With his 1,200th game, can any goalie ever be as good as Martin Brodeur?

His 1,200th game is yet another unthinkable milestone for Martin Brodeur. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

His 1,200th game is yet another unthinkable milestone for Martin Brodeur. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

By: Tim Kolupanowich, @TimKolupan_

New Jersey Devils legend Martin Brodeur will get the start against the Pittsburgh Penguins today for his mind-boggling 1,200th career game. It’s a number unheard of in the netminding circle, but then again his career numbers are so impressive, only Wayne Gretzky can really be considered a more dominant player in all of NHL history. Let’s have a quick rundown: most career wins (661), shutouts (120), minutes played (70,519), shots faced (30,127), 30-win seasons (14), 40-win seasons (eight) and single-season wins (48) among others.

These are numbers so staggering, it almost makes you think he should be blood tested. Not for steroids or anything like that, just to see if he has any because the only logical explanation for how he has stayed to good for so long is Devils GM Lou Lamoriello came across some incredible cyborg technology 23 years ago.

Brodeur is on pace for 24 wins this season which would give him 680 by the year’s end. He’s also signed through next season, so 700 wins is a very likely by the time he finally hangs up his pads.

As of this writing he has 661 wins, 19.96% more than the next closest netminder, Patrick Roy with 551; should he reach 700 he’ll have 27.04% more wins than Roy. Looking at some of the other big records in professional sports and the distance between the top two names, it’s clear Brodeur is not just the best goaltender of all time, but one of the most statistically dominant athletes in any of North America’s major sports ever.

  • Wayne Gretzky has 51.4% more points than Mark Messier (2,857 to 1,887)
  • Cy Young has 22.54% more wins than Walter Johnson (511 to 417)
  • Nolan Ryan has 17.21% more strikeouts than Randy Johnson (5,714 to 4,875)
  • Brett Favre has 16.51% more touchdown passes than Peyton Manning (508 to 436)
  • Emmit Smith has 9.73% more rushing yards than Walter Payton (18,355 to 16,726)
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has 3.95% more points than Karl Malone (38,387 to 36,928)
  • Barry Bonds has 0.93% more homeruns than Hank Aaron (762 to 755)

Only Gretzky and Young are as far beyond their competition as Brodeur is and by the end of this season he’ll almost certainly pass Young in that regard. Like Gretzky, Brodeur not only broke records, he put nearly all of them beyond any realistic reach of any goalie who straps on the pads from this point forward.

The question is, will we ever see a goaltender with a career quite like Brodeur’s again? It’s highly unlikely. From the book Hockey’s Most Amazing Records edited by Edward Fraser, Jay Greenberg discusses how he has accomplished all his records thanks to his unique style and playing away from the limelight in New Jersey:

Catching him will be an assignment ever taller than the weeds in the New Jersey swamp where Brodeur has played most of his career for a team determined to call no attention to itself while routinely winning games by a scoreline of 3-1 or 2-0.

Brodeur has performed under the perfect conditions to rack up wins, but he also did a great job of adapting to that environment. And Brodeur’s unique stand-up style has served him extremely well, saving his knees and hips from the taxing wear and tear that can come from the butterfly style most goalies employ now.

“He was the greatest first-save goalie in the NHL and of course he stopped some crucial rebounds, too,” (Devils TV analyst and former NHL goalie Glenn ‘Chico’) Resch said. “But at the back of a well-constructed team protecting its goalie, he could stand up on his angles and make stops without having to butterfly, which never has been his game.”

His numbers may never be reached as it’s unlikely any goalie will ever get into enough games to break them. His games-played to games-missed ratio over the past 20 seasons is outstanding; most skaters don’t stay that healthy for that long. Only 51 goalies in history have ever played 70 games in a season. Brodeur has reached the mark 12 times; the next closest are Miikka Kiprusoff and Glenn Hall with seven each. No other goaltender even has five 70-game seasons. It comes with good reason we will never again see a career quite like Brodeur’s and that is if teams want to have playoff success, they can’t wear out their goalie in the regular season.

Brodeur's career has been a never-before-seen combination of longevity and a high frequency of games played. (C. P. Storm, Flickr)

Brodeur’s career has been a never-before-seen combination of longevity and a high frequency of games played. (C. P. Storm, Flickr)

Since the 1999-2000 season, a goalie has played at least 70 games 44 times, compiling a 1,676-1,089-150-242 record for a .531 winning percentage. However, in the playoffs the combined record falls to 121-141 for a winning percentage of just .462. Sixteen times a 70-game goalie failed to even reach the playoffs in that span and of the 28 instances they made it in, 18 failed to make it past the first round while only four made it to the conference final. Three of those times it was Brodeur, the other Evgeni Nabokov.

Of the 24 starting netminders in the Stanley Cup final during that span, only three started 70 games in the regular season and every time it was Brodeur. The average number of starts for the Cup-winning goalie for those 12 years is just 56.75; since 1975 the average number of starts of Cup-winning goalies is just 52.3. Teams are smart to not overplay their starting netminder in the regular season and most of the goalies who do get that many starts only do so once, maybe twice in their careers. So for a goalie to play enough games to think about matching Brodeur’s marks is highly unlikely.

That Brodeur was so good for so long is rare among goalies. You just don’t see that kind of sustained success even from the other great netminders. Some of the top goalies now have a chance to post obscene win totals by the time their careers are finished, but none of them are on pace to match Brodeur. If these goalies keep up their current pace until they are 40, here’s what their projected win totals look like.

  • Marc-Andre Fleury – 631
  • Henrik Lundqvist – 595
  • Roberto Luongo – 569
  • Jonathan Quick – 546
  • Cam Ward – 543
  • Jimmy Howard – 529
  • Ryan Miller – 515

Those numbers are without injuries, no drop off in play and the luck of playing behind a strong, playoff-contending team for the next decade plus. And other than the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils in the past two decades, no team has been able to perform that well so consistently.

Other than possibly Lundqvist, each one of those goalies has had their game questioned while Brodeur has always been among the elite. The Hockey News’ Rory Boylen doesn’t see Ward as an elite netminder and you can make the same arguments Boylen made about Miller as well. Luongo has been swimming in trade rumors for the past year and Fleury suffered an epic collapse in the playoffs last year and in fact has only posted a .900 save percentage or better in two of his six trips to the postseason. Of course he and Lundqvist benefit from playing behind teams that look to be primed for success for years to come, but there is still too much luck involved for them to be considered on Brodeur’s level right now.

There simply has been no weak point in his game, no chink in the armor for opponents to exploit. He has always been cool and collected, making impossible saves look routine even at 40. His scorpion save on Marion Gaborik in last season’s Eastern Conference final may have been the best of his career as he displayed flexibility on a move that would send most his age to the hospital with a muscle tear. Other than his gaffe in Game 3 of the 2003 Stanley Cup final and that time he put that obnoxious MB30 on his helmet, you be hard-pressed to find another mistake in his career.

So what can you do now other than sit back and enjoy the rest of the ride. As disappointing as it is to think, for fans outside his Atlantic Division opponents anyway, that his career is almost certainly over after next season. Had the Hall of Fame not decided it would never again waive the three-year waiting period to be inducted after Gretzky got in, Brodeur would have received the same treatment as only 10 other players in history: Dit Clapper, Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, Terry Sawchuk, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux and Gretzky.

One thousand, two hundred games. Pay attention to that because you’ll never see that number when it comes to goaltenders again. And pay attention to Brodeur. He’s the first and last of his kind, a once-in-a-generation athlete and a master of his craft so very rarely seen in all of sports.

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