There was a report published today that the Montreal Canadiens have, or had, or might have had interest in Martin Brodeur as a backup goalie to Carey Price. I’m shady on the details not because I’m journalistically ignorant, but because I don’t care. Brodeur is, frankly, no longer an NHL calibre goalie, the Canadiens are set (or, I guess, already over capacity) in net, and to be quite honest none of this has anything to do with why I’m writing this piece.
I’m writing on Martin Brodeur because Joe Posnanski answered a mailbag question about Derek Jeter today that reminded me of a topic I had been meaning to write about for some time: Longevity.
There are many who claim that Brodeur is the greatest goaltender of all time because of his 688 wins or 124 shutouts, and then there are those who retort that wins are a highly flawed, team dependent stat, and that save percentage is far more important than shutouts. These people point to guys like Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek as those who put up sparkling save percentages during shorter careers, and end up right at the top of era-adjusted save percentage lists, rather than 10 or 20 rows down.
For the longest time, I was completely pro-Roy and anti-Brodeur when it came to the GOAT debate – which was logical having grown up in Montreal, and also having cheered feverishly for the 2001 Colorado Avalanche as the bandwagon of my youth. But my attitude on the matter has started to shift. I still believe that at his best, Dominik Hasek was the greatest goalie this league has ever seen. This graph, courtesy of Chris Boyle, shows Hasek’s save percentage at each age, relative to league average. The numbers speak for themselves. Hasek only made his NHL debut at age 26, but he was outstanding right up until his age 38 season, when most goalies are already golfing six days a week.
I also still believe that Patrick Roy, all things considered, was the greatest of all time. To me, he had the right mix of peak performance and consistency, individual and team accomplishments, to fit the bill. But I’ve come around on Brodeur; I’ve elevated his status in my mind from “overrated reputation-riding team free-loader” to “overrated, but still pretty remarkable.”
After all, this is a guy who (has) played at least 30 games in 19 different seasons, and 29 games in a 20th. His save percentage was above .900 for all of them, and while in this era .900 isn’t exactly the benchmark of the elite, considering that nobody else has ever done that, it’s something.
So what’s the bottom line? Just like how Derek Jeter will ultimately be remembered for being a very good baseball player for a longer period of time than just about anybody else, Brodeur will be able to say that he was an average or better goalie for longer than anybody else (except maybe Roy, who quit while he was ahead), and who at times was very very good.
Staying healthy, keeping a starting job, winning trophies, winning Stanley Cups, none of those things are easy. Marty managed to accomplish them all over a long period of time, longer than the Dominator. And that’s worth something. So no, Martin Brodeur wasn’t the greatest goalie of all time, and he certainly wouldn’t be near the top of my list of starters for a one-game playoff, but he survived for a long time in a league where so many don’t, and his reward was the most games played, wins, and shutouts in the game’s history. And that’s nothing to scoff at.