Last night, I witnessed greatness. I've actually been watching it for the last 13 years, and I don't understand why the nation isn't making a bigger deal of it. Actually, I do understand -- it's hockey. Still, Martin Brodeur is, like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, playing perhaps the best of his career when most players feel the effects of age; unlike those two, he's doing it without steroids.
Last night, against the Islanders, Brodeur led the Devils to a 2-0 shutout win. It was his 10th shutout of the year. His single-season high is 11. With 27 games left, it's almost assured he'll at least tie that mark, if not surpass it. He's recorded an NHL record 30+ wins in 11 straight seasons (dating back to the lockout-shortened season, where he had 19 wins in only 40 games). His career goals against average is an amazing 2.20; this year, at 35, he's posted a 2.04 mark, the fifth-best average of his career.
The anti-Brodeur crowd (or, as I like to call them, Those Jealous He's Not On Their Team), insist that he's benefitted from a great defense. That's partially true, the Devils have always placed a premium on playing good team defense. But this year the team has been without a top-four defenseman (Richard Matvichuck) and went a stretch without another (Colin White), has had to plug holes with rookies and journeymen (Johnny Oduya, Andy Greene, Mark Fraser, Jim Fahey, and Alex Brooks, though it should be noted Oduya has played spectacularly in his first season), and because of depth has had to play five defenseman a game (where the standard is six or seven) for most of the year. And he's on pace to face over 2,200 shots this year, the most of his career. Despite all of that, he's posted a .927 save percentage, which ties the highest of his career (a mark he set exactly 10 years ago).
Brodeur is only 13 shutouts away from Terry Sawchuck's all-time record (103), and still has five years left on a contract he plans on playing out. By the time he's done, that shoutout record will be obliterated. He's 75 wins away from Patrick Roy's all-time record (551), which at his current pace is about two seasons away. And that's despite missing a season-and-a-half because of labor disputes. He's a three-time Stanley Cup winner, holds the record for most shutouts in a playoff season (seven in 2003, where he posted an amazing three in the finals alone), and is on his way to a third Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender. He's a gold-medal winner in the Olympics, a former Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, and has notched two career goals, tying Ron Hextall for most by a goalie.
So why isn't more of a big deal being made of him? Sure, he's a hockey legend, but he's got the game and character to transcend the NHL's lack of popularity. Yet he hasn't. And I just don't get it.
But you know what? Whether it's because of the Devils' scouting brilliance or just dumb-luck, I've been able to watch one of the best athletes ever (in any sport) 70 times a season. And it's been an absolute pleasure. Greatness always is.