Martin Brodeur hopes to catch up to Patrick Roy on the all time win column Saturday night as New Jersey travels to, of all places, Montreal. Brodeur is looking to match Roy's NHL record 551 career wins.
Health permitting, Brodeur probably has another 3 really good years in him, meaning he will greatly elevate the bar as the NHL's winningest goalie in NHL history. He should get close to 650 wins. Could he even challenge for 700 wins? Those are amazing numbers, even more impressive when you remember NHL-NHLPA labour disputes cost him possible 126 games, or probably another 60 wins.
More over, it's only a matter of time before Martin Brodeur overtakes Terry Sawchuk's title of shutout king, as he sits only 3 behind the once-untouchable record. Could he could push that total to 120 shutouts?
The Greatest Goalie?
Debate is sure to rage from now until someone challenges Brodeur's lofty totals, which means a really, really long time, as to whether or not Martin Brodeur is the greatest goalie of all time.
On one hand it is hard to argue with Brodeur's resume. On top of all of his dominating numbers he has 3 Stanley Cups, 1 Olympic gold medal, 1 World Cup, 4 Vezina trophies and 7 after-season All Star nods.
Critics will suggest he is the product of New Jersey's stringent defensive system. The fact that New Jersey rolled along nicely with a career minor league goalie, Scott Clemmensen, during Brodeur's 50 game absence due to injury this season only exacerbates that argument.
So who is the greatest goalie of all time?
Firstly, let's remove the pre-1967 goaltending greats from the equation. I intend no disrespect to Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Johnny Bower, Glenn Hall and company. Comparing players from different era's is always difficult, but we need not go back that far to determine that Brodeur may in fact not be the greatest goalie of all time.
To be the greatest goalie of all time, it stands to reason that one must be the best goalie of his own generation. There is a good argument that Brodeur was only the third best, with contemporaries Roy and Dominik Hasek besting him.
Let's compare their stats. I have chosen the time frame of the 1993-94 season through the 2001-02 season. This matches the time frame that all three went head to head, with Brodeur and Hasek arriving in the NHL as starting goalies. I picked 2002 as the end point as that was when Hasek initially ended his NHL career.
Those numbers are pretty amazing. Hasek clearly dominated the era, with all the Vezina and All Star honors, plus 2 Hart trophies as the NHL's MVP to boot. He has by far the best save percentage and the best GAA, despite playing with arguably the weakest team.
Look at that save percentage number - 0.926, the number that many agree is the one goalie stat that is not team dependent. Hasek's percentage is significantly better than Roy's or Brodeur's.
And he had to take a lot more shots to post that sparkling number. Despite playing in 60 fewer games, Hasek faced 925 more shots than Brodeur. Yet he allowed 135 fewer goals.
Despite Hasek's dominance, the generally accepted thought in NHL hockey is that Patrick Roy is the greatest goalie of all time. A case could be made that young Brodeur bested Roy in our comparison here, but Roy remains king largely due to his reputation in the playoffs.
So, let's take a look at the threesome's career playoff stats:
Emphasis on playoff success certainly is an important consideration, though Canadian media tend to over use it too liberally to discredit the foreigner Hasek. Make no mistake, such politics does unfairly these greatest ever debates. Why else is Hasek not usually mentioned, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
Roy certainly does impress in the playoffs, with NHL records for games and wins, as well as three Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP. When it counted most, Roy got the job done. Roy's GAA is noticeably higher, although he did begin his career earlier and in the latter half of the higher scoring 1980s.
So if we concede Hasek was the best of the three in the regular season, and the Roy the best of the playoffs, Brodeur ends up third fiddle in a comparison of his peers.
Keep in mind Brodeur was just 21 years old at the beginning of this comparison. Roy was 28, having already been in the league since 1986. Hasek was 29, as he was not free to play in the NHL until later in his career thanks to communist politics in his Czech homeland. Brodeur was just a youngster going head to head against two guys in their prime.
Brodeur will go on to play several seasons after Hasek and especially Roy retired, easily trumping them and everyone else in career numbers. In the time after Roy retired and Hasek initially retired, Brodeur has been the best goalie over the course of that time:
Just for fun, here's a comparative of Brodeur and Hasek upon Hasek's return to the NHL after retiring in 2002:
Brodeur played a lot more, which would get him the nod in award voting. The 40 year old Hasek simply could not play as many games any longer, but his save percentage and especially his GAA remain impressive.
Still, Brodeur will always be compared to Roy and Hasek. Here's a look at the career totals:
And we have not even talked about international play, where both Hasek and Brodeur have starred time and time again, including as Olympic gold medalists. Roy either shunned or was not asked to participate in international tourneys.
I think of Martin Brodeur as the goaltending equivalent of Gordie Howe. Brodeur has been remarkably consistent throughout his long career and will post amazing totals because of that, not unlike Howe.
Howe was very good, for a very long time, yet ther players had higher peak performances like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux.
A very similar case could be built for Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and even older stars like Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk.
Here's some more interesting reads on Brodeur:
More About Marty - Eric Duhatschek
Bower Had 639 Pro Wins - Chris Mizzoni
A Unique Roy-Brodeur Comparison - Eyes On The Prize