Thursday, December 4, 2014

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


March 26, 1992: Martin Brodeur, wearing Number 29, makes his NHL debut, at the Brendan Byrne Arena (now the IZOD Center) in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and the New Jersey Devils beat the Boston Bruins, 4-2. Win Number 1.

December 4, 2014: The Devils take the ice against another "Original Six" team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Brodeur also takes the ice tonight -- but not for the Devils. Instead, he will suit up as the starting goaltender for the St. Louis Blues, against the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

It will be his 1st game for an NHL team other than the Devils. Here's what he did for the Devils: 1,259 games, 74,083 minutes, 28,776 saves, 688 wins, 124 shutouts -- in every case, more in regular-season play than any NHL goaltender. A career save percentage of .912 and a goals-against average of 2.24.

Keep in mind: When he began his career, the record for most wins was 448, and for most shutouts 103, both held by 1950s-60s legend Terry Sawchuk. (Patrick Roy beat Brodeur to most wins, Brodeur passing his record of 551.) Brodeur has surpassed the old record for wins by 53 percent, and the old record for saves, once considered safe for all time (next-best was 94 by 1930s star George Hainsworth), by 20 percent. In other words, 240 wins and 21 shutouts would be a decent career for most goalies -- and that's the margin between Brodeur's totals and Sawchuk's old records.

Add to this 205 Playoff games, 113 Playoff wins, 24 Playoff shutouts (more than most goalies get in regular-season play), a .919 Playoff save percentage (only slightly lower than his regular-season average), a 2.02 Playoff GAA (0.22 lower than his regular-season average!), 3 Stanley Cups, 4 Vezina Trophies as the league's most valuable goalie (plus 3 other times finishing 2nd in the voting, and 7 times finishing in the top 5 for the Hart Memorial Trophy, the overall NHL MVP), 5 Jennings Trophies as the goalie with the best save percentage, the Calder Trophy as the outstanding rookie (yes, he was once a rookie) and 15 All-Star Game appearances.

As soon as he's eligible, he will be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and his Number 30 will rise to the rafters at the Prudential Center in Newark -- the House That Marty Built, as much as anyone else did.

Marty, Marty, Marty, Marty!
Born is the King of New Jersey!
Brodeur, Brodeur, Brodeur, Brodeur!
Born is the King of Prudential Center!

It's been pretty rough around here: In just the last 15 months, the New York Tri-State Area has lost Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, and now, officially, just in the last few days, Thierry Henry and Martin Brodeur. That's 5 unbelievable legends, although Pettitte isn't quite up to the same level, and Henry did his best work on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

So who's left in the Area? The Yankees still have Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki, but, for very different reasons, who's kidding who? The Mets have David Wright? Please: He could, as the Mets' all-time leader in hits, have twice as many as he has, and still not have more than Jeter. Also, he's never seen a World Series except on television.

The Giants have Eli Manning, but he's begun to decline; the Jets... Uh, let's move along.

The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, but he hasn't panned out. The Nets have Kevin Garnett, but he hasn't done anything for them -- and you could add now-former-Net Paul Pierce to the list of legends who have recently gotten away.

The Devils have Patrik Elias, but it's just not the same. They have Jaromir Jagr, who's done yeoman work for them at an advanced age, but, 20 years from now, people will talk about him only as a Pittsburgh Penguin. The Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist, but his nickname of "King" remains a gigantic joke; he's no more a "legend" than Wright is. The Rangers also have Martin St. Louis, but he'll forever be thought of as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers also have Rick Nash, but, while he was the greatest player the Columbus Blue Jackets have ever had, even among Ranger stars, he doesn't rank. The Islanders have John Tavares... riiiiiiiight.

You want to count soccer? The Red Bulls still have Tim Cahill, but he wasn't even a legend for Everton. New York City F.C. has Frank Lampard and David Villa, but since the club hasn't even played a real game yet (and won't until this coming March), they're still legends of Chelsea and Barcelona, respectively (though Fat Frank is currently doing well on loan to NYCFC's parent club, Manchester City). As for the new version of the New York Cosmos, don't make me laugh.

You want to add the WNBA? Their biggest star is Cappie Pondexter. The only real superstar they've ever had is Rebecca Lobo, and she's been retired for years.

So... Essentially, through all 13 of those teams combined, it's Eli and a cast of thousands.

*

This is an update of a piece I did last March, when it looked like the Devils might trade Brodeur at the NHL trading deadline. They didn't. But it didn't delay the inevitable by much.

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. Stas would not still be around on that magical night of June 24, 1995. Slava would be -- but on the other team, the Red Wings. He would eventually win 3 Cups with them, and may well be the greatest hockey player Russia has ever produced. Stastny is probably the greatest Slovakian player, but he never played in a Stanley Cup Finals.

That 1991-92 season was also the 1st 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.

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 1st round of the Playoffs, take the New York Rangers to 7 games before losing. It was the 1st 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 let's be honest: It was an anomaly.)

That 1991-92 season, the Cup would be won by the defending champions, the Penguins. Stastny, Fetisov, Stevens, Niedermayer, Roy, 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, 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, Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Dominik Hasek and Mike Modano were all then active. Peter Forsberg had not yet played an NHL game. All of those players 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 current team with the name, which started out as the Atlanta Thrashers.

At this point, the Wild and Thrashers did not exist. Nor did the Predators or the 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, the Mighty Clucks 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, just a few months removed from making the Stanley Cup Finals, would move anywhere, let alone to the Sun Belt, 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 Rays 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 and Jean Beliveau 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 1st 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, in 1927 (65 years earlier), had just died, after giving his all to help bring the NHL back to his nation's capital.

In contrast, St. Louis was about to turn 17 years old, Elias was about to be 16, Gomez was 12, Henrik and Daniel Sedin were 11, and Lundqvist had just turned 10. Jonathan Quick, Alexander Ovechkin, and the man who would replace Marty as the Devils' starting goalie, Cory Schneider, were 6. Evgeni Malkin was 5, Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux were 4, Jonathan Toews about to turn 4, Patrick Kane was 3, Steven Stamkos and Adam Henrique were 2, and Tavares was a year and a half. The last 4 winners of the Calder Trophy -- Jeff Skinner, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jonathan Huberdeau and Nathan MacKinnon -- weren't born yet.

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 next fall. 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 -- and the Oilers are currently building a new arena. (If you're an astute observer, you'll notice that the NHL's 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 United 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, 47 years old, was starring in Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone. And Catherine Zeta-Jones, just 22, 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 did 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 687 others.

Tonight, December 4, 2014, he goes for Win Number 689 -- with a team other than the Devils.


I just hope, for his sake more than that of the Blues franchise, that his time in St. Louis goes better for him than did Jacques Plante in Toronto, Gump Worsley in Minnesota, Dave Keon in Hartford, Bobby Orr in Chicago, Chris Chelios in Atlanta, Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick in Arizona, Johnny Unitas in San Diego, Joe Namath in Los Angeles, Jerry Rice in Denver, Bob Cousy in Cincinnati, Dave Cowens in Boston, Babe Ruth with the Boston Braves, Steve Carlton after he left Philadelphia, or Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra or Willie Mays for the Mets. Even Tom Glavine for the Mets would be an improvement on that.

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