- Scott Burnside, NHL
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It's been said that Ed Belfour used his anger as a toxic fuel to push himself until he was among the finest goaltenders of all time.
Such is the case for many of the game's greatest goaltenders -- Belfour, Terry Sawchuk, Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek -- all exceptional goaltenders, all existing at least partially in the shadows emotionally or otherwise. Yet, among the greatest of the great, there is one glaring, happy-go-lucky paradox, one jovial exception to that rule of the dark -- the goaltender named Martin Brodeur.
The effervescent Brodeur not only exists on the side of light, but will also at some point become the greatest of all time while defying the age-old belief that a goaltender has to be partway crazy.
As longtime teammate Ken Daneyko put it, "He's one of the normal goalies. He is what you see."
High praise for a netminder.
"All of his motivations seem to be streaming from a positive pool of consciousness," added longtime NHL netminder Glenn "Chico" Resch. "The guy's life is almost too balanced. He doesn't have anything where you think, 'Oh, crazy goalie.'"
This season, at age 34 (he'll turn 35 in May), Brodeur has put to rest any notion he is entering the twilight of his career with a season that will almost certainly see him win his third Vezina Trophy in four seasons and earn a spot on the final ballot for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
As of Thursday morning, Brodeur's GAA of 2.24 ranked third in the league, he was fourth in save percentage with a .921 mark and ranked second in wins (44; Vancouver's Roberto Luongo passed an idle Brodeur on Thursday to reach No. 45) and first in shutouts (12) and minutes played (4,452:33, more than 200 minutes ahead of Luongo, the second-busiest netminder in the game).
Brodeur is within striking distance of Bernie Parent's all-time record for wins in a season (47, compiled in 1973-74 in the days before overtime and shootouts helped boost netminders' numbers).
Brodeur has set the standard for the position without taking on the traditional burden that comes with it, former NHL netminder and current broadcast analyst Darren Eliot said. "Most guys internalize [the pressure] and it manifests itself in sometimes ugly ways."
Perhaps more impressive is that Brodeur's assault on the all-time record books has been achieved while employing a style that is passé. In a world of butterfly or butterfly-hybrid netminders, Brodeur remains strangely upright, both physically and emotionally.
"Look at his posture," Resch marveled, "his back is completely straight, his shoulders don't slope at all."
"He is the standard and he's the anomaly. He's quite literally the last guy standing," Eliot added.
Resch, who played 14 NHL seasons, likens Brodeur to Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr in that he has the innate ability to put competitors in the worst possible position to succeed.
"His desire to win, to be the absolute best, is incredible. He knows every minute he's ever played," Resch said. "He's not just going to break records. He's going to destroy them. I'm so happy it's a guy of Marty's character [that's going to do it]."
Ask Brodeur about this season and his career, and you can almost see the grin, hear the shrugging of the shoulders over the telephone lines.
Does he feel old?
"The mothers of the guys [on the team] are almost as old as me," Brodeur quipped.
Yet, there remains a refreshingly uncomplicated quality about Brodeur.
"I still feel like a kid playing hockey," he said. "Your body doesn't feel young all the time, but I still feel like a kid."
Were that enough, presumably anyone could roll off 40-win seasons just like Brodeur. But, of course, what he has accomplished is immeasurably more complex. Brodeur has somehow been able to marry a childlike view of the game with an intense desire to win and win often enough to become the best.
"My only goals are winning," he said. "Everything else will come with winning."
Wins, naturally, denote good teams from bad ones. They are also the best benchmark for confirming the tools are all still in the box, for confirming Brodeur's incredible level of play over a long period of time.
"That helps prove to myself that I'm consistent," Brodeur said. "That's one thing I take a little bit of pride in, the 30-win seasons."
Brodeur, who is hardly disingenuous, said he surprised even himself when he set the record for most 30-or-more-win seasons in 2004. He was then at nine seasons; the string now stands at 11 straight seasons.
"When I realized I was the only one in the whole league [who'd done that], I kind of shook my head because it didn't feel that special at the time. But it was," he said. "[Now] I think it's kind of neat."
Hard to imagine Belfour saying it was "neat" to pass Sawchuk in career victories or Roy saying it was "neat" to become the winningest goaltender in history. But "neat" fits Brodeur, just as he fits the Devils.
There is more than a little simpatico at play when considering Brodeur and the Devils and what they've meant to each other. The 20th overall pick in the 1990 draft, Brodeur did not debut with any particular fanfare. In fact, he spent a season in Utica in the AHL before arriving in New Jersey for good.
Brodeur laughingly suggests his one season in the minors was a major incentive to get to the NHL and stay there, reinforcing his disdain for travel. "I was like, 'Get me out of here,'" he said.
After he arrived in the NHL, it appeared for a time it would never matter just how good Brodeur was -- he wasn't going to get the recognition from the hockey intelligentsia. Sure, his numbers were good, but he played for the New Jersey Devils, for crying out loud -- the masters of the trap. The theory went that anyone could play goal for the Devils when you had to face only one or two shots every 20 minutes.
Daneyko laughed at the theory. The game's opened up, the rules have been changed almost exclusively to handcuff Brodeur himself and still he's having the season of a lifetime. "Now, we're seeing him face 35 or 40 shots and we're seeing the same thing from Marty," Daneyko said.
Brodeur did not win his first of back-to-back Vezina Trophies until 2003, the same spring he collected his third Stanley Cup ring. Before that, he led the league in games played twice, wins four times and shutouts once.
Now that the personal accolades and awards flow more freely, it seems they mean less to Brodeur. He passionately talks about being a leader in the dressing room and the satisfaction of seeing young teammates get their taste of playoff success.
Since the departure of Scott Niedermayer to Anaheim and the retirement of Scott Stevens, Brodeur has been helping new captain Patrik Elias. He sometimes acts as a liaison between the players and GM Lou Lamoriello, "to get stuff for the guys."
He prides himself on not showing weaknesses, not having a letdown, not letting a bad goal throw him off.
"People look up to me because I've been around so long," Brodeur said. "I take a lot of pride in that."
While Roy, Belfour, Sawchuk, Curtis Joseph and others on the game's all-time wins list found themselves moving from team to team, rising and falling with franchises' fortunes, Brodeur has remained a constant in New Jersey. One could argue Brodeur's success is tied to his decision to stay in New Jersey, a franchise that is the model of stability. Conversely, the team's stability and consistency are likewise tied to Brodeur's presence.
It is obvious Brodeur could have gone elsewhere as a free agent and made bundles more money. Negotiating his own deals, he chose to take less and remain a Devil because it all fit for him -- the franchise, the proximity to his children, who split time with him and his ex-wife, and the easy travel schedule.
"For me, that's all I know," Brodeur said of his NHL experiences. "I don't know any better. I'll probably never know any better."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
Among the greatest of the great, there is one happy-go-lucky exception to the rule that goalies must be crazy. His name is Martin Brodeur.