Why wins record might be lesser of Brodeur's accomplishments

As Martin Brodeur prepares to break Patrick Roy's record for career victories -- something that could happen in the New Jersey Devils' game tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks -- the dissection of his NHL career is reaching critical mass.

What is his place in history, based on the era and generation he played in? Some believe he's Emmitt Smith to Dominik Hasek's Barry Sanders; others believe he's in a class by himself.

What is his influence on modern goaltending? Thousands of young players still mimic the style of Roy, while Brodeur's style is not only ignored buy almost indefinable. From Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez of the Boston Bruins, via The Bruins Blog:

So why hasn't anyone emulated the Brodeur style? "I guess it's because in his style, there's no set rules," Thomas explained. "Like Patrick Roy and (former Montreal goaltending coach Francois Allaire), they have set rules for every situation. And Marty Brodeur doesn't have set rules for any situation."

Fernandez decided to go the butterfly route and he knows how tough the game can be when you stick to a formula. So he marvels even more at Brodeur and his non-conformist approach. "With Patrick bringing the butterfly in, it's easier just to fall into that category. It's an easier style of play," said Fernandez. "But he's stuck with his (style). He looks like a guy that plays in the street - the little pads, very athletic, still relies on his reactions. At that age, to still be able to play that style, it's unbelievable. To stick with that, and add the little pads ... and to be a goalie at this level ... he's up there."

But ultimately, the most intense dissection occurs when discussing Brodeur's place in history while playing his entire career within the Devils' "system" -- even if that system has seen 10 coaching changes and personnel moves that are probably pushing triple digits during Brodeur's run as a pro.

That debate was sparked anew this season for two reasons: 93 points and Scott Clemmensen. After his injury back in November, the Devils won without Brodeur for most of the season; Clemmensen amassed 25 victories and posted a 2.39 GAA as Marty's replacement.

But let's add another log to the raging fire: Breaking the wins record. For all of Brodeur's masterful, meaningful achievements as an NHL goalie, does establishing a new benchmark for career victories speak more about the goalie or about the teams that he played for?

It's the "chicken or the egg" argument that's dogged Brodeur since Lou Lamoriello, Jacques Lemaire and Scott Stevens re-imagined Devils hockey as something built from the crease out to center ice.

Devils fans have fought this battle for years against opposing fan bases who want to knock Brodeur down a peg as a "product of the system." The refined counterargument resembles that of a Niners fan discussing Joe Montana and the West Coast offense: A Hall of Fame-caliber player was helped by the system, but at the same time elevated that system to something extraordinary. 

There's no arguing that Brodeur's puck-handling revolutionized the Devils' system, to the point where the NHL decided to draw shapes behind the net to hinder it. There's no arguing that Brodeur's patience and mental toughness made the system work, because facing around 20 shots a night is a surefire way to lose focus for a lesser goalie. There's also no arguing that, as a last line of defense, Brodeur was the best goalie in the world on most nights; you don't luck your way within striking distance of Terry Sawchuck's shutouts record.

When (and if) Brodeur sets the shutout record, that mark will stand as a testament to his abilities as a goaltender.

The wins record isn't exactly that -- it's an accolade for the franchise around the goaltender, along with that goaltender's acknowledged and amazing stability through every season but the current one.

Look at baseball: The modern era leaders for wins are Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens. Both were models of stability (in Clemens's case, we know why) and played for some very successful franchises (at least in the regular season).

But drop down a few notches and you have Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry. All-time greats? Consistent players? Paragons of longevity? Maybe a little of all three, but certainly not Cy Young or Walter Johnson. Just winners.

Same goes for hockey: Brodeur and Roy are gods among men. Is Curtis Joseph? Is Grant Fuhr? Are Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon, John Vanbiesbrouck and Andy Moog? Because they're all in the Top 15

Here's a comparison, going back to 1989, of the wins leaders vs. the Vezina Trophy winners. As you can see, wins don't carry the weight other intangibles did in most cases.


Wins Leader

Vezina Winner/Wins


Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames, 40



Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks, 46

Martin Brodeur, Devils, 44


Martin Brodeur, Devils, 48

Martin Brodeur, Devils, 48


Martin Brodeur, Devils, 43

Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames, 42


Martin Brodeur, Devils, 38

Martin Brodeur, Devils, 38


Martin Brodeur, Devils, 41

Martin Brodeur, Devils, 41


Dominik Hasek, Sabres, 41

Jose Theodore, Canadiens, 30


Martin Brodeur, Devils, 42

Dominik Hasek, Sabres, 37


Martin Brodeur, Devils, 43

Olaf Kolzig, Capitals, 41


Martin Brodeur, Devils, 39

Dominik Hasek, Sabres, 30


Martin Brodeur, Devils, 43

Dominik Hasek, Sabres, 33


Patrick Roy, Avalanche, 38

Dominik Hasek, Sabres, 37


Chris Osgood, Red Wings, 39

Jim Carey, Capitals, 35


Ken Wregget, Penguins, 25

Dominik Hasek, Sabres, 19


Mike Richter, Rangers, 42

Dominik Hasek, Sabres, 30


Tom Barrasso, Penguins, 43

Ed Belfour, Blackhawks, 41


(tie) Tim Cheveldae, Red Wings/ Kirk McLean, Canucks, 38

Patrick Roy, Canadiens, 36


Ed Belfour, Blackhawks, 43

Ed Belfour, Blackhawks, 43


(tie) Jon Casey, North Stars/Patrick Roy, Canadiens/Daren Puppa, Sabres 31

Patrick Roy, Canadiens, 31

For Brodeur, the tide turned at some point. He was no longer just the guy behind the trap, putting up insane numbers while Hasek stole the gold playing for a less stingy team. In the last decade, he's been lauded even as the Devils play a slightly modulated form of suffocation on some nights. (Something that has certainly changed under Brent Sutter, but was still there under coaches like Claude Julien.)

And this is why writers like Bruce Dowbiggin of the Calgary Herald, even as Brodeur prepares to make history, question his place in that history as a New Jersey Devils goalie:

His timing's been great. When Canada won the Olympic gold in 2002, Brodeur was saved the ignominy of a soft goal in the final by his team's offensive surge. Had he played in Terry Sawchuk's day --with ties and 70-game seasons --he'd have needed a lot longer to get to 551 wins. No one's saying Brodeur's anything less than superb, but to succeed in the NHL, you need to be supported in a manner befitting a defensive genius.

So, every moving part that has been assembled by general manager Lou Lamoriello in the past 15 years has been with the expressed idea of making Brodeur look simply marvellous. If Brodeur failed, then you as a Devil failed as well. Players learned this essential fact and collaborated.

It's no sin against Brodeur. Ken Hitchcock is making Steve Mason look wonderful in Columbus. Nashville's goalies all look worse when they leave Barry Trotz. And so it is in New Jersey. Would the Devils have lost any of those Stanley Cups without Marty? Probably. But it says here they'd have still won a Cup with someone else between the pipes in those years.

That's a hell of a leap when you consider how many goalies of a certain stature of never won a Cup (CuJo leaps to mind; Ron Hextall is another recent one; Hasek needed the Detroit Red Wings in front of him for a Cup.)

But that's the mindset for some with Brodeur: a great goalie made greater by the franchise for which he played.

It's not a knock as long as his talent and achievements are recognized and not diminished. But when it comes to all-time wins, it's virtually impossible to say that Brodeur alone is setting the new standard; more accurately, it's Brodeur and the Devils, much like it was Roy and the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche.

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