Comparing goalies is challenging, because of different eras, different teammates, different opponents, different equipment, different styles, and the difficulty of separating individual performance from team performance. This makes it tougher to rank goalies than skaters. Ask 10 different experts on who the top 5 goalies of all-time are, and there will be substantial variation in the choices and rankings. Ask the same experts about the top 5 skaters, and they'll all have Gretzky, Orr, Lemieux, Howe, and maybe Richard, probably in that order.
Since it seems to be a lot easier to rank players, I thought of the question: If Martin Brodeur was a skater, who would he be? Which forward or defenceman is very similar to Brodeur in terms of career accomplishments? I think I have come up with a pretty close fit: Joe Sakic.
Both have been consistent performers. Sakic has scored over a point per game almost every season, and 6 times went over 100 points. Marty Brodeur has posted 10 consecutive 35 win seasons.
Both have piled up the numbers. Sakic will likely rank top 5 all-time in points scored by the time he retires, and probably in the top 10 in playoff points as well. Brodeur is 2nd all-time in wins and 3rd in shutouts.
Both are well-respected in hockey. Sakic is seen as a great leader, the only captain the Avalanche have ever had. Brodeur is seen as classy and a nice guy.
They have both led consistently good teams. The Avalanche have been a good team since 1995. The Devils have been near the top of the league since 1994.
Both are known as clutch players. Sakic has won 2 Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy (for his 18 goal playoff season in 1996), and has a better goal scoring record in the playoffs than the regular season. Brodeur has 3 Cups and a better playoff save percentage and GAA than during the regular season.
Both were overshadowed by other players early in their careers. Sakic played in the shadow of other great centers like Gretzky and Lemieux, as well as Yzerman. Similarly, throughout the 1990s most of the goalie recognition went to Roy and Hasek, rather than Brodeur.
This led to late recognition of their excellence. Sakic never made the NHL First or Second All-Star teams until his MVP season in 2001, and then he made it to the First Team again in 2002 and 2004. Brodeur never won any Vezinas until 2003, then won two in a row. They both did however play in many All-Star Games throughout their careers: Sakic in 12, Brodeur in 9.
Both have great international records. Sakic was the MVP of the 2002 Olympics, and captain of the 2006 team. Brodeur was the most outstanding goalie of the 2004 World Cup, as well as an Olympic gold medallist.
The two players appear to be a pretty similar in terms of team success, reputation, and individual awards. The point is, though, that while Joe Sakic is greatly respected and is considered one of the top players of his generation, nobody in their right minds would think of Joe Sakic as a candidate for the greatest ever. He is probably top 50, maybe top 30 at best. The greatest of all-time are Gretzky, Orr, and Lemieux. The reason for that is obvious: their individual trophy hauls are just staggering. Gretzky has 9 MVPs, 10 Art Rosses, and 2 Conn Smythes. Lemieux has 3 MVPs, 6 Art Rosses, 2 Conn Smythes, and a Calder. Bobby Orr has 2 Art Rosses, a Calder, 2 Conn Smythes, 3 Hart Trophies, and 8 Norris Trophies. Even Gordie Howe, a guy who is known mainly for his longevity, won a good deal of hardware, including 6 scoring titles and 6 Hart Trophies.
In contrast to skaters, goalies are usually judged based on their wins, Cups, and shutouts. All of these are very team dependent. They should instead be judged on their trophies won, just like players are. On that basis, the best might be someone like Dominik Hasek, with 6 Vezina Trophies, 2 Hart Trophies, and 6 1st All-Star Teams. Or maybe Ken Dryden: 5 Vezinas, a Conn Smythe, a Calder, and 5 First Team All-Stars in a short career. Other candidates are Jacques Plante, who had 7 Vezinas, 1 Hart Trophy, and was 3 times a First Team All-Star, and Patrick Roy, with his 3 Vezinas, 4 First Team All-Star selections, and 3 Conn Smythe trophies.
When it comes to major individual awards, both Sakic and Brodeur fall a little short. Sakic has a Conn Smythe, a Hart, a Pearson, and 3 First All-Star nods. Brodeur has a Calder, 2 Vezinas, and 2 First All-Star nominations.
Just like Joe Sakic, Marty Brodeur has had some notable career accomplishments. Just like Joe Sakic, Brodeur is considered one of the best at his position during the time period in which he played. And just as Joe Sakic is not even considered in discussions about the greatest of all-time, neither should one consider Martin Brodeur. The reason is that their performance statistics pale in comparison with the very best, and they do not have the trophies and awards that indicate dominant performance. The main difference between the two in terms of their all-time ranking in the game is that goalies are much more likely to be judged based on the success of their teams than skaters are.