Perhaps inevitably, following the Devils’ first-round ouster at the hands of the Flyers, everything in New Jersey, from the Kovalchuk trade to the resiliency of Martin Brodeur, has come under fire from the hockey media. For the Devils, this makes the third consecutive year they’ve lost in the first round of the playoffs, and for a team that was one of the best in the league over the last decade, it’s a major disappointment.
Brodeur’s a fitting focal point for articles wondering what has happened to the Devils; he’s the most important holdover from their Cup-winning teams, the player who best personifies both the heights the franchise reached, as well as its recent failings.
But as far as I’m concerned, focusing on Brodeur is sacrificing reality for the sake of an appealing narrative.
Brodeur’s alternated good and bad playoffs since the mid-90’s, so his poor performance against Philadelphia isn’t something that hasn’t happened before. One could even argue that when the Devils made their run to the finals in 2001, they did it despite sub-par play on Brodeur’s part; the legendary goaltender couldn’t crack the 0.900 SV% mark over 25 games but the stifling Devils’ defence made up for it.
Despite the fact the Devils were knocked out in the first round last year, Brodeur wasn’t to blame. He allowed just 3 goals on 51 shots over the first two games, but came away tied 1-1. After winning Game Three, he would make 40+ saves in each of the next two games – including a 44-save shutout – but only come away with one win, and he faced 30+ shots in each of the last two losses. He finished the playoffs with a 0.929 SV%, something that fits in well with the 0.927, 0.927 and 0,934 save percentages he recorded en route to three Stanley Cup wins.
In the regular season, Brodeur’s been as good as ever. In an up and down year he still finish with a 0.916 save percentage, the fourth consecutive year he attained or surpassed that mark. During the heart of his career, and the heart of the Devils’ success, he never managed that feat in more than two consecutive years, and only three times overall. Based on his personal performance, he’s been a better goaltender behind a weaker team than he ever was before the lockout.
Given Brodeur’s age (he’ll turn 38 this summer) it’s fair to conclude that he doesn’t have much NHL time left in him; perhaps a couple of seasons, perhaps a little longer. But based on his performance, there isn’t any reason to believe Brodeur is near the end. He has eight 40-win seasons; four of them have come post-lockout. He’s played more than 75 games on four occasions; three of those have come since the lockout. He’s posted a regular season save percentage above 0.915 seven times; four of those have happened since the lockout.
The difference is that he isn’t playing behind a defence anchored by Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski. He’s playing for a good team, but not a great team, not a team like the Devils were from the mid-90’s to the mid-00’s.
That’s not to say Brodeur had a good playoff this year. He struggled. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s five games, and it would be a mistake to eulogize the goaltender’s career when he’s still one of the premiere netminders in the game.