Martin Brodeur is a living legend. He is one of the greatest goaltenders of all time and likely the most important player in the history of the New Jersey Devils franchise. My first memories of following hockey as a kid are of the 1994 playoffs, so Brodeur between the pipes for the Devils is all I’ve ever really known. When I was growing up, I had a Marty poster hanging on my wall and his jersey would be the first I’d ever own. He has endless accolades, three Cups, and my eternal admiration as a Devils fan. But all I could think, as I watched him flounder while Sunday’s game devolved into a blowout at Yankee Stadium, was "I just want this to be over."
The thoughts weren’t in reference to the game (though I was plenty fine with that ending, too), they were in reference to what is left of Martin Brodeur’s career.
History is littered with greats who hung on for too long or just couldn’t see the writing on the wall when it was presented to them. For every John Elway or Ray Bourque that goes out on top, there are twice as many guys like Chris Chelios or Willie Mays who leave the game as a husk of the player they once were. After being so close to the former in with his great playoff run in 2012, the latter is now looking like the more likely option for Brodeur.
Sunday really did feel like the end for Marty, in a way. Yes, he will play out the rest of this season, and he will probably get a decent number of starts, based on how Devils management has approached the situation in net. He has even stated his desire to play again next season if his body will allow, even if it's not with New Jersey. But make no mistake, as of the end of the second period on Sunday, the last of the aura is gone. No longer is it just a vocal subset of Devils fans and hockey analysts clamoring that the keys to the castle should be given to Cory Schneider; the hockey world at-large has now caught on.
Some people blamed the defense for the Stadium Series meltdown on Sunday, and to an extent, they're right. But behind that defense was a guy who just can't quite react fast enough anymore. The defense was making mistakes, to be sure, but if those mistakes found their way on net, they were all going in. Not to mention, the brutal second goal allowed probably doesn't even go in the net if it weren't for Marty's five-hole directing it there. Heck, the Brodeur of yesteryear might even let in that awful second goal but he finds a way to keep a couple of those pucks from the second period out of the back of the net to keep his team in it.
It's not just that Martin Brodeur isn't the goalie he once was, though, it's that he is statistically one of the worst goalies in the league right now. There are 60 goaltenders who have over 500 minutes of even-strength ice time in the NHL right now. Martin Brodeur now ranks dead last amongst that group in 5-on-5 save percentage. His all-situations save percentage has now dipped below .900. He's been getting very good goal support in front of a team that yields only 25 shots a night and he is still barely over a .500 record. Yes, Brodeur contributes in other ways like handling the puck, but the goalie's chief job is to stop pucks and, unfortunately, Marty is very poor at doing that these days.
The downturn has really been ongoing for years, now. Since the 2010-11 season, Brodeur's save percentage has been .904, which puts him near the bottom for any goaltender with over 100 GP (note who sits at the very top of that list). He has been well below a league-average save percentage (which is approximately .913) each of the past 4 seasons. In the 16 seasons between 1993-94 and 2009-10, he finished below league average in that category exactly twice (1998-99 and 2001-02), and only by a couple of percentage points those times. Whatever your feeling on stats are (lookin' at you, Coach DeBoer), that is a trend that is hard to ignore. He's just not the same guy.
He still has flashes of brilliance here and there, but those moments are becoming rarer and rarer. He found his game in the 2011-12 playoffs and played well behind the team to help guide them to the Cup Finals. He still gets his shutouts here and there and he'll have nice stretches of hockey in spots. But overall, he is just no longer good enough to start the majority of games for a team that wants to have a shot at the playoffs. He has given up 4 or more goals in a quarter of his starts this year. Acting like the competition between him and Schneider is close means you are ignoring reality. Brodeur is expected to give up almost 3 additional goals per 100 shots against based on their respective performances right now. You are basically conceding an additional 3 goals for every 4 games you start Brodeur.
This is an understandably touchy subject for Devils fans and the term 'hater' seems to get brought up a lot when someone suggests it's time to pass the torch to Cory to be the full-time starter. I'm not a hater, though. I love Martin Brodeur for all of the joy he's brought me as a Devils fan over the years. I was right there with a lot of people saying Marty deserved to get the nod in the outdoor game because of everything he has done for the franchise. Unfortunately, when we were hoping for a celebration, a funeral broke out. It's over. And the sooner we all accept that fact, the easier all of this will be. It's what is best for the franchise, the fans, and Martin Brodeur himself.
So here is my plea to Marty: At season's end, hang up the pads. Be willing to gracefully take a back seat to Cory Schneider for the remainder of this season. Be satisfied with starting half of the back-to-backs and, barring an injury, stay out of the way otherwise. You were a great player, but time catches up to us all. Do what is best for your teammates, Devils fans, and your legacy and see that you are nearing the end. Don't put the Devils in the awkward position of having to let you go, and don't try to hang on with another team and end up looking like this or this. Retire, so we can raise #30 up to the rafters the second you do so. Trust me, we'll all be happier that way.