In a way, it can seem a bit odd that Martin Brodeur's return is such a big deal. The Devils are currently sitting at the top of the Atlantic Division with a 38-13-3 record. And it's not just the Devils running off past success. Mirtle points out that the Devils have been the best team in hockey so far in 2009! If anything, this season has proven that life can, indeed, go on another day. The Devils can be a winning hockey team without Brodeur in the net. Moreover, look at the current tandem of goaltenders:
|2008 - Scott Clemmensen||39||2296||25||12||1||5||90||2.35||1100||1010||.918||2|
|2008 - Kevin Weekes||13||697||7||4||0||0||27||2.32||354||327||.924||0|
One was the backup, and now he backs up a former Brodeur-backup. Both have done better than expected over the course of the season. You can say they are one of those popular "tandems" that some goalies like Tim Thomas believe is necessary in today's NHL.
Moreover, Clemmensen has been such a revelation that according to this post at Andrew's Dallas Stars Page by Mark Stepneski, The Hockey News rates Clemmensen has the twelfth best goaltender in the league (h/t Japer's Rink). Why not? His goals against average and save percentage are in the top ten, statistically. He's got 25 wins. And Weekes has been solid in relief, winning his last 5 starts. Things are going pretty well, I'd say. So why be all up in arms about the return of Brodeur?
On the same post at Andrew's Dallas Stars Page, THN made a list of which players' skills and abilities they'd craft together for a "perfect" goaltender. They hit all of the important ones, and Brodeur's glove and stick are mentioned. Yet, I think the list is missing the most important one for goaltenders: trust. If you can't trust your goaltender to make the big save to keep the team in the game or to do well enough to keep the other team well out of it or to just play solid on a consistent basis, what good are any of those skills?
Trust is a funny thing. It's hard to gain, yet easily lost. It's not always flashy. It's not always glamourous. Yet, it is so wonderful to have it. Especially if you are a professional athlete, a business that sometimes just states, "Yeah, but what have you done for me lately?" Just look at the name of this blog: Lou Lamoriello has made so many excellent and shrewd moves in achiving the ultimate goal multiple times, is there a reason to doubt Lou when he makes a move or has a thought? He has that trust. So does Martin Brodeur.
Some decry that wins aren't an accurate measurement of a goaltender's success. After all, teams win games. Yet, like a pitcher in baseball or a quarterback in football, the individual needs to excel along with the team. Sometimes the team will help them out if they aren't doing so well; and other times, the individual's performance can carry his team to success. Martin Brodeur has made a career out of it, pulling off 40 win seasons when the Devils' roster is loaded, when the roster can play strong defense but can't score so many goals, when the roster doesn't seem so strong on paper, when the defense is led by Stevens or Neidermayer, and when defensemen named Klee, Smehlik, Tverdovsky, Rachunek, or Greene are in front of him.
The sheer consistency of his performances is a big reason why the Devils organization has been so successful since his rookie season. I will repeat this over and over: hockey is a results-oriented business. It's all about getting those winning results. And few have gotten results like Martin Brodeur. That's a huge reason why, I think, Brodeur has the trust of the organization and of the fans. It's a huge reason why he's the legend that he is today.
Anecdotally, the question I've heard from other fans at Devils games is not "What if Martin Brodeur can't play like he has been throughout his career?" The question has been "When will Martin Brodeur get back to his normal self?" That's how much trust the Devils fans have in Brodeur! Even with the injury, people are confident he can come back from it! Some express concern about whether Clemmensen should be shoved aside; but no one questions the possibility when considering the usual Martin Brodeur.
Yes, Clemmensen and Weekes have played great in Brodeur's place. However, Brodeur has built up this trust with every remarkable save, every game he keeps the Devils in it enough to pull off a win, every Cup, every award, and so on. Even with a bad game, it's a given that Brodeur will bounce back from it. Clemmensen and Weekes, on the other hand, have had moments or games where you wonder if they officially became "cold." You notice flaws in their game: Weekes' tendency to drop into a butterfly and committ too early; Clemmensen's shaky positioning and a lack of rebound control. They've done well to not slump; but they don't have the same level of trust that Brodeur commands. That's OK. Neither do a majority of goaltenders in the league.
Trust. It's why I think Brodeur is so special, such a legend, and why his return is a big deal. We can't wait to see Brodeur do it all for the Devils, especially before the playoffs.