We’ve come to the point where it’s time for Martin Brodeur to call it a career. I know, it goes against his desire to play another season. It goes against his competitive nature to hang ‘em up when he still feels like he has something left in the tank. But it’s the perfect time for the New Jersey Devil icon to walk away, head high, with nothing left to prove.
Unfortunately for Devil fans and hockey fans in general, that probably won’t be the case. Brodeur reiterated his desire to play next season and even stated he’d wait until the season began if necessary before deciding where to play. He is still holding out hope for a starter’s job or a “1A/1B” situation on a competitive team which can only come his way via injury now. Walk away Marty…I beg you.
I have a little confession for you: despite being a die-hard Islander fan, I’ve always been a huge fan of Brodeur. I had a poster of Brodeur on my bedroom wall, right next to my Eric Fichaud poster (boy, did I misjudge that one). So selfishly I don’t want to see him wearing a Maple Leaf jersey this October. I don’t want to see him backing up in Minnesota. I want the only jersey he ever wears to be the red, black, and white number 30. He deserves that. Hockey deserves that.
It’s not even his accomplishments as a goalie (which are plenty), but the way he played the position that grabbed my attention. His prefered style? Well, he really had none, unless you call “stop the puck by any means necessary” a style. He’d two-pad stack on a shot from close range. He’d stand his ground on a shot from the point. He’d try to poke check the puck away on a breakaway. It was the thing that made him so good and so difficult to beat: you never knew how he’d try to stop you. He didn’t default to the butterfly like so many goalies do today. It’s what made goalies like Brodeur and Dominik Hasek so much fun to watch.
I’m not here to debate his place in history among the greats. His resume speaks for itself: most wins…most shutouts…four Vezinas…three Stanley Cups…one Conn Smythe (I’m counting the 2002/03 playoffs when he was robbed as the media got “giggy with it” and gave the award to J.S. Giguere despite losing to Brodeur’s Devils). He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer with nothing left to prove. At least not in the minds of us fans.
And maybe that’s why we can’t understand his desire to play anymore.
When you’re an all-time great, it’s tough to recognize it’s over. Athletes are egotistical, we know that. They don’t want to admit they don’t belong in the game anymore. Heck, they can’t admit they don’t belong anymore. And who can really blame them? When you’ve dedicated your entire career to the game, what else is there to do afterwards? Competition. It’s what these guys know and drives them.
But for Brodeur, the choice should be easier. He’s the Devil’s franchise. Everyone from his most loyal fans to his biggest detractors knows that. Drafted in 1990 with New Jersey, it’s the only organization he knows. It should be the only organization he ever knows. But if he has his way, it won’t be. And to me, that’s a shame.
It’s no secret he struggled last year and posted the worst season of his professional career. Despite that, it didn’t stop the Devils from starting him 39 times, even with Cory Schneider on the roster. The organization’s kowtowing to Brodeur, the man who put them on the hockey map, very well may have been the biggest reason the Devils didn’t make the playoffs last season. And I’m sure that Brodeur heard those whispers, which may make it even less surprising that he wants to continue his career. In his mind he still has one more challenge to conquer. Like any athlete, he wants the fairy tale ending to go out on top.
But this isn’t a fairy tale. Michael Jordan finished his career with two playoff-less seasons in Washington. Willie Mays bumbled around the outfield in 1973 for the Mets. Riding off into the sunset at the top of your game is rare for the icons of sports. Someone needs to remind Brodeur of this.
In fact he could have had his “sunset” moment two years ago. Brodeur, then 39 years-old, conquered the Eastern Conference for the fifth time, dispatching his biggest rival New York Rangers in the Conference Finals before succumbing to the Kings in six. No goalie in the modern era could boast they were the starting goalie for a Stanley Cup finalist 17 years apart except the great Marty Brodeur.
But here we are, mid-July 2014 and the future Hall of Famer is still unemployed. Maybe he knows something we don’t, but there just isn’t anywhere for him to go. Hopefully his common sense will kick in sooner.
Hang ‘em up Marty. It’s the only sensible thing to do.