More than anything else, victories defined the career of Martin Brodeur. He’ll announce his retirement Thursday with a win total that defies logic.
In Buffalo, however, his legacy features a memorable loss.
All Brodeur got for stopping 49 of 50 shots April 27, 1994, was a quadruple-overtime defeat and a place in Sabres lore. Dave Hannan’s goal sent Buffalo and New Jersey “back to where Jimmy Hoffa is,” as Rick Jeanneret famously said to close Game Six of the teams’ first-round playoff series. Dominik Hasek’s 70-save night in Memorial Auditorium made Brodeur a hard-luck, 1-0 loser.
“Obviously, that was one of the highlights of my hockey career,” Hannan said by phone Wednesday. “I won some Cups, but that game was bizarre, to say the least. Two great goalies, obviously Dominik and Brodeur. It was a game you never forget, you know?”
If the Court of Public Opinion ever has a trial to determine the top goaltender of the modern era, Hannan will be called as an expert witness. He won a Stanley Cup in Edmonton with Grant Fuhr in the crease. Hannan played in front of Hasek during two Vezina Trophy seasons. The forward also won a Cup with Colorado as Patrick Roy backstopped the Avalanche to the title.
“When you speak about goalies of the last 20 years, you can pick the top five guys and that’s those type of guys,” Hannan said. “They could carry a team, win a game, win a playoff series.”
No one won more than Brodeur, who is putting away the pads to become assistant general manager in St. Louis. During his 22-year career, he won 691 regular season games and another 113 in the playoffs. Roy is second on the regular season list with 551.
To help put that 140-victory gap in perspective, consider that in the 98-year history of the NHL, just 125 goalies have managed to earn 140 wins. The margin between Brodeur and Roy would put Brodeur fourth on the Sabres’ victory list. Brodeur’s record 125 shutouts would place him fifth on Buffalo’s victory list.
Brodeur has 207 more victories than third-place Ed Belfour. Hasek had 234 wins with the Sabres, so Brodeur is ahead of the pack by nearly an entire Hall of Fame career.
“So many new goalies come in the league, and it was kind of incredible for him to stay in the game for such a long time,” Devils forward Jaromir Jagr said in New Jersey.
Playing for an organization that made Brodeur the focal point helped him excel for so long. The Devils kept pucks and players away from their crease, allowing Brodeur to be fresh enough for 70 or more games in 12 seasons.
“He stopped whatever he had to stop,” Hannan said. “They were always a defensive team first and would try to grind you down and grind you down, but if we did have a chance he was a phenomenal goaltender, there’s no doubt about that.”
What set Brodeur apart was his ability to play the puck. The reason there’s an off-limits trapezoid for goaltenders is because the NHL didn’t like how much he changed the game.
“The game was turning into a tennis match,” Flames President Brian Burke once said. “You’d dump it in and the goalie would throw it out.”
“What made him special was he could move the puck, be like a third defenseman,” Jagr said. “He saved 50 percent of his job. Some goalies have to face 40 shots, he faced only 20 because of this.”
Unlike Hasek, whose focus and intensity bordered on madness, Brodeur carried an air of lightness and exuberance to the crease.
“He was a little more relaxed out there, like he was enjoying the game,” Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer said in Toronto. “I’d listen to interviews where he said he’d make eye contact with a kid in the stands and wink at them and make it enjoyable for everyone.”
Added former Sabres forward Doug Gilmour: “I remember scoring a goal on him when I was in the crease. It was a bad goal. He told me, ‘Are you really going to count that?’ ”
Brodeur will always be remembered as a Devil thanks to three Cups, four Vezinas and 1,259 appearances. However, he’s starting his post-hockey career in St. Louis, where he played just seven games this season. The Blues signed him in December after losing Brian Elliott to injury.
“He could have come back even now if he wanted to,” Devils President Lou Lamoriello said, “but this is something he and I talked about. He made a commitment to St. Louis. They gave him a chance to go, the players asked him to stay. He is going to stay through the year, travel with the team and be part of the team in a way. Be in coaches meetings, something he feels he would like to try. He might even find out whether he likes this business or not. Who knows?
“He accomplished so much as an individual, but as a team member, that’s what was important to him. Winning is what mattered to him.”