What does Brodeur's injury mean for Devils, goalie's chase at history?
The Devils announced Tuesday that goalie Martin Brodeur will undergo surgery Thursday to repair the distal biceps in his left elbow and is expected to be out three to four months. ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun weigh in with answers to these Burning Questions:
Scott Burnside: A lot of prayer? Seriously, Kevin Weekes has some tools, it's just that his toolbox doesn't get taken out that often. He was excellent against the Sabres in a 2-0 loss Monday night, but he's appeared in just 11 games since the start of last season. In terms of minutes, he's played just 433 -- or the equivalent of just more than seven complete regulation games -- over that period of time.
He is a former second-round pick who simply hasn't been able to establish himself as a starter despite opportunities in Florida, Vancouver, Tampa and Carolina. Weekes has not played more than 32 games in a season since before the lockout, when he played 66 for Carolina.
As for Clemmensen, well, the 31-year-old simply hasn't shown himself to be an NHL-caliber goaltender. As Brodeur pointed out in a conference call Tuesday, this is a great opportunity for Weekes to prove he is a top goaltender: "Hopefully, he can hold the fort until I'm ready to come back," Brodeur said. Amen to that, Devils fans say.
Pierre LeBrun: Devils GM Lou Lamoriello pointed to the 2002 playoffs when I asked him about Weekes on Tuesday. Lamoriello said he still vividly remembers Weekes coming off the bench and relieving Arturs Irbe and leading the Hurricanes to a stunning series upset of the Devils. The question is, does Weekes have another magic trick up his sleeve six years later? He's 33, but really a young 33 when you consider the lack of mileage on him recently. My concern would be his save percentage hasn't been over .900 in the three seasons after the lockout. But he's a popular player with his teammates, and I suspect the Devils will rally around him.
2. With that tandem in net, will the Devils change their style of play?
Burnside: The Devils, for better or worse, have played pretty much the same style since time began. There was a period in the late 1990s when they were actually among the top scoring teams in the NHL, but in New Jersey under Lamoriello, it's always been about defense first. Always has been, always will be.
Coach Brent Sutter is cut from the same cloth, so it's not as though the Devils will suddenly look around and go, "Well, we'd better tighten up boys." The big issue for the Devils will be in finding some offense to give Weekes, et al, at least a fighting chance of putting together some wins. Last season, the team was 27th in goals per game, but still finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, thanks in large part to Brodeur's yeoman work in goal. This season, the Devils are 21st in goals per game and 28th overall on the power play.
The Devils might have been able to make the playoffs with Brodeur playing in front of such an anemic offense, but it will be a significant challenge without him. In that sense, the Devils better find a way to put some more goals in opposing nets, or it won't matter if it's Weekes, Brodeur or the ghosts of Sawchuk, Plante and Georges Vezina himself between the pipes. They will be in trouble.
LeBrun: If you thought the Devils played a boring, defensive game before, get ready to press the snooze button. To me, it only makes sense for Sutter to simplify things and batten the hatches around the fort. I see the Devils being more patient than ever in terms of waiting for their chances and doing their best to lower opposing scoring chances, especially rebound chances. Get ready to skate through a maze of bodies in the neutral zone if you're playing the Devils.
3. Will Brodeur's absence force GM Lou Lamoriello to make a deal?
Burnside: There are two ways to look at this (and keep in mind the Devils are currently about $1 million under the salary cap). Lamoriello can try and bolster his offense, which might mean going after free-agent forward Brendan Shanahan, who would like to stay close to his New York-area home. Or Lamoriello could throw his hat in the Mats Sundin sweepstakes, too. More offense takes pressure off Weekes, so you can bet Lamoriello will at least be checking out those options.
The second issue will be whether Weekes can shoulder the load. If he wobbles, it will put pressure on Lamoriello to try and acquire capable NHL goaltending to keep his team in the playoff hunt until at least the end of February, when Brodeur might be ready to return.
Edmonton has three netminders, although which one the Oilers might want to part with (Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson are the top two) is up in the air given Roloson's recent solid play. Ditto for Chicago, where Nikolai Khabibulin has seen his stock rise with solid play early on. But are the Hawks ready to hand over the reins to Cristobal Huet, who hasn't been all that steady, even if it means getting Khabibulin and his pro-rated $6.75 million price tag off the books? No doubt Chicago GM Dale Tallon would be happier to part with Khabibulin if he can send him out of the Western Conference. That might work in Lamoriello's favor if he heads down that path.
We're pretty sure Ottawa would part with Martin Gerber, but we're also pretty sure Lamoriello has a television and has seen Gerber play, so forget that. Of course, there is a third option, which is to maintain the status quo and hope the team gets healthy and gets scoring (see prayer option from above).
LeBrun: I touched on this in my blog Tuesday, but I asked Lamoriello about a possible trade, and the Devils GM proceeded to laud Weekes as a solid goalie who can do the job. It sounds like Weekes will get a chance to carry the load before Lamoriello looks elsewhere.
Scott touches on the Chicago/Edmonton possibilities. I still think the Oilers and Hawks would like to move a goalie at some point. Edmonton is carrying three goalies right now, and that's not a healthy situation. The Hawks need to create cap room in order to acquire some veteran offensive help. I think if Lamoriello does eventually decide to go down this route, he'll find an open partner in both Edmonton and Chicago. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Brodeur is coming back this season. So, if Lamoriello does make a trade, he'll have to send some money down to the AHL when Brodeur returns in order to stay under the salary cap. Or make another trade, or waive a goalie. So, by far, the simplest solution is Weekes plays well enough that Lamoriello doesn't have to worry about making a deal.
4. Brodeur was chasing Patrick Roy's all-time wins record. Does this injury derail that quest until next season?
Burnside: Brodeur sounded hopeful that there might be enough time left this season to finish off his quest for the wins record. He needs seven wins to tie Patrick Roy's record of 551. But Brodeur also admitted the record "is way outside my thinking process" in the face of the surgery and the rehab that will likely begin about eight weeks later. Brodeur also noted this injury proves a point that you have to be healthy to take a run at a record like this.
My gut feeling? The Devils have 20 games from March 1 to the end of the regular season. It might be a bit much to expect, but what about tying or setting Roy's record March 14 in Montreal? Regardless, we say it gets done before the end of the 2008-09 campaign.
LeBrun: I know Brodeur downplayed the record when we asked him about it Tuesday on the conference call, but the reality is I think it kills him not to have been able to put it behind him and move forward. Now, he'll be chasing the record again with his team either chasing a playoff spot or trying to improve on one in the stretch drive. Not ideal for that kind of fanfare. Still, I think he'll get it done before the end of the season.
5. Where do you see the Devils in three to four months, when Brodeur is expected to return?
Burnside: The Devils have been laid low this fall by a host of injuries to key players, including Brian Rolston, Paul Martin, Bobby Holik and Andy Greene. Of course, losing Brodeur is like the Dallas Cowboys losing Tony Romo (hey, that already happened, didn't it?), or the New England Patriots losing Tom Brady (ditto). It's the ultimate gut check. Still, this is a Devils team that many observers believed was ready to fall out of the playoff picture in recent years, and New Jersey still defied the odds by qualifying for the playoffs 11 straight times. We figure there's enough intestinal fortitude in that dressing room to make it 12.
LeBrun: This is a tough question to answer when you don't know what Lamoriello will do between now and then in terms of possible trades. If the roster stays as is, I would pick the Devils to fall short of a playoff spot. Brodeur covered up the team's offensive weaknesses. Without him, the Devils fall into a mix of teams on the bubble, vying for the last few playoff spots. But I suspect Mr. Lamoriello won't let this ship sink without making a move or two.
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.