Undervaluing Martin Brodeur
On Monday night, Martin Brodeur set the NHL record for most career shutouts. I think I am not dissimilar from most hockey fans in giving Brodeur less praise than he rightly has earned. For reasons that I cannot exactly explain, Brodeur never appeared to me to be one of the greatest goalies I have ever seen. Dominik Hasek looked better; Patrick Roy looked better. Yet Brodeur has the numbers. He has won more games than any other goalie, he has the most shutouts, he has played the most minutes. Why is it so hard to recognize Brodeur’s greatness?
The best baseball comparison to Brodeur is a pitcher like Cy Young or Warren Spahn. Neither were flashy pitchers, but both were models of consistency. Brodeur is the same way as a goalie. If I needed one goalie to make a single spectacular stop, I would pick Hasek. He made spectacular plays. But what about making 30 routine saves or playing 70 solid games? No one is better than Brodeur. Look at Brodeur’s career numbers. First notice his games played. From 1995 to 2008, he played between 67 and 78 games every year. He was astonishingly healthy every year. His goals against dipped below 2 only twice and above 2.5 only once. His save percentage ranged from .906 to .927. Every year for more than a decade, the New Jersey Devils knew that Martin Brodeur would play around 75 games, give up just over 2 goals a game, and stop a little more than 90% of shots on goal.
Contrast with Dominik Hasek. From 1993 to 2008, Hasek ranged from 14 to 72 games, playing less than 50 four times. But Hasek led the league in save percentage 6 straight seasons, winning the Vezina Trophy (for best goalie) 6 times, and the Hart Trophy (MVP) twice. In contrast, Brodeur’s consistency only netted him the Vezina 4 times and never the Hart. Brodeur’s consistency, though, has led his team to 3 Stanley Cups, while Hasek only won 2. Hasek has the great rate stats, with the highest save percentage in history and a lower goals against than Brodeur or any other modern goalie. But Brodeur has the wins, the shutouts, and the cups.
Consistency is hard to grasp as a fan. To judge consistency, stats are essential. It is tough to watch a single game and think, “Wow, he is playing as well today as he did three weeks ago and three years ago.” It is much simpler to go, “Wow, look at that save.” For that reason, players like Brodeur are consistently undervalued. If you get the chance, watch a New Jersey Devils game. You will be watching quite possibly the best goalie ever to play the game.