Fantasy or Fiction: The End of the Line for Brodeur?

Updated: March 26, 2012 at 8:20 am by Dan Berlin

Three goals against on 17 shots. Another three allowed – on three attempts – in the shootout. The end result – a 4-3 loss to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice Friday night.

Welcome to Martin Brodeur’s world.

Six weeks shy of his 40th birthday, the formerly ageless one has been seriously showing his age of late. The NHL all-time leader in wins has been stuck on 651 for the last week, dropping his last three starts (0-2-1) for the Devils, while giving up 12 goals over that span.

Despite having a decent bounce back season after a disastrous 2010-11 campaign, Brodeur (26-20-4, 2.46, .905, 2 SO) is on pace to finish with less than 30 wins for the third time in four years. His two shutouts, should he end on that total, would be the fewest he’s ever recorded in a single season. And while he’s helped put the Devils in position to get back into the playoffs after missing out last season, questions abound if the 39-year-old still has what it takes to get his team past the first round.

Brodeur has lost his last four postseason series, his last series win coming five years ago in the 2007 playoffs vs. Tampa Bay in the opening round. Since then, he’s amassed a woeful 6-16 record in the NHL’s second season, a far cry from the standard he set during his prime years when he captured three Stanley Cups. In the 2010 playoffs, Brodeur and the Devils were ousted by the Flyers in five games, with No. 30 posting an .881 save percentage and 3.01 GAA, one full goal higher than his career playoff average.

In the short term, what should the Devils do with only seven games remaining in the regular season? Brodeur’s backup, 38-year-old Johan Hedberg (16-7, 2.27, .917, 4 SO), has sparkled in limited duty in March, going 3-0 with two shutouts while allowing only a single goal in three starts. Combined with Brodeur’s recent poor play, could there be the potential for a goaltending controversy in Jersey come playoff time? Head Coach Peter DeBoer will ultimately have some tough calls to make down the stretch, having to decide between riding Brodeur and hoping that he snaps out of his funk in time for the postseason, or conversely, giving Hedberg a few more starts in the next two weeks to see if he could even be considered a viable option in the first-round, should Brodeur continue to falter.

In all likelihood, the Devils will pin their playoff hopes on Brodeur. That’s why he’s there. But should Brodeur and the Devils lose again in the first-round this year, the bigger question then becomes, does Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello re-sign his aging goalie?

Brodeur, who’s in the final year of his contract, may not be deemed worthy of bringing back as a starter. And if Lamoriello decides not to, would Brodeur be willing to re-sign at a reduced rate in the role as a backup with the Devils, or would he even consider leaving New Jersey after 18 seasons to finish his career elsewhere?

It’s hard to say at this point and a lot will depend on how Brodeur finishes this season. But should his struggles continue, and should Brodeur decide this offseason that he’d like to finish his career on his terms, then retirement could realistically enter the equation. And it could spell the end of the line for the greatest goaltender of this generation.

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils, NHL