Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How Long It's Been: The Devils Didn't Have Martin Brodeur

UPDATE: Marty was NOT traded at the 2014 trading deadline.

March 26, 1992: Martin Brodeur, wearing Number 29, makes his NHL debut, and the New Jersey Devils beat the Boston Bruins, 4-2. Win Number 1.

March 4, 2014: Stephen Gionta scores with 36 seconds left on the clock, and the Devils beat another "Original Six" team, the Detroit Red Wings, 4-3. Brodeur makes 20 saves, and gets Win Number 684.

In between: 3 Stanley Cups, 4 Vezina Trophies, 7 All-Star Game appearances, 124 shutouts; more games, minutes, saves, wins and shutouts than any other goaltender; and, as soon as he's eligible, election to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and his Number 30 rising to the rafters at the Prudential Center -- the House That Marty Built, as much as anyone else did.

If that's how he goes out, that's a pretty good way to go out. Thank you, Marty.

Of course, I hope he doesn't go out. It would be pretty rough for me to lose Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte (both in September 2013), Martin Brodeur (March 2014), Thierry Henry and Derek Jeter (both probably in October 2014), all in the span of a little more than a year. That's a lot of history in those 5 guys.

How long has it been since the Devils knew that, aside from injury (which rarely happened), they couldn't rely on Brodeur?


In late March 1992, the Devils were beginning their rise to being the team that would win 3 Stanley Cups in the next 11 seasons. Brodeur was a rookie, about to turn 20 years old. Scott Niedermayer was also a rookie, only 18. But there were some seasoned veterans, including Hall-of-Famers Peter Stastny and Viacheslav Fetisov.

And it was the first year in Devils colors -- and the last year that those colors would be red and green, instead of Scarlet & Black -- for the man who, more than any other, turned them from pretenders to contenders to champions, Scott Stevens.

And the players from the 1995 Cup win were beginning to arrive: Brodeur, Niedermayer, Stevens; not quite original, but long-standing, Devils John MacLean, Bruce Driver and Ken Daneyko, and the man Marty would eventually replace as the starting goalie, Chris Terreri; Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer, who had played on the Montreal Canadiens' 1986 Cup-winners; Tommy Albelin, Tom Chorske, Jim Dowd, Bill Guerin, Randy McKay, Alexander Semak and Valeri Zelepukin.

The Devils would finish 4th in what was then known as the Patrick Division, and, in the first round of the Playoffs, take the New York Rangers to 7 games before losing. It was the first sign that this franchise was beginning to grow up. (The 1988 run to the Conference Finals, beating out the Rangers for the last Playoffs spot, and beating the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals before falling to the Bruins, was wonderful, but it was an anomaly.)

The Cup would be won by the defending champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Stastny, Fetisov, Stevens, Niedermayer, Mario Lemeiux, Bryan Trottier, Michel Goulet, Wayne Gretzky, Joe Mullen, Denis Savard, Mike Gartner, Dale Hawercuk, Jari Kurri, Rod Langway, Grant Fuhr, Pat Lafontaine, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Cam Neely, Patrick Roy, Mark Messier, Al MacInnis, Ron Francis, Glenn Anderson, Igor Larionov, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Dino Ciccarelli, Ed Belfour, Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe, Joe Nieuwendyk, Pavel Bure, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan were all then active. All are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

There was an NHL team in Minnesota, but it was the North Stars, not the Wild. There was a Winnipeg Jets, but it was the team that had once dominated the World Hockey Association, and would later become the Phoenix Coyotes, not the team that had started out as the Atlanta Thrashers.

At this point, the Wild and Thrashers did not exist. Nor did the Nashville Predators or the Columbus Blue Jackets. The new Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning existed only on paper; they would not debut until the next season. The Florida Panthers and the team then known as "The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim" (a.k.a. the Mighty Dorks and the Mighty Schmucks) were getting ready to debut the following season. The San Jose Sharks had just debuted, and were still playing at the Cow Palace, just outside San Francisco, before their arena could be ready.

The idea that the North Stars would move anywhere, let alone to Dallas, was ridiculous. That the Quebec Nordiques might move was not, but at this point it was only a rumor, and no one yet realized that they would become the Colorado Avalanche. The Hartford Whalers needed a better arena, but no one yet conceived that they could become the Carolina Hurricanes.

At that point, the Devils, the Nords/Avs (unless you count the 1977 WHA title), the Lightning, the Whalers/Canes (unless you count the 1973 WHA title), the Ducks, the Los Angeles Kings, the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks, the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints, the Seattle Seahawks, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Braves since they moved to Atlanta, the Florida/Miami Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the Giants since they moved to San Francisco, had never won a World Championship.

The Lightning, the Canes, the Panthers, the Ducks, the Kings, the Senators, the Washington Capitals, the Spurs, the Heat, the Mavs, the Seahawks, the Bucs, the Saints, the Orlando Magic, the Utah Jazz, the Indiana Pacers (unless you count their 3 ABA titles), the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets (unless you count the 1974 and '76 ABA titles), the San Diego Chargers (unless you count the 1963 AFL title), the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise (unless you count the 1960 and '61 AFL titles), the Carolina Panthers, the Jays, the Marlins, the D-backs, the Angels, the Houston Astros, the Colorado Rockies, the Tampa Bay Ray and the Texas Rangers had never reached their sports' finals.

As of Super Bowl XLVIII, those facts are no longer true.

Hockey legends Maurice Richard, Toe Blake, Syl Apps, Sid Abel, were still alive. Ace Bailey, whose career was ended by an illegal hit by Eddie Shore and whose benefit game in 1934 is considered the first NHL All-Star Game, was about to die. Frank Finnigan, the last living player from the last Stanley Cup won by the original Ottawa Senators, 1927 (65 years earlier), had just died, after giving his all to help bring the NHL back to his nation's capital.

In contrast, Henrik Lundqvist had just turned 10 years old. Jonathan Quick, Alexander Ovechkin, and the man who would replace Marty as Devils' starting goalie, Cory Schneider, were 6. Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux were 4, Jonathan Toews about to turn 4. Steven Stamkos and Adam Henrique were 2. John Tavares was a year and a half.

The Rangers hadn't won the Stanley Cup in 52 years, the Red Wings in 37 years, the Chicago Blackhawks in 31 years. The Toronto Maple Leafs' drought was a comparatively bearable 25 years. To the Rangers and their fans, New York Islander fans, not that long ago winning Cups themselves, chanted, "NINE-teen-FOR-ty! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)" Devils fans, of course, also chanted it, but Ranger fans could come back with, "NINE-teen-NEV-er! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)"

The Rangers and Knicks had recently faced a minor renovation of Madison Square Garden; they've just faced a major renovation. The Devils have left the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands for the Prudential Center. So have the Nets, who have since moved on to the Barclays Center. As will the Islanders in a year and a half. The Yankees and Mets have since moved into new ballparks, and the Giants and Jets have moved from Giants Stadium to MetLife Stadium.

In addition to the New York teams, only the Alberta teams, the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames, are still playing in the same arenas they were using in 1991-92, the NHL's 75th Anniversary season. (If you're an astute observer, you'll notice that the 100th Anniversary season, the Centennial season, is not that far away: October 2016. And the NFL's Centennial isn't much further away than that: September 2020, just 6 1/2 years.)

In addition to the Penguins, the defending World Champions were the Minnesota Twins (who haven't won one since), the Washington Redskins (ditto), and the Chicago Bulls (who would win more). The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Evander Holyfield. On the very day that Brodeur made his debut, Mike Tyson was sentenced to 6 years in prison for rape. He would serve 3 years. The day before, the first Cricket World Cup was won when Pakistan beat England.

The Winter Olympics had just been held in Albertville, France. Since then, the Olympics have been held in America twice, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Canada, Britain and Russia.

Derek Jeter was a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School. Brett Favre had yet to start a game at quarterback in the NFL. LeBron James was 7.

Barack Obama was the president. Of the Harvard Law Review. Later in the year, he would graduate from Harvard University, and marry another lawyer, Michelle Robinson.

The President of the Untied States was George Bush. The father, not the son. The son was working on the father’s campaign – well, as much as he’s ever “worked” on anything. Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas and a few weeks away from securing the Democratic nomination to challenge Bush the father in the Presidential election. Dan Quayle was Vice President. Although we may now owe him an apology: He was never as dumb as Dubya, or Sarah Palin.

Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and their wives, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, were still alive. (So were Jimmy Carter and Nancy Reagan – who, at this writing, are still alive today.)

The Governor of New York was Mario Cuomo. The Mayor of New York City was David Dinkins. The Governor of New Jersey was Jim Florio. Former New York Governors Malcolm Wilson and Hugh Carey were still alive. So were former New Jersey Governors Richard J. Hughes (though he would die later in the year), William T. Cahill, Brendan Byrne and Tom Kean, who at this point was president of Morris County’s Drew University. So were former New York Mayors John Lindsay, Abe Beame and Ed Koch. (Byrne, Kean and Dinkins are still alive. So is Cuomo, whose son Andrew is now Governor.)

Andrew was then Chairman of the New York City Homeless Commission. Rudy Giuliani was in private law practice, and between runs for Mayor. Chris Christie was also practicing law, although not yet a partner. George Pataki and David Paterson were serving in the State Senate in New York, while Donald DiFrancesco and Richard Codey were also serving as such in New Jersey. Jim McGreevey was in the State Assembly, and was about to be elected Mayor of Woodbridge. Eliot Spitzer was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan. Jon Corzine was a bond trader for Goldman Sachs. Michael Bloomberg was building a media empire.

Major movies of 1992 included A Few Good Men (based on the play written by Aaron Sorkin, including Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth!” diatribe), Scent of a Woman (finally getting Al Pacino his Oscar), The Bodyguard (and, despite the belief of the Kim Fields character on Living Single, it was not a comedy), In the Line of Fire (another bodyguard film, with Clint Eastwood saving a fictional President from John Malkovich), Unforgiven (which may turn out to be the last great Western movie, and may be Eastwood’s best film), and the original, quite campy version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Kristy Swanson. That year, Swanson also appeared in The Program, starring James Caan as a beleaguered college football coach. (Filmed at the University of South Carolina, including its Williams-Brice Stadium.)
Michael Douglas, about to be 48 years old, was starring in Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone. And Catherine Zeta-Jones, about to turn 23, was starring in the British TV series The Darling Buds of May, and sang “For All Time,” a minor hit on the British charts, which was recorded for a concept album titled Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of Spartacus – which was apparently never filmed, unlike the 1960 version of Spartacus, starring Catherine’s future father-in-law, Kirk Douglas.

Johnny Carson was about to hand The Tonight Show off to Jay Leno. The Arsenio Hall Show was doing well, and would soon be booming, partly thanks to having Bill and Hillary Clinton as guests on June 3, and partly due to Arsenio's handling of the Los Angeles race riot in late April, including an appearance by Mayor Tom Bradley. 

The Sci-Fi Channel debuted. NBC dropped Saturday morning cartoons in favor of Saved By the Bell. TV shows premiering include Barney & Friends, MTV's The Real World, Melrose Place, The Larry Sanders Show, and one of my all-time favorites, Mad About You. Shows that closed included The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Who's the Boss?, MacGyver and Night Court. Seinfeld aired "The Contest," effectively proclaiming Jerry Seinfeld to be master of the domain of televised comedy.

Major books of 1992 included The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, The Pelican Brief by John Grisham, Jazz by Toni Morrison, Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan (who, clearly, still had her groove going), The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! By Mordecai Richler (a great study of how the Province relates to the rest of the country), Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray, and the debut of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series of horror novels for young adults – as if young people in that era needed any more things to frighten them. Trust me, I know. Speaking of which, 1992 was also the year Stephen King published Dolores Claiborne.

Canada's Prime Minister was Brian Mulroney. Elizabeth II was Queen of England, but her 40th Anniversary on the throne was tainted by the breakup of the marriage of Charles and Diana, and soon also by a fire at Windsor Castle. Prime Minister John Major led the Conservative Party to victory for the first and, as it turned out, only time.

England moved from its old “Football League” to its “English Premier League,” with Leeds United winning the last title of the old League, and Liverpool winning the FA Cup thanks to Ian Rush (no surprise there) and Michael Thomas (big surprise, since his goal beat Liverpool for Arsenal to win the League 3 years earlier). And 1992 was also the year soccer’s European Cup was first won by Barcelona, and it became the UEFA Champions League that fall.

The big movement in music was grunge, led by Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. Paul Simon became the first major musical artist to tour South Africa after the end of apartheid. The Freddie Mercury tribute concert was held at the original Wembley Stadium in London. Singer Selena eloped with her guitarist, Chris Perez. David Bowie married Somali fashion model Iman, who had once been married to basketball star Spencer Haywood. This marriage may have been the first one where a supermodel married a man who was thinner. Whitney Houston married Bobby Brown. Dr. Dre was about to release The Chronic, which would introduce the world to Snoop Dogg – or Snoop Doggy Dogg as he was then known.

When Martin Brodeur arrived at the Meadowlands, Alecia Moore was 12 years old and not yet Pink. Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys were 11. Britney Spears was 10. Peter Gene Hernandez (the future Bruno Mars) was 6, and Stefani Germanotta (the future Lady Gaga) was about to turn 6. Taylor Swift was 2. Kevin Jonas was 4, Joe Jonas was 3, and Nick Jonas wasn't born yet. Nor were Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber. In fact, Miley’s father Billy Ray had just released his shaky flaky song “Achy Breaky Heart” 3 days before Marty's debut.

There were mobile telephones, but they were still pretty big. High-definition television was something that was beginning to be heard about, but most people hadn't yet seen it. Microsoft released Windows 3.1. The Internet existed, but most of us hadn't heard of it yet. There was no Netscape, no America Online, no Google, no Wikipedia, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Pinterest.

In the late winter and early spring of 1992, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia got underway. Ethnic Armenians killed over 600 Azerbaijanis in the Khojaly Massacre in Azerbaijan. Turkey lost over 200 people in a coal mine collapse, and another 500 in an earthquake. Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris) opened. Comedian Sam Kinison was killed in a car crash.

Menachem Begin, and Isaac Asimov, and Walmart founder Sam Walton died. So died Paul Heinreid, the last surviving major actor in Casablanca. Taylor Lautner, and Kyrie Irving, and soccer star Neymar were born.

March 26, 1992: Martin Brodeur makes his debut for the New Jersey Devils. Nobody could have guessed that Win Number 1 in a Devils uniform would be followed by 683 others.

Tonight, March 4, 2014, he got Win Number 684. With tomorrow being the NHL trading deadline, it could well be his last for the club.

I hope not.




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