Bernie Parent. Terry Sawchuk. Patrick Roy. Glenn Hall. Ken Dryden. Jacques Plante. Dominik Hasek. Martin Brodeur.
You could make a case that any of those goaltenders were the best to ever lace up their skates at the NHL level. Well, all but one.
As you well know by now, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur will get one more start wearing the familiar Devils logo before he is likely shipped to Minnesota for one last playoff run. You'd have to expect Brodeur to get all the pagentry and celebration that a 21-year veteran and three-time Stanley Cup winner, which would be certainly deserved.
However, the laughable moniker often tossed around that he's the best goaltender to ever play the game is a bit much.
Make no mistake, the Wild's alleged acquisition of Brodeur is one that marginally improves their precarious goaltender situation, but is also most likely the most affordable option. It's fair to assume they would prefer to bring Jaroslav Halak back from Buffalo to the Western Conference, where he's spent the last four seasons. But renting him from Buffalo would most likely cost far more than the 41-year old Brodeur.
His gaudy personal stats and of course his three championships are undoubtedly impressive, and something no one–not even me, try as I may– can take away from him. But rather, let's take a deeper look at some of the greats and how they stack up in the regular season:
*at the time of this writing
While stats are an important piece of the story, they hardly tell it all. When comparing eras, you must also consider that since a number of the players on this list have since retired, advancements to the sport have been made in all areas.
Vast improvements to equipment, rules, team play (we'll get to that later) and numerous advancements to the goaltender position itself, brought on by many of the players listed above, have all contributed to a steady decline in average goals per game since the 1981-82 season. In the post-lockout (um, the first one) era, which spans the vast majority of Brodeur's career, the average goals per game have reached 3.0 just twice, going has high as 3.14 in 1995-96.
In Ken Dryden's 10-year career spanning 1970-79, it dipped below 3.14 just twice.
When you think of players who revolutionzed the goaltender position, you think of Parent, Dryden, Plante, Roy and of course, Terry Sawchuk. The greatest contribution Brodeur gave to the position has been how properly to shoot at an empty net from 200 feet away.
Brodeur hardly has a standout moment in which he single-handedly lifted his team to the Stanley Cup, like many of the players on this list. In fact, it was Brodeur who was overshadowed by another goaltender in 2003, when Jean-Sebastien Giguere became only the fifth player to win the Conn Smythe Award despite being on the losing team.
Then there's the never-ending, unsolvable argument of how good a goaltender is compared to the team in front of him. Brodeur has been the poster child for this ever since the Devils pretty much ruined hockey as we knew it with their stifling defensive play. But it's a fair point considering Brodeur posted his two greatest single-season goals against averages in back-to-back years in the late 90s.
Not totally unlike the Kings and Blues in recent years, the Devils were able to rely on a great team defense to limit the amount of high-percentage scoring opportunities by their opponents, allowing their goaltender to face very few difficult shots on a nightly basis.
Even his biggest detractors have to give this Devil his due, though. Arguably, the best year of Brodeur's career came in 2006-07, when he won his third straight Vezina at the age of 34. If anything, Brodeur has been the most consistent goaltender in NHL history, even if he does rank 35th of the 37 goaltenders who have played at least 100 games over the last four seasons. And that is to be commended. 683 wins (and counting) are still worth a whole lot even if you barely average 25 shots against per game your entire career.
He's one of the greats, and should be celebrated as such. But do not make the mistake of slotting him above all the goaltenders who made the game what it is today. Because it seems like more and more of you do by the day.