The finger of blame is going around like the Plague in the New Jersey Devil’s locker room. You really can’t focus it on anyone in particular because it seems every player and coach is at the same uninspired and discouraged level with almost a quarter the season having passed. That said, one’s level of inspiration differs from a player’s attributions to the current situation. Since January, Martin Brodeur’s gone 24-25-6. In over half those games, he’s given up three or more goals, during which he’s gone 7-19-3. Considering the Martin Brodeur we all know, he’s put up some very uncharacteristic numbers as of late with a nice five, six month break in between seasons to recharge. Seventeen games into the regular season, Brodeur stands with a 4-10-1 record, 2.74 GAA, and a .901 SV%. Last year at this time, Brodeur was 13-4 with a 2.18 GAA and a .916 SV%.
Am I blaming Marty entirely for how the Devils have fared a quarter into the season? Certainly not. Two things I’m trying to conclude from the numbers are 1. we could be seeing evidence of the long anticipated decline in Brodeur’s play and 2. As a result, Brodeur isn’t holding up to his end of the bargain.
Hockey is a team sport and as we should already know, every player has a different role that sets their own bar of expectations for them to meet. A player of Brodeur’s caliber has high expectations to fulfil every year. If he wants to play seventy-plus games every season, he needs to put up the numbers that make such a gross workload for a goaltender his age justifiable, which he’s accomplished until this year. I don’t want to hear the barrage of excuses the fanatics or fans brainwashed by Lou’s kool-aid have lined up in Brodeur’s defense…he’s playing hurt (which he’s done before), the defense and offense isn’t giving him the support he needs (look up teams of 06-07, 07-08). Please. Stop it.
Even if these excuses actually factor into Brodeur’s performance, the bottom line is as the goaltender, the last line of defense you have to prepare to pick up any slack the players leave in front of you. You also have to make that big save, which we’ve a lack thereof from Mr. Brodeur. How many soft or questionable goals has he let up over the past nine, ten months? How many goals has he given up where you’d sit there and say to yourself “He would have easily made that save a few years ago”? Enough where my confidence in his goaltending capabilities isn’t as strong as it may have been a year or two ago at this time. My readers should know I’m very critical of Brodeur, but will also defend him when he’s deserving of it. Like I say, I’m a realist. I never try to be too optimistic or pessimistic. Right now, I’m only foreseeing the worst in Brodeur’s future with the Devils because of his consistent play since January, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I also want to say this is the first time he’s played such a questionable brand of hockey that’s carried over into separate seasons for such a long period of time.
Obviously, Brodeur’s continual lackluster play will make him an anchor tied to the feet of this team as it struggles to keep their head above the water. Does Lou Lamoriello have it in him to cut the rope attaching that anchor to his team? A decision of that magnitude signifies more than a headline move. It would mark the end of an era and send ripples through that organization and locker room, a shakeup unlike any that had ever been experienced before. Realistically, I can see the Devils losing every game remaining on their schedule and Lamoriello working around the apparent downfall of his prized franchise face. Two or three years ago, you could categorize the concept of trading Brodeur under fantasy fiction. I remember last year there were rumors the Devils were talking to the Washington Capitals about Brodeur, most of which was dismissed as fabricated reports generated by the blogosphere. I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this subsequent to those seemingly ludicrous rumors, but sources told me those talks had legs to them and were quickly broken off after they were leaked. Just saying.
As long as Brodeur stays in the organization, he’ll always be the No. 1 goaltender, regardless of the quality of his performance. Nobody will admit it, but it’s clear Brodeur has more influence in dictating whether he plays each night than any Devils coach. It’s the only plausible reason I can think of why he’s continually maintained a stagnant workload as he grew older and proved its negative effects with his inability to maintain his star caliber play in the post-season. Metaphorically, I see it as as being a polite guest at someone’s house that has a putrid stench. You know it’s there, but you won’t say anything. I guess this is just another way of saying Brodeur’s all but selfless in his willingness to lessen his role for the better of the team. Over the past few seasons, his pursuit or rewriting the record books may have excused this, but what is he chasing this time around?
At this point, the Devil’s can only go up. A quarter of the season has passed, but they’re more than capable of turning things around. It’s a tough pill to swallow but once the dust settles, Brodeur and the Devils parting ways would give both parties a fresh start for the better. What do they have to lose? I haven’t avoided addressing who’ll man the pipes in this hypothetical situation but the ideal candidate ought to be a young fresh face. Could prospect Jeff Frazee get a chance? Could the Devils get a goaltender in return? Lou Lamoriello is a smart man who’s always two steps ahead of the game. I’m confident he’d have a backup plan in place.