When asked, Lou Lamoriello wouldn’t call it “disappointing,” but I could tell he was politicking.
“I don’t want to use the word disappointing. There was time for a change to be made. We had made a significant trade and investment, and no one who understands that better than Marty Brodeur,” the longtime New Jersey Devils executive told me when I asked if he was disappointed the legendary NHL netminder would not retire with the organization for which he tended goal for 21 seasons. “I certainly would’ve liked to see him play last game in Devil, but these days that’s the exception not the norm.”
Hall of Fame-caliber athletes are uber-competitive and deserve to go out on their own terms.
But that doesn’t make it right.
The 42-year-old will announce his retirement Thursday in St. Louis about nine months too late. His legacy won’t be ruined, but his tenure in St. Louis will unfortunately go down as the final chapter of his Hall of Fame career.
For Devils fans, Brodeur’s legacy will likely never be tarnished. They’ll remember him as the fresh-faced, happy-go-lucky kid from Montreal that took them to the Eastern Conference final his first full season as starter, then carried them to three Stanley Cups — and four trips to the Cup final — in the subsequent eight years. They’ll remember his four Vezina Trophies, his 10 All-Star appearances and will quickly defend his underratedness and how the NHL created the trapezoid rule to limit his puck possession.
“What more can you say about Marty than what his statistics say and the success he’s had?” Lamoriello told me Tuesday, “not only the wins, but winning championships and conferences. He’s been a pillar of excellence and will go out as one of the best to ever play the game.”
But, for many others, Brodeur is something very different — and his tenure with the Blues proves that. Rival fans mocked his weight and his marital infidelity. Some deemed him a whiner — mostly because of this image and this one as well — and all that was perpetuated when Brodeur made media wait what felt like an eternity after his pulling during last winter’s Stadium Series loss at Yankee Stadium.
Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. He was friendly and affable to media — a fellow reporter told me during the lockout-shortened 2013 season that Brodeur was “the best” and hoped he would “never retire” because of his honest and thoughtful answers. He started the trend of goalies speaking the mornings before games — but stopped doing that later in his career. He also has a sharp and biting wit, and this reporter has been on the wrong end of it at times.
But last season — the one in which he shared the Devils’ net with Cory Schneider — felt different. His candor was the same, he still knew what was going on around the League, but he seemed bothered. He was less political than the face of a franchise should be — most notably when he tweaked Lamoriello when asked if the Devils should have re-signed Zach Parise.
“For us, our team, we had time to try to make a deal before losing him for nothing,” Brodeur told NJ.com last year. “We could have signed him way in advance of that season and overpaid for him. But overpaying for him would have been less money than he got from Minnesota, you know? It just didn’t happen.”
It wasn’t just me. Other media members thought things were different. And, I know I hoped he would retire after last season — after he claimed a win in the 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins in the team’s season finale and the crowd serenaded him with one final “Mar-ty!” chant. His contract ran up, and the Devils made it clear he would not return, but he refused to call it quits, sitting in purgatory until signing in St. Louis on Dec. 2.
He gave the Blues and the NHL one last great moment when he pitched career shutout No. 125 on Dec. 29 against the Colorado Avalanche, but that’ll go down as his last win. Now he’ll join the Blues organization in an front-office role.
Lamoriello said he expects Brodeur to return next season to New Jersey in a similar role to the one he’s taking in St. Louis. He understands the wait — he told me “It’s our intention to have him back next year. [St. Louis] gave him an opportunity to play, and he got emotionally involved … I respect that.” — and maybe the Devils and Brodeur can ride happily ever after back into the sunset.
It’s never too late to make things right.