Is Martin Brodeur a truly great goaltender, or is he merely a good goalie playing for a great defensive team in the New Jersey Devils? If you look at Brodeur's numbers, it's a clear-cut case for greatness. He has the most all-time NHL wins (576 and counting). He is on the verge of the most all-time shutouts (tied with the legendary Terry Sawchuk at 103). He is tied with his long-time rival Patrick Roy for most all-time play-off shutouts (23, including an astounding seven in the 2003 play-offs, the last time the Devils won the Stanley Cup).
He is also tied with Roy for the most 30-plus win seasons (12, and Brodeur, at 19-8-1 this season, is well on his way to establishing a new mark). Brodeur is out on his own with the most 40-win seasons (seven; including an NHL-record 48 in 2006-07). He has won three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000 and 2003). He has an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2006, and he will get another crack in Vancouver in February as the almost certain No 1 goalie for the host country).
He was the Calder Trophy winner as the NHL's best rookie in 1993-94 (when he went 27-11-8 with three shutouts, including the first of his career, a 4-0 blanking of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on October 20, 1993). He has won four Vezina Trophies as the NHL's top goalie (in 2003, ' 04, ' 07 and '08) and also placed second in the voting three times). He has been a three-time first-team all-star and a four-time second-teamer, and has made 10 appearances in the NHL All-Star Game between 1996 and 2008.
But the statistics, impressive though they are, do not tell the full story. Before Brodeur joined the Devils they were a sad-sack excuse for an NHL franchise that had missed the play-offs six times in 11 seasons. Since Brodeur joined the team in 1993, the once-hapless Devils have qualified for the post-season 14 times in 15 years. New Jersey won the Stanley Cup in 1994-95, Brodeur's second season, so it is likely the Devils were on the cusp of turning things around, with or without the now-37-year-old netminder. But three Stanley Cups and a perennial presence near the top of the Eastern Conference standings?
Simply put, without Brodeur, those accomplishments would not have happened. The Devils, of course, played the neutral-zone trap to perfection in the NHL's pre-lockout days under their coach/defensive zealot Jacques Lemaire, and the clogging style caught on throughout the league after they won their first Cup. Brodeur's detractors are quick to point out that he played behind the most defensively capable team in perhaps the NHL's most defensive era, with the implication that Brodeur was more a beneficiary than a cause of the Devils' success. But New Jersey played that style because they had Brodeur - and Brodeur thrived because the Devils played that style. Call it a mutually beneficial relationship, one which was able to win in the NHL's Dead Puck Era of the neutral-zone trap as well as in the post-lockout free-flowing game of today.
And where Brodeur once had the likes of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko as his linchpin defencemen - as well as shut-down forwards like John Madden, Jay Pandolfo and Bobby Holik - he is doing it these days with a no-name defence corps in front of him and a crop of forwards who have opened things up offensively, secure in the knowledge they have one of the game's best goalies ready to bail them out.
One of the greatest of all-time, in fact. firstname.lastname@example.org