Reflecting on Martin Brodeur as Hall of Fame comes calling
Martin Brodeur was an obvious first-ballot entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame, so the selection committee confirming him as part of the Class of 2018 on Tuesday is not a surprise.
Some parts of Brodeur’s path to the Hall of Fame might be, however. So after the brief overview of his candidacy below, InGoal presents some of the unique tidbits uncovered during past conversations with a goaltender whose greatness was often defined by his unwillingness to conform to the butterfly standards that took over the game around him.
Brodeur, who played most of his 22 seasons with the New Jersey Devils before ending a remarkable career with a seven-game stint on the St. Louis Blues, re-wrote the NHL record book as the all-time leader with 1,266 games played, 691 wins and 125 shutouts, numbers that will likely never be matched. He also won the Stanley Cup three times, the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie four times, and the William M. Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals allowed five times.
Brodeur, whose puck handling was so good it led to the NHL adopting the trapezoid rule to limit how goalies played the puck, also leads the League all time in saves (28,928), minutes (74,438), 30-win seasons (14), consecutive 30-win seasons (12), consecutive 35-win seasons (11), 40-win seasons (eight) and consecutive 40-win seasons (three). He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1994, and the 46-year-old Montreal native still shares the record for most wins in a single season (48) with Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.
Brodeur, who will be inducted at the celebration ceremony on Nov. 12, is part of a Hall of Fame class that also includes players Martin St. Louis and Willie O’Ree, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Russian forward Alexander Yakushev, who played for Russia at the 1972 Summit Series and won Olympic gold in 1972 and 1976, and four-time Olympic gold medalist Jayna Hefford. Bettman and O’Ree, who was the first black player in the NHL, were inducted as builders, fulfilling the maximum each year, which means we have to wait at least one more year before pioneering goaltending coach Francois Allaire gets the Hall of Fame honour that so many in the goaltending world feel he deserves.
It’s a little ironic, then, that Brodeur has identified his decision to walk away from the teachings of Allaire as a turning point in his Hall of Fame career. Believe it or not, but as Brodeur told InGoal during an Ask a Pro segment, he was all about butterfly when he was young.
“Actually when I was younger, when I was playing junior, my whole thing was the butterfly. I was going down a lot. I had the wide stance, both feet were really wide and my knees were locked in, I was a lot different than I am now, that’s for sure. [Then Devils Goalie Coach] Jacques Caron wanted me to be a more agile, mobile goalie, not just a blocking goalie.”
Brodeur told a funny story about how he “looked like a Pee Wee” the first time he did Caron’s skating drills at Devils training camp. You can read it in the Ask a Pro, here.
Brodeur also talks in that interview about how his style differed from others.
“I take a lot of pride in being different than everybody and I think keep the shooter guessing. So it’s more hybrid type of style, a competitive goalie that will do more than be just a stand-up or just a butterfly goalie,” he said. “I’m a guy that is a student of the game, loves to watch other players and how they’re successful, and if I’m able to pick out anything from their game and throw it into my game, I won’t hesitate to do that. And I think that’s the best way to describe it, a hybrid, somebody that will change with the situation in the way I’m going to play the game. It’s just about what you believe is better for you to play, your body type, how skilled you are, that lets you play a certain way. I think it’s all about playing the game and being aggressive and being active in your net. I think good athletes will be able to play. … The way I like to play is totally different, try to keep the players guessing all the time and not knowing exactly what I’m going to do every time. It’s just a like a shooter, some guys have different trends and skate or shoot different ways – why should all the goalies be the same?”
As for his incredible ability to handle the puck, Brodeur said it all started with his dad, Denis, watching Ron Hextall play the puck with the Philadelphia Flyers:
“The way I wound up playing the puck was my dad used to be the photographer for the Montreal Canadiens and one morning when I woke up before going to school my dad came in and said ‘son, I can’t believe what I saw last night’ and I didn’t see the game so I didn’t know what he was talking about, but Ron Hextall was playing and he said ‘this guy is like a third defenseman,'” Brodeur said. “That stuck in my mind and the next thing you know I watched a game and saw him play and I was amazed and I thought, ‘you know what, that’s what I want to do, I want to put that in my game.’ And so I started working at it and the key to it is simply shooting pucks.”
Brodeur redefined the expectations and possibilities for goaltenders when it came to playing the puck by building his passing prowess into the Devils’ system. For all the arguments about how much Brodeur benefitted from the stingy system in front of him, it’s sometimes too easy to overlook how important his puck handling was to that stifling defensive structure.
The way Brodeur got better with the puck serves a good advice for every young goaltender.
“Every time I have a chance, I’m going to make a pass to one of my players in practice. Every time I have a chance, I’m going to clear the puck just to see how far I’m going to be able to shoot it,” Brodeur said. “And when they’re doing drills on the other side and I don’t feel like taking shots, I go and I take maybe 50 pucks and I’m going to aim at the cross bar, or aim just over the net, and you know I’ll shoot on my backhand, on my forehand, or from behind the net I’ll get someone to skate board to board at the red line and I’ll try to hit his stick. The key is you’ve got to play, you’ve got to practice, and you have to love what you do.
“I was 14 or 15 years old when I started to work at it, just remember when I was midget AAA we had hockey and school together so we had a class of hockey and I would just go into the gym and shoot those big heavy orange pucks for half an hour just to get stronger.”
While many of the best insights come from that Ask a Pro segment, we’ve covered several other aspects of his evolution over the years. That includes the modernization of equipment that didn’t include a butterfly landing area for the knees most of his career, and the little known fact that his eschewing of the butterfly actually saved his butterfly-dominant peers during the NHL equipment crackdown in 2013.
Among the plans at the time was a serious reduction of the inner calf wrap that contacts and seals the ice when a goalie drops into the butterfly, and while the NHL did make it illegal to have a padded cushion in that area, they stopped short of a bigger reduction because Brodeur still used it to stop pucks.
You can read more about the modernization of Brodeur’s equipment and how, after years of advocating for smaller gear, he finally started adding inches to his own, here. There was also the time he injured his arm shortly after insisting to InGoal that his 12-year-old chest-and-arm protector would retire with him, which later led to it being replaced by a Reebok model that had been worn by Pekka Rinne (read that here).
Brodeur’s unique approach made for a lot of great stories at a time when goalies increasingly looked the same, adding to a career that was always going to end in the Hall of Fame as soon as he was eligible.