Two hours before the start of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, there sat Martin Brodeur on a raised platform in the bowels of Prudential Center, smiling and laughing as he answered questions from about 10 reporters, a relatively small scrum compared to what he may usually face with so many reporters descending on Newark.
The hard-hitting topics for arguably the game’s greatest goaltender of all-time included queries about gracing a video game cover, the nerves of being a hockey dad as he spent the day with 18-year-old, draft-eligible son Anthony Brodeur, and memories about when he was selected 20th overall in the 1990 Entry Draft, which took place in Vancouver.
“I don’t remember 23 years ago. That’s a long time,” a light-hearted Brodeur said with a chuckle from inside the arena he helped build.
But before Brodeur would quietly recede into a luxury box with friends and family on his son’s big day, he mentioned he had one thing to do first.
“Early on, I’ll go to the (Devils draft) table, see what’s going on there,” Brodeur said. “Make sure we do the proper moves.”
Little did Brodeur realize the proper move for Lou Lamoriello would be dealing the ninth pick in the draft for Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider, a move that essentially signals the beginning of the end for Brodeur, who as recently as two months ago said he wasn’t necessarily ready to retire after the 2013-14 season but now finds himself in, at best, a time share with his capable replacement.
While Brodeur’s strongest memory of 1990 Draft was the fact it was held in BC Place Stadium – the city’s football stadium had to host because of a potential strike taking place at the hockey arena, the Pacific Coliseum — the 2013 Draft will be burned into Brodeur’s brain as the one that began to bring the curtain down on his great career and potentially raised the curtain on his son’s foray into the NHL.
The NHL Draft is set up like a hockey flea market. There are 30 tables filled with the movers and shakers in the industry, simultaneously making life-changing decisions on that of teenagers, swinging deals and signing players who are in the prime of their careers, or in the case of Brodeur, pulling the trigger on a trade that all but lops off the head of NHL royalty.
The draft began with the Colorado Avalanche selecting Nathan MacKinnon, as Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy remained true to their word about choosing the gifted forward and passing on the highly touted Seth Jones. But before Sakic could speak into the microphone, the Devils fans in attendance saluted their goaltender.
A chant of “Marty’s better,” echoed through the arena, a common refrain by fans here on game nights when an elite goaltender is minding the net opposite Brodeur. Only this time they were sticking it to Roy, who bested Brodeur in the 2001 Stanley Cup Final.
The Florida Panthers made a surprising choice to most in attendance, selecting center Alexsander Barkov at No. 2. Forward Jonathan Drouin followed at No. 3 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, leaving the Nashville Predators with perhaps the greatest consolation prize in draft history at No. 4 with Jones, who was considered by many as recently as January to be the top player available at this year’s draft.
After a round of television appearances, Jones made his way to the interview area and sat about 100 feet from where Brodeur was seated three hours earlier.
While Jones said all the right things, there was sadness smeared all over his face when asked about his memories as a child in Denver, watching Sakic and Roy raise the Cup as members of the Avalanche, but now having those same men pass on him at this year’s draft. Jones spoke of excitement for an opportunity to play with Shea Weber in Nashville and his love of country music, but his heart was at least somewhat bruised by slipping to the fourth pick and away from Colorado.
“It definitely sounded too good to be true,” Jones said of playing for Colorado, “and it turned out that way.”
Inside the arena, fans rejoiced as it was announced that the Devils were on the clock, three minutes from choosing a potential future star with the ninth pick.
Meanwhile, Jones continued to answer different but same questions about the Avalanche, then some more different but same questions about country music, and once again, the fans let their voices be heard with boisterous cheering.
“Guess the Devils picked,” someone remarked.
Then word quickly spread. The Canucks finally brought an end to their goaltending quagmire, only it wasn’t Roberto Luongo and his prison of a contract that had been set free – it was Schneider.
“Schneider moved for the ninth pick?” someone wondered while staring at Twitter on his phone, ignoring a suddenly less interesting Darnell Nurse during his media session a few feet away.
“The ninth pick? That’s the Devils’ pick.”
The draft is a crossroads for players at various stages of their careers, and there was no better picture of it than a baby-faced young man dressed in an Oilers hat and jersey discussing his excitement about playing with the likes of Taylor Hall, Justin Eberle and Nail Yakupov while a 27-year-old goaltender in his prime was heading East to replace a 41-year-old legend who was only at Prudential Center to spend the day with his 18-year-old draft-eligible son.
Circles of life in the NHL were spinning out of control and overlapping all over the place, and the draft was barely 80 minutes old.
“Roberto took us to seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final,” explained Canucks GM Mike Gillis as “Chelsea Dagger” blared throughout the arena in almost comedic fashion, as the Chicago Blackhawks had just made the final pick of the first round. “He won the gold medal. His resume’s impeccable. Our plan three years ago was to develop Cory and move him for a high pick and that’s what we ultimately did.”
Gillis was truthful that Vancouver planned three years ago to build Schneider into a movable commodity, but that plan changed when Schneider took the starting job. No matter how Gillis wanted to spin this shocking news that left many Canucks dissatisfied with the return, Luongo’s contract was too big to trade or buy out, forcing Gillis into a Plan B (as in Plan Boy Did I Screw This Up) that only came to fruition on the eve of the draft.
Thanks to the lockout, the draft was compressed from a two-day event into a one-day marathon. The first round featured a three-minute limit on picks, yet inexplicably dragged into a three-hour saga that moved as quickly as John Scott through the neutral zone. The middle rounds had the feeling of your average fantasy draft in your friend’s lavish basement with terrible lighting. General managers and team representatives announced picks from their draft tables so quickly you’d think they had somewhere better to be. If teams took more than 10 seconds to make a pick in the final five rounds, it was out of the ordinary.
Teams moved up, teams moved down, and names that most people in the building had likely never heard before were announced as teams went about the business of making educated guesses on teens who aren’t old enough to drink at any of the bars outside the arena.
Through three rounds, Anthony Brodeur had yet to be called. It was possible that the Shattuck-St. Mary’s prospect would not be drafted at all, as he was not among the top-40 goalies on the final Central Scouting list. What could have been a memorable day for the Brodeur family for all the right reasons was slowly turning into one they would soon prefer to forget.
At the conclusion of the fourth round, with Anthony Brodeur still undrafted, Lamoriello finally addressed Schneider trade.
Lamoriello confirmed what was obvious in Brodeur’s face earlier that afternoon – that he had not warned Brodeur of the deal, instead leaving him to make a joke about being at the draft table during the first round to help the team make the right decision.
This wasn’t quite Brodeur’s Red Wedding, but Lamoriello played the role of Tywin Lannister, orchestrating a deal unbeknownst to Brodeur that will eventually supplant him as King of the North…Jersey.
“Now we have a goaltender in Cory who is experienced and proven he can be a No. 1 goaltender who is 27,” Lamoriello said. “This doesn’t affect Marty. We’ll see how Marty is, how long he wants to play. We’ve always had conversations with him about making the transition at some time.
“We have to do it. I’m sure all of us have to do it at some time.”
And now that time appears to finally be here for Brodeur.
“I think we’re getting a goaltender not only of the present but of the future,” Lamoriello said. “Certainly Marty is at the point where he can’t play the way he’s played as far as the number of games he’s played. This young man has proven to be a No. 1 goaltender. We feel great about it. I’ve spoken to him, he’s just excited to come here and work with Marty.
“Marty is still No. 1 goaltender. There’s no question of that. It’s just a question of how much he can play to keep him at the top of his game. This gives us that transition that we feel we would have loved to have gotten maybe a year ago if it was possible.”
Lamoriello isn’t Tywin Lannister; he’s Tywin, Walder Frey and Roose Bolton all rolled into one.
With just two picks left in the sixth round, at 9:27 p.m. ET, a difficult day became an even bigger hardship for the remaining people still at Prudential Center – the Bruins called a timeout, delaying their selection an additional five minutes.
“It’s not pulling up the name we’re putting in,” said Chiarelli into the microphone, leading to groans from the scattered fans still in the building and probably a few executives at nearby draft tables.
“We apologize,” said NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Jim Gregory, manning the podium for the later rounds. “We’re having computer problems. It’s not Boston’s fault.”
At 9:36, the Bruins selected Anton Blidh.
If this was truly a fantasy draft, Chiarelli would have been kicked out of the league at 9:31.
With the seventh round winding down, it became clear that no one left on the board would be taking Anthony Brodeur, and certainly not the Devils, who did not have a pick remaining.
Then at 9:59, an announcement from Gregory would serve as the precursor for perhaps the draft’s biggest feel-good moment. The Los Angeles Kings were about to make the fourth-to-last pick, but that changed when they dealt the pick to the Devils in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2015.
Less than a minute later, it was Martin Brodeur at the Devils draft table doing what he promised to do nine hours earlier – helping the only the team he’s ever known make one of their picks, in this case, by announcing the Devils were using the 208th pick to select his son.
Three minutes and three picks later, the 2013 NHL Entry Draft was mercifully over.
If Brodeur was still feeling any sadness or shock about the Schneider trade that occurred six hours earlier, it had been completely replaced by a look of pure joy as he sat next to Anthony, who was wearing a Devils sweater and hat as the father-son duo fielded questions about a roller-coaster day for the family.
Brodeur was still his same joking self when asked if he had to worry about Anthony taking his job.
“Twice in one day,” Brodeur quipped. “I’ve got Schneider now.”
No one likes getting older, but Brodeur seems to be at peace with the situation and didn’t look like a man who had been stabbed in the stomach by his replacement. He knows he’s not the best goaltender in the game anymore, and he knows that at his age, it’s best for himself now and the organization in the future that the Devils land a goaltender like Schneider, who can be the transition goaltender the Devils have lacked since Brodeur first started showing signs of decline a few seasons ago.
“I think for the future of the organization it’s the best move,” Brodeur said. “Cory is one of the top-5 goalies, in my mind, in the NHL. It’s a chance for him to get away from the chaos of Vancouver. I’m not going to play forever. I think it’s great that I’m going to be able to play with him. I’m definitely going to try to push him and get my ice time as much as I can while I’m still able to play. Definitely, he’s the future of the organization.”
While Brodeur spoke honestly about the team’s future, he wasn’t ready to cede his throne in the present when asked if he still felt like the No. 1 goaltender in New Jersey.
“In my mind, I am,” he said. “He’s going to have to fight me for it.”
When Brodeur arrived at Prudential Center on Sunday, all he wanted was to see his son get drafted. The day may not have transpired as he had pictured it, but by the end of a taxing, emotional day, there was more happy father than bitter aging athlete on display at that podium, and it wasn’t even close.
“It was a great moment,” Brodeur said of calling his son’s name. “Anthony’s worked so hard in the last four years away at school. To be able to get drafted, drafted in New Jersey, for New Jersey, you couldn’t ask for a better time.”