I truly believe that if it were not for Lou Lamoriello, Martin Brodeur and Jacques Lemaire, there would be no New Jersey Devils in 2014. The organization's trajectory in the late 80's was sideways at best. Hockey in New Jersey mostly existed in parochial schools and rink clubs - at least in North Jersey there were few towns or public schools with Youth Hockey programs. The New Jersey Devils were a loser hockey team. The Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Cubs of the NHL. The perfect companion to the loser New Jersey Nets of that era. But the NHL is not the NFL or MLB, and loser hockey clubs fold.
All that changed in the early nineties culminating in the Eastern Conference Finals of 1994. A huge number of New Jersey residents, myself included, were finally introduced to the only successful professional sports franchise to call New Jersey home. Lamoriello found strong two-way players over big money stars, to play Lemaire's system that focused on forcing opposing teams to dump the puck toward Brodeur, the greatest puckhandling goaltender of all time. They were underdogs. Misfits. They played the trap. Their goaltender played the puck. They were physical. They had no star players. The talking heads seemed to disdain their very existence.
How do you fire the most important employee that your organization ever had? Some people compare Martin Brodeur to Brett Favre for his lingering and his statements about playing elsewhere. There are relevant comparables on several levels - both had gunslinger playing styles, both played a long time, both played past their prime, and both were replaced by technically sounder if less exciting alternatives. But that comparison is not completely apt. The Packers were winning championships forty years before Brett Favre arrived. Marty is more like the Babe Ruth of the New Jersey Devils. Like the Babe, Marty brought winning and championships to a team that was living in the shadows of a cross-town rival.
So I cannot think of a better passing of batons then in a Stadium Series game where Marty is given the start over his better performing successor as an honorarium in a game of National attention - the closest thing to a playoff game in terms of fanfare. Had Marty been a player we traded for five or six years ago, Schneider would have been the starter, but Marty is not an ordinary goaltender nor an ordinary NJ Devil. He is exceptional. He is a bigger part of this team's success than Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer, who played alongside him and whose numbers already hang from the ceiling. It would be his 1,233rd start. He would be playing for his 683rd win and hoping for his 125th shutout.
But this is life, not Hollywood, and Martin Brodeur is now 41 years old. He would give up an easy goal in the first period. Then he would live through the collapse in the second period as tough breakaway shots and deflections that he may have stopped five years ago found the back of the net. He would go into the locker room and tell his coach, ‘How about you give Schneids the experience of a period in this environment,’ and he would watch his successor play the final period in a game that is likely to be the first and last NHL outdoor hockey game of his career.
So as Cory Schneider played the final period of that Stadium series game, he also took the proverbial baton from Martin Brodeur, the greatest NJ Devils goaltender and arguably the greatest NHL goaltender of all time. I think it would be harder for Hollywood to come up with a more perfect parable. As Schneider took over the goaltending job in that Stadium game, so too must Schneider take the starting NHL goaltending job from Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur is in the sunset of an incredible career and is still physically able to play the game. I will be patient with Marty because, "old age should burn and rave at close of day." But I expect that he will come to understand that his importance to this team will be as a mentor and as a coach, and as an icon.