I am very blessed. Even only as a sports fan, I have been able to witness so much greatness between specific players and momentous occasions. I am not just a supporter of the New Jersey Devils; but here is a brief run-down of those other teams:
- To put it kindly, the Rutgers football program is currently in a state of disarray. Still, I marveled at Brian Leonard leaping over suckers, Ray Rice eating up yards like almost no one else at the position, the McCourty Twins being the best representation of of “DB U,” the sheer power of Khaseem Greene’s 2012 season, going to Fayetteville to see Rutgers beat Arksanas - and seeing them do it again next year in Piscataway, and the whole Pandemonium in Piscataway. One day, some how, some way, they may get back to the verge of prominence. I’ll take mediocrity first, though.
- Well before they moved away, I got to catch Jason Kidd run the New Jersey Nets. On some nights, it would be for all 48 minutes. And you’d want that since he knew exactly what needed to be done and succeed at it. Kenyon Martin was a great example of a player you’d love to have on your team but hate to play against; and Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles were underrated. I have no basketball team now. But 2003 was a magical year.
- The New York Red Bulls are in a golden era. I caught on after their name change and after Claudio Reyna joined the team. But what made me stay on was Juan Pablo Angel (his debut was my first game), who became a legend of the team. I got to see Jozy Altidore grow into a force (plus Matt Miazga and Tim Ream later on); and Dave van den Bergh do the best he can on some crummy teams. When the team moved to Harrison, they moved on up. Joel Lindpere was a bright flash in the pan early on. The big move came with Thierry Henry, who played so angry, so well, so wonderful in playing the physical MLS style while blasting opponents with killer shots and even an Olimpico. Dax McCarty and Jamison Olave were forces that helped keep the wins going. But the Red Bulls’ current roster is their best collection of talent in franchise history. On the current team, Luis Robles is arguably second best goalie I’ve seen in any sport; Kemar “Taxi” Lawrence is the team’s best left back in history; Aaron Long and Tim Parker are the team’s best center-back pairing yet; Danny Royer is van den Bergh 2.0 with increased skill; Tyler Adams could very well be an international star one day; and Bradley Wright-Phillips went from Henry’s helper to a dominant scorer in his own right. The team has won three Supporter’s Shields in the last six seasons (regular season champions, which more of a thing in soccer) and set league records for regular season success in 2018. They are easily the most successful of the teams I support in recent memory.
Of course, my first love is and will forever will be the New Jersey Devils. If your formative years were in the 1990s like me, then you know the names and moments. Scott Stevens crushed opponents in play and literally. Scott Niedermayer dominated both ends of the rink. Jacques Lemaire coached the team up to a style they aced while others could only copy. Claude Lemieux was a premier pest and playoff powerhouse. Patrik Elias drove the play and did it all on offense for well over a decade. John Madden and Jay Pandolfo were defensive studs at forward. Brian Rafalski was the shrewedest FA signing out of Europe and enhanced an already great defense. Bobby Holik’s emergence from Crash Line to two-way dynamo before his big payday was astounding in retrospect. Ditto for Scott Gomez, who was a great center for the organization. Before he moved on and got hurt, Zach Parise was to the late 2000s teams like Taylor Hall is to the current generation. Pre-quitting Ilya Kovalchuk was special too. I’ve written far too many words - some I still agree with, some I wish I took back and others I was proven really wrong in retrospect - about some or all of these players. And I’m sure there is more that I am missing.
But I am 100% confident that the greatest player I have ever seen in any sport is Martin Brodeur. He is the Greatest Devil.
My first season paying attention to sports and hockey and the Devils was the 1993-94 season. That would be Martin Brodeur’s rookie season. I grew up. As a kid, I loved seeing that win in 1995. Before graduating high school and going to Rutgers, I saw the 2000 Cup and felt bad that they were so close, yet so far in 2001. As I worked to get my Industrial & Systems Engineering Degree, 2003 happened. As I worked to get my Master’s Degree, I saw Elias’ comeback from Hepatitis A as the team swept the month of April and Our Hated Rivals in 2006. Later in 2006, I started In Lou We Trust on Blogspot. I went to the working world while maintaining the blog and documenting as much as I could of the Devils news, games, and transactions. ILWT moved to SBNation in 2008 (November 15 was the first official post here). The Devils kept on making the postseason and being a tough out for many teams. One of the lowest parts of this era was 2010-11, which had the Devils miss the playoffs for the first time since 1996. This was followed by its apex, where the Devils went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. All of this time, Martin Brodeur was the main goaltender of the New Jersey Devils. I can honestly say, I grew up with his career. It did not end so well in 2014 - Mike’s brilliant write-up after the Yankee Stadium debacle is still one of the best ever posts on this site. At least the end of that season was on a brighter note. All the same, I grew up with his career. By the time it was over, I’ve run a blog for years, I’ve become a financially independent adult like everyone else, and I’ve had a lot of changes in life. I do not think I’m the only fan who has similar feelings about how his career went on as their own life went on.
And talk about a career! My friends, to call it “truly remarkable” would an understatement! The list of his accomplishments is so long, they could be a post in of itself. And it was! Gerard wrote them all up back in 2016. He listed 28 records (you know them, 48 wins in 2006-07; 688 wins with the Devils; 124 shutouts with the Devils; 1, 259 games with the Devils; 8 seasons of 40+ wins; etc.) and 37 accomplishments such as awards, All-Star games, medals, and Stanley Cups. The latter being the most impressive as championships are rarely forgotten. Some organizations have never been to the top of the mountain. The Devils have been there three times and were close two other times. And we all know Brodeur was in net for all of them with so many great moments. Moments such as these that Alex wrote about back in 2016 as well. (Aside: I just realized there could be a whole post like that for Devils-Canadiens games given how Brodeur dominated Montreal as per Hockey-Reference. If I recall correctly, Mike Boone of the Montreal Gazette called him Martin F. Brodeur for years. I’m sure the F stood for fantastic.)
Did this mean that Brodeur was the greatest goaltender of all time? Well, I argued in 2016 that no, he wasn’t; but he’s in the conversation among the greatest. Brodeur is easily the greatest in Devils franchise history. He is absolutely and without a doubt a top-ten goaltender in NHL history. He did it all for the Devils with astounding results.
And it wasn’t just the results. Just as the Devils succeeded in their own way led by a man who did business in his own way, Brodeur played goaltender differently than others. CJ wrote in detail about how Brodeur played in net in 2016. Brodeur came up when goalies, especially those coming out of Quebec, favored the butterfly style that Patrick Roy popularized in the mid to late 1980s. Brodeur was not one of them. His style was called “hybrid.” CJ highlighted how much he T-pushed with his skates, how well he stacked his pads and played on his stomach, and his stickhandling - which no one did at the time. Rick DiPietro was hyped as a first overall pick in 2000 partially because he was the first goalie prospect to stickhandle anywhere close to Brodeur. That’s how much Brodeur stood out in this area and was doing it better and longer than DiPietro’s career. Of course, Brodeur was so notable at it that the NHL put in a stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, and stupid trapezoid to limit that skill. It was one of the many things that only added to Brodeur’s massive value, something Mike wrote up back in 2016.
And if you want the cherry on top of that value, note that all of those posts in 2016 were in February. That was in the run up to February 9, Martin Brodeur Night. The Devils did not just retire Martin Brodeur’s #30. (Link goes to someone who uploaded the whole ceremony.) The day before, the team unveiled a statue of Brodeur. He is the first Devil ever to get a statue. This was not a temporary thing. It was dedicated outside of the arena on October 22, 2016 with a then-new base, where it still remains. You can go to Newark, New Jersey right now, and on the corner of Lafayette and Mulberry St, you will see a bronze statue of one of Brodeur’s last gestures in a Devils uniform: saluting the crowd in what was his final game at the Prudential Center and with the Devils. It’s a memorial to what was a “The End” of a 21-year career with the Devils; something Gerard went right back to a bit after the news that Brodeur rejoined the organization in a management position. I cannot think of anything more appropriate for what Brodeur has done in New Jersey in his NHL career. I cannot think of anything more definitive that says how important he was to the Devils and how beloved he is by the fans. Brodeur has a statue. (Aside: And if you ask me, there’s only one other man who is in the Hall of Fame that deserves one outside of the Rock, but I’m not holding my breath on that happening. At least not until he stops working, which may be never.)
Back in late June, Dan posted that Brodeur led the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class of inductions. This was news in that it was official that he would be going. This wasn’t news in that there was never any doubt. Way back in 2014, I received a copy of Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, which included a section on the Hall of Fame by Iain Fyffe. Fyffe tried to figure out the factors in a player’s career that would get them into the Hall based on previous selections. He called his formula, the Inductinator, and a score over 100 is a safe bet that someone was Hall-worthy. Among post-expansion goalies, Hasek had the highest score at 545. Fyffe ran the calculation for then-active players by position. Brodeur’s score was 560. Easily, we can conclude that Brodeur secured his trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame much, much earlier than 2014. That and he amassed an even better resume than Dominik Hasek. As Fyffe predicted, he would be a first-ballot inductee whenever he’d retire, which ended up being in 2015 with St. Louis.
Even with that quirk in his career, Martin Brodeur will always be a Devil. Players do not go into the Hockey Hall of Fame for a specific team. However, let’s be real. He’s a Devil. Guys like this do not show up to the Hall of Fame Q&A Session if he was seen as anything else. For further evidence, the reaction from fans were nearly across-the-board positive when the Devils announced he rejoined the organization in a non-hockey role. They’re happy he’s back. And so am I. He just fits here; I’ll take him in almost any capacity. The records are with New Jersey. The accomplishments were with New Jersey. The style was formed and perfected in New Jersey (with help from Jacques Caron). The thousands and thousands of words written and spoken about Brodeur were when he was with New Jersey. His number is retired in New Jersey. He has a statue in New Jersey. Brodeur is a New Jersey Devil.
The memories will always remain of Brodeur’s greatness for all Devils fans from 1993 to 2014. We all may have different ones, but we have our own. For me, he is and will likely remain the greatest player in any sport I ever had the fortune to watch. To put it another way, Marty’s better.
He already has the ring. He played in the Legends Classic Game (with Stevens, Niedermayer, and Daneyko, no less). Tonight is the official induction ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame. This is the perfect epilogue for the Greatest Devil. Marty Forever.