Brodeur not one of the lucky ones…
In sports rarely are there happy endings. There is no eluding the forces of father time and very few athletes get the chance to walk away from their respective sport on their own terms. New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera was one of the luckier ones, as he completed one of the most decorated farewell tours in sports history a few months back.
In his nineteenth and final season the 43-year old marvel was still as good as ever, notching 44 saves and even taking home the All-Star game MVP honors. All season long the greatest closer ever was showered with standing ovations and lovely parting gifts at each ballpark he entered for the final time. This season his longtime teammate and core four buddy, Derek Jeter, hopes to follow the dream blueprint into retirement after he recently announced that 2014 will be his last.
However, farewell tours are strictly a matter of personal taste and like Rivera a long-form genius of the save, New Jersey Devils net-minder Martin Brodeur is winding down his own Hall of Fame career across the Hudson, amid considerably less hype and completely different circumstances. This season was supposed to be Brodeur’s swan song, a victory tour for the goaltender who backstopped New Jersey to three Stanley Cups since debuting back on March, 26, 1992, second in the metropolitan area only to the Yankees’ five.
But with the Devils not having an obvious heir apparent in the organization and a 41-year old Brodeur entering the final year of his contract longtime general manager Lou Lamoriello acquired Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks on draft day for the ninth-overall selection. Like the good citizen he is, Brodeur, welcomed the 27-year old goalie into the kingdom he has helped build over the last two decades.
Nothing lasts forever and it was only a matter of time before the aging icon would have to pass the baton over. But that moment seemingly happened sooner than expected when Schneider was given his third straight start in late October and Brodeur acknowledged it as the changing of the guard.
“I think he’s in the net now to stay,” the winningest goalie of all-time said back on Oct. 19. “I hate not playing. That’s the bottom line. I play hockey to play hockey, not to watch and practice. I’m happy it happens at 41 and not 27.”
At the time Brodeur was the owner of an unsightly 0-2-2 record, 3.40 goals-against average and .865 save percentage. He would sit out three games in a row and four of five. And at the time many people began to wonder if this was the beginning of the end, or if even worse, Brodeur, was destined to become another sad-case of an athlete who hung around too long.
One of the most difficult decisions for any player is knowing when to walk away and unfortunately many stay past their expiration date. For every John Elway or Ray Bourque that goes out on top, there are twice as many guys who leave the game as a shell of the player they once were. The Bambino played his final 28 games for the Boston Braves. Willie Mays was last seen stumbling through the outfield in Flushing and Johnny Unitas took his last snap as a Charger.
Brodeur was so close to the former in with his great playoff run in 2012, but the latter is now looking like the more likely option. It’s not just that he isn’t the goalie he once was, though, it’s that he is statistically one of the worst goalies in the league right now. There are 60 goaltenders who have over 500 minutes of even-strength ice time in the NHL right now and Brodeur ranks dead last amongst that group in 5-on-5 save percentage. He has a very sub-par .899 SV%, worse than most backups in the rest of the league and gave up six goals in that debacle of a Stadium Series game
He still has flashes of brilliance here and there, but those moments have become rarer and rarer. The Devils’ net now belongs to Schneider, who started the final six games heading into the Olympic break, eighth of the last nine and 12th of the team’s previous 15 matches. It’s become increasingly evident that Brodeur will finish his NHL career someplace other than New Jersey if he wishes to play next season, but not so clear at all where he will finish this season.
“I don’t know,” Brodeur told The Star Ledger’s Richard Chere a few days ago. “I haven’t thought about it until I talk to people, and there is nothing planned yet. I’m probably going to wait.”
On Wednesday, Renaud Lavoie of et Journal de Montreal reported on that Brodeur met with Devils GM Lou Lamiorello to discuss his future with the team and it’s assumed that the greatest Devils of them all wants out of Jersey, preferably to a destination where he can regain the starting role. Minnesota and Chicago have been mentioned as possible destinations, but the notion of seeing Brodeur wearing a different NHL uniform is almost unimaginable.
A few weeks in a different uniform wouldn’t diminish what he’s already accomplished in New Jersey, but it would deprive fans of a proper send-off, as they deserve the right to watch Brodeur’s final weeks and salute him the way Yankees fans did for Rivera. However, it looks like they wouldn’t get that chance, as Brodeur appears on the verge of waiving his no-trade clause and goodbye to the only City he has ever known.