Hall of Famer says NHL teams ‘baby’ their goalies: report

NHL: Minnesota Wild at New Jersey Devils
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Goaltending is the most volatile position in hockey, if not all of professional sports, these days. And Martin Brodeur believes NHL teams only have themselves to blame.

“I think we baby our goalies,” Brodeur told The Athletic. “I see it. I’m part of it. It’s like, my goalie coach will say, ‘He’s played five games the past eight days …” I’m like, ‘So?'”

Brodeur is the winningest goalie in NHL history with 691 regular-season victories. He also played more games (1,266) than any NHL goalie.

Now, Brodeur is the executive vice president of hockey operations for the New Jersey Devils, the team he backstopped to three Stanley Cup championships (1995, 2000, 2003). It’s in his current role that he sees just how different goalies are handled today than during his heyday.

“It’s the system of 1A and 1B that’s going to create that,” Brodeur explained. “Because it’s always going to be, ‘We can’t play back-to-back (games).’ You’re so scared the No. 1 gets hurt. And so you baby that guy for the longest time.

“So, these guys are playing 55 games. They should be playing 65 to 70 games like we did.”

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Martin Brodeur says goalie is most volatile position in NHL

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Boston Bruins
Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Brodeur pointed out that perhaps only 5-8 teams have legitimate No. 1 goalies now. Mostly, there are goalie tandems. Like in Boston, where the Bruins have ridden the backs of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark to the top of the League standings two years in a row.

But the Bruins are an anomaly in Brodeur’s mind. More teams are like his Devils, who’ve had five different goalies start a game this season, and had seven different starters in 2021-22. Not surprisingly, neither season is ending up with a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Juuse Saros of the Nashville Predators leads the League with 57 starts this season. Alexendar Georgiev of the Colorado Avalanche is right behind him with 55. And what’s the biggest fear in the Mile High City these days? That Georgiev will be fried by time the playoffs arrive, possibly short-circuiting Colorado’s chances at winning a second Stanley Cup title in three years.

Brodeur did admit that playing goalie in the NHL today takes an incredible toll on the body. That’s because the players are so good and in such phenomenal shape. But often goalie tandems lead to a goalie breaking out one season and regressing the next. The lack of consistency at the position drives Brodeur batty.

“The sport has changed, but the position has changed a lot just because of the workload these guys are having,” Brodeur said. “It’s so volatile, that position. One year, you can be the top goalie. The second year, it’s like you don’t even belong in the League.”

Brodeur started 70 or more games 11 times in his career. He’s the extreme but there were far more workhorses in the past than now. Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets started 64 games last season, one of seven goalies with more than 60. Only five goalies started 60+ games the season before when Saros led the League with 67.

Goalies today are conditioned to think that sharing the load is the way to go, that starting games on consecutive nights is blasphemy. Brodeur is understanding to a point.

“I still believe it’s still a sport,” Brodeur said. “And you know what? It’s a feel. If your athlete wants it, and he tells you he wants to do it, you should let him do it.”

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