Congrats to Martin Brodeur for breaking St. Pat (Patty Roy, Habs / Aves) record of most career victories. I love goalies, not only because I love defensive play, but because I love to make fun of them. For the most part, so many in my generation were all too easy: Felix the scaredycat Potvin, Ronny the Hex Hextal, Eddie tweetybird Belfor, goofy Grant Fuhr, Johnny duh beeeeez (is that a mouse?!?!) Vanbiesbrouck, Domi falls like a domino Haseck, Mike knock-knees Richter, and so on. Every guy had this awkward ailment that was fun to make fun of. But with Marty, that’s a different story, he’s survived most of their careers and a younger generation of kids that don’t know how to play more than two or three solid seasons.
But, the argument in breaking Mr. Roy’s record is a defining moment in him being the greatest of all time is hardly fair. Era’s define hockey and even the years that separate Martin and Patrick are enough different that hockey has changed significantly.
In this case, are the wins purely Brodeur or are they, in significant part, a product of the system the Devils played for many years? Although it’s been re-imagined away from the retro-built trap that it was once known for, they continue to play even today a D-first ideal. For the few years of lackluster defense in front of him that Martin faced, he’s hardly been challenged as a goalie the way many of his cohorts have and Lou Lamoriello builds vehemently around the concept of protecting the puck, controlling the flow and pressuring the offense before it become an offensive game.
Compare his numbers to the only other goalie to come close in minutes and games per season over a decade time frame: Olaf Kolzig. For those same years, including the league transition years post-lockout, Kolzig saw many more shots on goal total decade, and in the transition years struggled mightly to cope with it under the intense pressure and the rebuilding Caps lack of D. Kolzig was among the last of the iron man goalies posting season 70-game plus seasons before being benched for Huet last season and he survived two eras of Caps building in his career. Martin faced zero.
Consider that Martin also has flown under the radar for most of his career. Everyone knows him and he’s definitely gotten the national spotlight because of the Devil’s Stanley Cup wins, but playing mostly in the swamps of East Rutherford, NJ and getting critiqued by the Star Ledger is completely different that being a Ranger’s player getting berated by seven NYC papers, the least of which is the toilet paper of a sports section in the Wall Street Journal, or, perhaps being in Hockeytown, USA as a Detroit player, or the cradle of the hockey world as a Hab? Marty never was under a microscope and therefore his accomplishments aren’t marred by overblow “failures,” aren’t compressed by “mediocre” nights and aren’t questioned when he does something spectacular because great isn’t good enough.
Stylistically, Marty is given a lot of credit for being an extremely aggressive goalie. He took aggression out of the crease to a whole new level, but he hardly invented anything new. Yes, Roy did play within a system, and Allaire helped build and define that style. Roy, yes, was known to ‘stop drop and roll’ at the right times, which popularized the butterfly at one point and thus influencing an entire generation… But what goes overlooked was how often he stepped up above the crease and cut down the angle, or, when the right time was faced would just skate up to the shooter and come just shy of punching them. He played with the glove, he played with the stick and he played with his mind even if he didn’t always have the ability to control it all with all he was trying to do. Marty played behind a system and for the 20 shots he faced he was stoic and patient and when he needed to be brutal and arrogant he drew upon Roy’s shadow and cast anew with more finesse and discipline and did it better, more compact and with greater grace.
Wins don’t cover intangibles in the grander scheme though, nor does the idea of pure wins due to the attachment to longevity mean as much, look at the last 20 years of Vezina Trophy winners and consider what the baseball equivalent (Cy Young) means to a player… being a top wins leader doesn’t ensure you are a great player, as many of the top wins leaders didn’t earn high numbers of Cy Youngs or hold other related honors. Just accumulating wins isn’t enough… Even with the Vezina honors for Brodeur where he finally overcame that hurdle finally in the late 90s, a performance by a backup goalie like what the Devs saw this year could devalue the MVP status of Marty and reprove with NJ it’s about the system not the goalie. Consider how lousy the Habs looked after loosing Pat, and subsequently the difficulty the Aves have had since his departure as well. That’s an intangible, as un-rewardable as it might seem.
So, does breaking Terry Sawchuck’s record mean something more? Yes, in some ways, it might. Though Terry played in a completely and totally different age of hockey, different ice surface, different nets, different crease, different pads, different everything. Incomparable? Maybe not as vague as Cy Young to John Smoltz or Greg Maddux but still, not exactly equals. But, you don’t break both of these records potentially in the same season without having something special and that would certainly cement a place in the annals of argument.
Is Marty the best of all time? Five hundred fifty two wins means less than the a handful of Stanley Cups, four Venizas, the Sawchuck record among a few other career numbers and his ability to set a new definition of being a goalie that will only come in looking back, because present-tense never makes influence feel as important as the ability to change a new generation of players play.
The wins record is indeed huge, but it’s only one small part of the overall argument of the greatest of all time and in hockey, those kind of era arguments still plague the great of the greats, just like baseball…when you have 100 years of tradition to peruse there is no simple answer on even a series of statistics to judge upon… Any fan that would blindly call it on one single stat, like raw wins, isn’t a fan, and their a desperate case of defending even a casually compiled list of numbers is not helping their case for the brilliance of Marty as much as it further undermines the success of Marty and the Devils for the last decade plus in building a franchise in the shadow of the Rangers, Flyers, Islanders and for a time even those obscure sounding Whalers, long live the Whale hahahahha.