Retirement can wait for 41-year-old Brodeur

Martin Brodeur is in his 22nd season with the New Jersey Devils and hopes to make it 23.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sean Burke hasn’t thought much about the role he played in launching Martin Brodeur’s career, but had it not been for Burke’s contract squabble during the 1991-92 NHL season, Brodeur’s ascension in New Jersey might have taken a different arc.

"He should get a big thank you," Brodeur said, joking.

Burke was embroiled in a contract holdout — a holdout that led him to sit out the entire 1991-92 season and play for Team Canada instead, where he backstopped a silver-medal performance at the Olympics in Albertville, France.

That allowed Brodeur to get his feet wet behind Devils goalies Chris Terreri and Craig Billington. Twenty-one seasons later, Brodeur has etched his name all over the NHL record books, led New Jersey to three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003) and placed his name on the short list of the game’s greatest goaltenders. 

"He has to be a guy considered as one of the all-time greatest in this game," said, Burke, who is now the Coyotes goalie coach. "With his numbers — seeing where he ranks in all those categories — you don’t have to look much further than that."

Burke got a first-hand look at Brodeur on Saturday night, when he made 24 saves in the Devils’ 3-2 loss to the Coyotes at Arena. So did Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (33 saves), who grew up watching Brodeur.

"I think every kid grew up watching him. The guy is incredible," Smith said. "I could never get it done the way he does it. The (unorthodox) style, the approach to the game that he takes is even more impressive than the stats."

Positive signs

Brodeur’s style has been described as a hybrid of butterfly and stand-up techniques. But the trait that stands out most for Burke is more esoteric.

"I don’t think Marty will ever go down as the most technically sound goalie to play, but when you talk about attributes you want in any player, the thing you probably want most is a guy who has great hockey sense," Burke said. "I think Marty’s greatest asset is his ability to read plays, assess the game and be a step ahead of everyone."

At age 41, you might think Brodeur is nearing the end of his road, but he has made it clear he wants to play again next season after his current contract expires.

"It looks like I’m having fun enough and the body’s holding up, so it looks pretty good to come back," he said Saturday. "We’re leaning toward that, but we’ll see."

If he does return, it might have to be with another organization for the first time in his career. The Devils traded their first-round pick (No. 9) in the 2013 Draft to the Canucks for goalie Cory Schneider last season. The duo has essentially split this season — 27 games for Brodeur; 23 for Schneider — but Schneider is only under contract through next season, and some close to the team believe that if he is not handed the starting keys next season, he’ll walk when his contract is up.

"They’re difficult decisions," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "I wouldn’t want it any other way, though. I wouldn’t trade places with a team with two average goaltenders." 

Brodeur’s preference is to return to New Jersey, but he understands the business side of the game could lead him elsewhere.

"It’s not something that I’m looking into doing, but again, I want to look at the best situation for me when the situation (is) in front of me," he said. "Regardless of if it’s in New Jersey — and I really hope that’s where it’s going to be — if not I have to be open."

Brodeur’s numbers this season — 2.36 goals against average; .905 save percentage — are off his career numbers (2.23, .913) and below Schneider’s numbers (1.91, .924), but DeBoer, Brodeur’s teammates and Brodeur himself feel he can still play at a high level.

"I think he can play a few more years," 41-year-old forward Jaromir Jagr said. "We don’t really have to talk about it or want to talk about it. We know we’re old. We know the time is coming, but I know he’s feeling the same way that I am about the future or he wouldn’t still be playing."

The list of NHL records Brodeur has racked up is staggering, including most wins in a regular season (669), most wins in a career (782), most wins in a season (48), most career shutouts in the regular season (121), most playoff shutouts (24), most shutouts in one playoff season (7), most seasons with 30 or more wins (14), most seasons with 40 or more wins (8).

He has also won four Vezina trophies. Despite all those achievements and a career whose greatness no one will ever question, Brodeur admits there is more he wants to accomplish.

"A couple years ago, I got pretty close to (winning another Cup), going to the Finals against the Kings," he said. "I’d love to finish off with somewhat of a run even though I’m not the key component of it. Just to be part of it would be great."

When pressed on whether he’d be OK in a support role, Brodeur nodded.

"I would be," he said, before pausing and smiling as he considered that statement. "It’s a work in progress, like anything."

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