Philadelphia, PA – In the nine years since Martin Brodeur last manned the crease in the Stanley Cup Finals. the goaltender's career obituary had been written countless times.
As the 40-year-old prepares to enter his fifth Finals series, it's obvious those eulogies were delivered prematurely.
Yet, before Brodeur even gets a chance to lead the New Jersey Devils to a fourth Stanley Cup title, all anybody wants to know is if he'll retire should his team win it all. Of course, the Los Angeles Kings and their own star goaltender, Jonathan Quick, stand in the way of Brodeur actually having to make that decision.
Brodeur was willing to talk at length about the possibility of his retirement when he spoke with reporters on Monday, but he mostly spoke about how much fun he was having still playing. The last thing he sounded like was a guy ready to hang up the skates.
"I can't say no, but I doubt it," Brodeur said after being asked if he'd retire following a New Jersey title. "I'm really enjoying this. Regardless of what happens in this series, I think we made a great step last year at the end of the year and through this year to have a really good team and a good coaching staff together and it's fun. To me, it's all about having fun coming to the rink."
Much has changed since 2003 when the Devils and Brodeur last lifted the Cup. That championship team was a club built to withstand just about any attack in its own zone. Brodeur's magnificent play in net was a big part of that formula, and while he still mans the crease for New Jersey today, the club's top defensemen from 2003 -- Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko and Brian Rafalski -- have all entered retirement.
Compared to the 2003 team, these days the Devils do a lot less hanging back in their own zone. Instead, the team has been able to apply tons of pressure on the puck, which allows New Jersey to dictate the flow of a game. Brodeur has relished in the up-tempo style, contributing four assists this postseason to set an NHL record for assists by a goaltender in one playoff year.
New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella lamented the fact that his team couldn't get the puck off the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals and the vaunted offense of the Philadelphia Flyers also was frustrated similarly in the previous round.
Although forwards Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora join Brodeur to link this era of Devils to the franchise's championship past, this current crop of younger players has the goaltender feeling rejuvenated. Even though Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals will be Brodeur's 200th career playoff game, winning has a way of making everything seem new again.
"It's fun to look at these young guys. I feel like one of 'em," Brodeur said. "I have more experience than anybody, but when you're on a hockey team and part of something great, I think ages, experience, nationalities -- it all goes out the window. You're part of it, and it's been a lot of fun."
One of the ways Brodeur seems to be having fun this spring is while talking to the media. In the same way Tortorella was able to be a lightning rod for the Rangers to draw pressure away from his young team, Brodeur has served in a similar capacity for New Jersey. Although Brodeur said on Monday that he is often misquoted, it appears as though there's been more than a little bit of calculation to his remarks this spring.
However, Brodeur didn't get controversial when speaking about L.A.'s 26-year- old goaltending sensation. Quick is a Vezina Trophy finalist, and even though he's facing a future Hall of Famer in Brodeur in the Cup Finals, the Kings expect to have the advantage in net.
"I don't know what his past was," Brodeur said of Quick. "But he's a pretty spectacular goalie. He wears his name really well."
Being overlooked in favor of the newer model is nothing new for Brodeur. In the Eastern Conference finals, everyone expected he'd be outplayed by Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, another Vezina finalist, but Brodeur was clearly the better puck-stopper in that series.
Perhaps, Brodeur is benefiting from the perspective gained in winning three championships and having to wait nearly a decade for a shot at a fourth.
"I know a lot of people say it's great to retire on top, but at the end of the day, when I'm going to say it's over, it's over, I'm not going to come back. I want to make sure I make the right decision."
It's taken a long time for him to get back to the Cup Finals and it's hard to blame Brodeur for not wanting to commit to retirement just yet. He's proven the doubters wrong so many times at this point, who are we to say he can't do it for a few more years?