Martin Brodeur's résumé ranks among the most impressive of any goaltender in NHL history. Now in his 14th full season with the New Jersey Devils, he's won three Stanley Cups, four Jennings Trophies, three Vezina Trophies, one Calder Memorial Trophy and more than 500 games. He's also won a World Cup for Canada and played on multiple Canadian national teams. He's a nine-time All-Star and ranks second all-time in both wins and shutouts for goaltenders.
Yet for all his accomplishments, Brodeur doesn't get much recognition outside hockey circles. Even in his own sport, Brodeur often gets overlooked. Maybe everyone's just bored with his consistency: Brodeur has played 70 or more games in each of the past nine seasons, has never posted a save percentage below .900 and owns just one goals-against average mark above 2.50 in his career.
Coming off the Devils' seventh straight win, I spoke to Brodeur about his goaltending style, his new coach and teammates and the league's progression from the neutral-zone traps of the '90s to the more wide-open style played today.
Jonah Keri: The Devils have really turned it around lately. You got off to a rough start, but now you've won seven in a row. What's your impression of this year's team -- should we expect more of what we saw at the start of the year, more of what we're seeing now or something in between?
Martin Brodeur: We're somewhere in between the two. We're definitely playing well, but you have to be getting bounces to be streaky like that. We're probably not as bad as we showed early on -- that was uncharacteristic of our team. We got some pieces of the puzzle back, which helped a lot. [Jamie] Langenbrunner and Colin White are back from injuries, and they missed something like 15 games each. Our core of players is still the same, but the supporting cast is really different. One of the things about playing in New Jersey is that, every year, we'd have one or two new guys, and that was it. This year, it's different -- at one point, I played with six new defensemen in one game.
You've got a new coach, too, in Brent Sutter. What have your impressions been of Sutter, both in terms of his personality and the coaching tactics he's brought to the team?
A: It was hard to have to judge him early on, because the team wasn't doing so well, and he was not really a happy camper [laughs]. Now we're winning, so of course everything is a lot more positive. We do have a better feel for him now. His coaching style is definitely different than some of the other coaches we've had here -- our forecheck and how we play offensively has changed a lot. We took a step back at the beginning of the year defensively, but that's improved a lot lately.
Of course every coach and every team is going to have a different style compared to what we saw in the league a few years ago. In New Jersey, especially, you're known as the team that brought the neutral-zone trap to the league. Did you like playing that system?
A: When you play hockey, or any kind of sport, you play to win. [Former coach] Jacques Lemaire came in with a defensive style of hockey. You've got to play with the horses you have, and that's what we did. Our fans expect us to win. Sometimes it could've gotten boring; but at the end of the day, we won. People will complain, but I'm sure they'd rather have a boring team still playing in June than an exciting team playing until April. When I got drafted, the league had 21 teams and the talent was more concentrated. Then, as the league got bigger, you got 150, 200 players who were supposed to be in the minors but ended up in the league instead. Most teams now have two good lines and that's it. That's what it is right now in the NHL.
As a player, but also as a fan of hockey, do you like the more wide-open, higher-scoring style the league has now?
A: It's been great with all the rule changes they've made. Now, you're never safe and you're never out of it. It doesn't matter if you're winning or losing 2-0 in the third period, you can still get back in the game very quickly. Before, I knew if I had a two-goal lead, it was all over. Now, the refs call more clutching and grabbing and there are more interference calls, so you get more power plays, more chances to score. You've got to watch the full 60 minutes, because a lot can happen in one game.
I know you looked up to Patrick Roy growing up in Montreal. Did you try to copy his game, or did you take on your own style?
A: I was never a big fan of the butterfly style. I appreciated how Patrick's career took off, how consistent he was, how durable he was. I was a Montreal Canadiens fan, and having Patrick as the goalie was pretty special. I looked up to him because of that.
Do you do things like talk to your goalposts, the way Patrick did?
A: [Laughs] I have a lot of superstitions, but nothing crazy like that.
I read about the hand-eye coordination drills you do with tennis balls to keep your eyesight and concentration sharp. As you get older, how much of a role do factors such as mental sharpness play in staying successful?
A: It's all part of being a goaltender. You have to be agile in the nets, with fast reflexes. But as you get older, that gets a little tougher, like with anything you do. I do a lot of reaction drills to work on my quickness -- you have to work at it all the time.
What would you say are your biggest strengths and weaknesses as a goalie?
A: Playing the puck, I used to be really good; now, I'd say I'm just average. It's weird. For the last couple years, I haven't played the puck as much, especially with the trapezoid behind the net. Considering what I was used to, I need to be better at it. It's such an important part of the game, so I need to work at it more. Rick DiPietro is the best puck-handling goalie right now.
The best part of my game is definitely the blocker and the catching glove. Anything pretty close to my head or my eye, I can get it. As long as I can see it.
Do you do a lot of work with videotape to scout your opponents and their tendencies?
A: I don't really look much at what others do. On video, I go through the previous game with my goalie coach, every game. I'm going to play Boston next, so I'll watch the Atlanta game I just played. I'll look at every save, every time I touched the puck. It's really about me; I can only control what I can do. I have a book on everybody else. I've played the game for a long time, and I'm a big fan of the game, so I already know other players' tendencies pretty well. It's more about knowing where my own game is at.
Who's the player you'd least want to see coming at you on a breakaway or in a shootout?
A: [Jaromir] Jagr. He's so skilled. He can beat you with his reach, his moves, his shot. He's really talented. He's one of the guys I fear most in the league.
Other than yourself, who would you say are the three best goalies in the NHL today?
A: [Roberto] Luongo has to be one. DiPietro, for sure. [Henrik] Lundqvist, he'd be another one.
What would you say was the best single-game performance of your career?
A: Going back to 2000, I'd have to say Game 6 that year, when we won the Stanley Cup in the second overtime. Losing the one before in three overtimes, then coming back two nights later to win the Cup was a pretty good one.
What was your reaction when you recently got your 500th win?
A: When you take a step back and think about how many wins I've got, it's pretty impressive. But it wasn't a goal of mine. Where Patrick is, I'm trying to get to him [Editor's note: Roy has 551 wins, Brodeur has 506]. It took me four games to get the 500th, though. By the end I just wanted to get it over with.
I'm writing a separate story on the 10 most underappreciated athletes in sports, and you're on the list. Why do you think the media has paid more attention to say, Roy among goalies, or, more recently, to younger players like Sidney Crosby?
A: The model that we have in New Jersey follows my reputation. It's just all of us doing our thing and not worrying about much else. I go out there and play. I don't make different comments for different reasons. People that are flamboyant will get the attention a lot more. I don't like to have the added pressure if I don't have to. Staying low-key is what I enjoy most. Plus, the organization preaches a team concept. It's easier to deal with adversity with 20 guys at the same time than it is on a personal level if you put yourself out there for people to think certain things about you.
I have to ask about your workload before we end this. You play 70-plus games every year, you've played almost every game so far this year, and you never get hurt. Is there some kind of special exercise regimen involved, or is it just good luck?
A: It's a little about luck, sure. I try to keep myself in the best shape I can. But I also think it's the style of game I play. It's never too demanding. I don't go down that much. I don't butterfly. Plus, playing on this team for so many years, we won't get outshot 40 to whatever, so it's not as hard as what some other guys go through. When you play for good teams and you're winning, you just roll it over and play.
Being the backup goalie for the Devils has to be the easiest job in the world.
A: [Laughs] It's the easiest, and it's the hardest. It depends how you look at it.