Martin Brodeur has been the face of the New Jersey Devils franchise for almost as long as he's been there. With three Stanley Cups, four Vezina Trophies, a Calder Trophy, five Jennings Trophies and a host of NHL records over 21 seasons, the 42-year-old goaltender is set to leave the only organization he has ever known. Brodeur told Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com that he will test the waters of free agency come July 1.
Though the Devils appeared ready to move on from the veteran netminder, Brodeur never seemed quite ready to hang them up despite rapidly declining numbers.
“I've come to the conclusion that I'm definitely going to be available July 1,'' Brodeur said Friday. "I want to play one more season and I want to see what's out there."
"I've had a lot of good conversations with the Devils, but I'm not inclined at going back at this point. I just feel that with (goalie Cory Schneider) the organization has to move on. Me being around might be tough a little bit for them. I don't completely put it out of the question (returning to New Jersey) but I don't want to mess up the cards for the Devils.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter where I go next, I'm always going to be a Devil. I'm always going to come back to the organization. But I want to play one more year. So I'll see what's out there."
The big question now is going to be who wants him?
Brodeur told LeBrun that if he goes to a team that wants him to be a backup, he wants it to be a Stanley Cup contender and if it's as a No. 1, it would have to be the "right situation."
Those criteria may end up shrinking the market for the NHL's all-time leader in wins, saves and shutouts.
Coming out of one of the worst statistical seasons of his career with a .901 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against average in 39 appearances, Brodeur never looked up to par. That became even more obvious as Cory Schneider put up a .921 save percentage and 1.97 goals-against average.
It seemed like the Devils were giving Brodeur as many starts as he got more based on nostalgia than practicality, though coach Peter DeBoer denied that repeatedly this season.
If there are teams out there looking for a veteran goaltender to help a young guy coming up, then there might be a fit. Brodeur no longer has the ability to start, however. He hasn't posted a save percentage higher than .908 since 2009-10, making him a below-average goaltender with the league average sitting somewhere between .913 and .914 over the last few seasons. If there's a team in need of a stop-gap goaltender for a season, then maybe he could be a No. 1, but probably not a great one.
If Brodeur is as eager to play next season as he says he is, he'll undoubtedly have to take a rather large pay cut from the $5 million he made last season. With career earnings approaching $82 million per CapGeek.com, Brodeur probably can afford to do it. That said, he may have a different idea about what the market says he is worth.
Some team is going to give him a shot in all likelihood. His name recognition and experience could be valuable to a number of teams. He will remain one of the league's legendary goaltenders even if he does seem to be overstaying his welcome.
For the Devils, it is pertinent to let their franchise's greatest legend move on. Schneider is the goaltender of the future and under contract for next season. He'll be due an expensive extension and he also deserves to have the reps of a No. 1 goaltender after paying his dues longer than most goalies of his talent would have to. The Devils paid the price of a first-round draft pick to get him and they'll need him to ably carry the torch that Brodeur undoubtedly must pass at this time.
It's always tough to see players in decline stick it out when they are mere shadows of themselves, but it's hard not to admire the competitiveness and drive it takes to come back year in and year out. Maybe it's selfishness, too, but as long as there are teams out there willing to pay a player, there's no reason he shouldn't come back. Still, it will be mighty strange to see Brodeur in another team's jersey.