Arthur: Martin Brodeur's Love For The Game Has Never Changed

NEWARK, N.J. — “Right now the future of the franchise is today.” — Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey Devils GM.

Martin Brodeur thought that it was over, and there remains a chance he could be right. He came into this season knowing that he would turn 40 in May, and that his six-year contract would unspool at the end of June, and that he was in his autumn, for a team that had missed the playoffs the previous year. Nobody plays forever. The end always comes.

And eight months later here he is, preparing for his fifth Stanley Cup final, charting the conditions of his future. If it is up to him, he will play again. It is not, of course, entirely up to him.

“The whole situation with the (collective bargaining agreement) could make a big impact on what I’m going to do,” said Brodeur, one day before the Devils opened the Stanley Cup final against the Los Angeles Kings. “That probably is going to be the deal breaker for me.” Asked to clarify, he says, “Yeah, depending on whether it’s going to be a long one or not. If it’s going to be like last time (when the 2004-05 lockout lasted an entire season), there’s a really good chance you ain’t seeing me back here. Not as a player, anyway.”

If this is the last chance to see him, Brodeur is doing his best to carve himself into our memories one last time. He has not been the best goalie in these playoffs; he is not the best goaltender coming in to this series. But he is here, again. His post-season save percentage is .923, after a muddling .908 in the regular season. He allowed 12 goals in six games against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers; 11 goals in five games against Philadelphia; 14 goals in seven games, plus overtimes, against Florida in the first round.

He has, in other words, been good enough, and his teammates have been good enough. Brodeur has stretched his old muscles, moved his old bones, dropped his stick a couple times so he could dive unencumbered, like a Secret Service agent trying to take a bullet. He has made saves that left younger men shaking their heads while reminding everyone that he was once a younger man himself. There are reminders of time everywhere — Brodeur’s father Denis, who underwent brain surgery three-and-a-half months ago, is expected to be at Game 1 — but Brodeur, in some ways, still defies it.

“He has never changed as a person,” said Lamoriello, who drafted Brodeur 22 years ago. “He is the same person that came in here when he was 17 years old as he is today. Same love of the game, same work ethic, same personality, same respect of his teammates. And as far as a player goes . . . he’s one of the most intelligent players in the league; he studies, he watches, he has his own style in how he plays, but he did not change his style because goaltenders were changing . . . He really hasn’t changed at all, other than changing certain elements, just because the game has changed.”

“My impressions before (arriving to coach New Jersey this season) were like everyone else’s: arguably the best goalie of all time,” said Devils coach Pete DeBoer. “When you’re around him every day you realize that what separates him is not sheer talent — it’s talent combined with a knowledge of the game and a mental toughness and composure at stressful times that I haven’t seen before.

“He lives the game. I know you think everybody does, but they don’t.”

Brodeur, when asked if he has changed, grinned dryly and said, “Well, I’ve got five kids now.” After he gets the laugh he knows is coming — he is among the easiest and sharpest talkers the game has ever seen — he says, “You know what, the love of the game is still there, the passion of playing, and trying to do what’s best for the organization is there, and that will never change, player or non-player.”

Goalies are supposed to be hockey’s individual heroes, the guys who take the bullets, but Brodeur knows the secret: It’s not just him. It was never just him.

“I think I took a step back this season compared to maybe other seasons, and just putting my head down and doing what I do,” said Brodeur. “I really wanted to experience it, because I didn’t know if this (was) going to be my last season or not, so I really wanted to enjoy it as much as I could.

“And all year long I really embraced being an older guy on the team, a presence information-wise, as far telling them what they need to know at certain times of the season, at certain times of the playoffs. And it’s great to see them go. They work so hard, every night, they go out and they care, and you see it in their face, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

And that, as much as anything, is why he wants to come back. The other day Brodeur was talking to reporters and he said, “At the end of the day you’re going to be as good as your team will play in front of you. You can spend a week being a wall. But spending a month, two months, relying on you and you only? And your skill to get 40, 50 shots a game? It ain’t happening. Something’s gotta give, eventually. So a goalie, you’re a product of the people playing in front of you. I’ve never been shy to say that if my team doesn’t play well, I might be able to give them a good period and weather the storm. Maybe a game or two games. But to do it seven games in a row? It’s tough.

“That’s why when you get in a playoff series, you have to break that goalie as quickly as possible — put some doubt in his mind. Because goalies are able to carry you, but usually they carry you only so far.”

He has carried the Devils at times, over these 18 years, as much as any goalie can, and now his team may carry him a little further. When Brodeur was drafted by the Devils he didn’t know where New Jersey was, and Lamoriello told him it was near New York, and Brodeur’s agent was happy because his client would be paid in American dollars, which back then, in Canada, were like gold.

Times have changed. But he’s still here.

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