes me smile. One of the best goaltenders of all time, and he’s still kicking pucks away from the net after all these years.

Let this sink in for you: most wins in a season, most consecutive 30- and 35-win seasons; most 40-win seasons; most shutouts in both the regular and postseason; most career saves; and, of course, most career wins. Still need something else to relish in with Brodeur? How about most career goals by a goalie – two in regular season and one in the playoffs – as well as the only goalie to score a game-winning goal?

The Devils’ netminder does it all, and we will never see one like him again.

The days of starting your No. 1 goaltender 70 to 78 times a season are gone. This is what Brodeur averaged in his prime. The number of goalies who started 70 games decreased from six goaltenders in 2009-10 to just three in both 2010-11 and 2011-12.

And even with those three goaltenders in 2010-11 and 2011-12, none of them rivaled Martin Brodeur status, someone who did it year in and year out at the highest level possible.

Today’s NHL doesn’t allow for your goaltending to be dominant. Whether it’s the smaller pads or other rule changes responsible for the rise in offense, it’s just not the same NHL, and I realize that. With that being said, though, there is no one in net today who commands the stage in the way that No. 30 did throughout his prime.

Growing up in the 90s in a family that loved its hockey, I was fortunate enough to routinely watch the master between the pipes go to the butterfly and make a glove save, or stack the pads on a brilliant one-time pass. It was a thing of beauty.

To watch him battle nightly for a Stanley Cup-contending team, year after year, was something special. He had 11 consecutive 35-win seasons and 12 consecutive 30-win seasons, all the while playing in New Jersey. Yes, he had the likes of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer in front of him – but that’s when you look at save percentage. And from the 1993-94 season to the 2009-10 season, he averaged a .916 save percentage.

We fans who watched him at his peak were lucky because we got to see not only him, but also the likes of Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek. They were, for all intents and purposes, the most dominant goaltenders of that era – and perhaps ever.

The ability of a goalie like Brodeur to change the outlook of a game was incredible. You knew that if you were facing New Jersey, your team had better be on its game and hope for a 2-1 score. The fear of matching up against the Devils in the Eastern Conference was like the fear that struck many in the Western Conference with the Red Wings.

Ask today’s average NHL fan who the three best goaltenders in the league are. You’ll get an array of answers including Jonathan Quick, who’s largely there only due to recent playoff success, and Roberto Luongo, a numbers maven with a polarizing reputation in Vancouver despite his long-term contract. Other votes trickle in and go to Antti Niemi, Jonas Hiller, Ryan Miller and Pekka Rinne.

While all of those listed are solid netminders, I am not ready to put the Hall of Fame stamp on any of them, as we were with No. 30 after he became the youngest to reach 300, 400 and 500 wins.

So next Tuesday, when the Devils come to St. Louis, take a second to watch the Montreal native between the pipes. Whether it’s in warmups or during the game itself, cherish the moment. Odds are that you’ll never see a craftsman like Martin Brodeur man the ice again.