Sunday, June 3, 2007

How Martin Brodeur Lost the Stanley Cup

With the Stanley Cup Finals underway, and with either J.S. Giguere or Ray Emery set to become immortalized as a Stanley Cup winner within the next two weeks, I thought to take a look back at one of Martin Brodeur's seasons in an attempt to demonstrate how misleading the "Stanley Cup winner" label can sometimes be.

What is one of the most-used arguments for Martin Brodeur's greatness? "He's won three Stanley Cups". This is often stated as if he singlehandedly led his team to victory. But how come you never hear about the Stanley Cup that Brodeur lost? The playoff year where one of the best teams in recent memory couldn't bring home the Cup mainly because of the poor play of their goaltender? Shouldn't that count for something?

In 2000-01, the New Jersey Devils, fresh off a Stanley Cup win in 2000, finished first in the Eastern Conference with 111 points. They led the league in goals scored (295), and tied for 5th in goals against (195). They had the best goal differential in the NHL, and their goals for/against suggested that they were actually major underachievers that year. Only two teams in the last 25 years had a better goal ratio than the 2001 Devils in a full season: the 1996 Red Wings, and the 1989 Flames, and that includes the mid-80's Edmonton Oilers dynasty.

The team was stacked, with two 40-goal snipers (Patrik Elias and Alex Mogilny), Petr Sykora (81 points), Scott Gomez (63 points), and Jason Arnott (55 points in 54 games). The checking line was outstanding at both ends, as Selke Trophy winner John Madden and Randy McKay both scored 23 goals and along with Bobby Holik shut down the opposition's best. The defence corps was led by the Scotts, Stevens and Niedermayer, and supported by Brian Rafalski, who had a breakout year with 52 points, and veteran Ken Daneyko. In goal was Martin Brodeur.

In the first playoff round, New Jersey eliminated 8th seeded Carolina in 6 games. The Devils dominated the 'Canes throughout, but Arturs Irbe had a couple of excellent games to delay the inevitable, despite facing 33.5 shots per game. Brodeur barely broke a sweat, facing just 19 shots per game and allowing just 8 goals.

The Devils moved on to play the #7 seeded Toronto Maple Leafs, who had done Devils a big favour by upsetting the second-seeded Ottawa Senators. One of the biggest reasons was goalie Curtis Joseph, who continued his excellent play against the Devils. New Jersey strongly outplayed Toronto in the first three games, but barely managed to take a 2-1 series lead on the strength of two overtime victories. Toronto then won games 4 and 5 to push New Jersey to the brink of elimination as Joseph continued to outplay Brodeur. In game 6, Brodeur finally played a good game, stopping 24 of 26, and New Jersey won 4-2. In the decisive game 7, the Devils put together a dominant performance, holding Toronto to just 16 shots in a 5-1 rout.

During the series, Brodeur faced just 20.5 shots per game, and had a dismal .878 save percentage against the 13th ranked offence in the league. Curtis Joseph outplayed Brodeur in 5 of the games, facing 28.6 shots per game and stopping pucks at an .898 clip. Despite the huge edge in shots and play, New Jersey outscored Toronto just 21-18.

The Conference Final opponent was the 6th seeded Penguins, a 96 point team during the regular season. With offensive stars including Mario Lemieux and scoring leader Jaromir Jagr, the Pens had finished second to New Jersey in goals scored. The problem was that the defence was weak, and the goaltending was so bad that Pittsburgh turned to untested rookie Johan Hedberg throughout their surprising playoff run.

That run would end against New Jersey. Pittsburgh's high-scoring offence ran into the brick wall of New Jersey's defence. In game one, the Penguins managed just 15 shots on Martin Brodeur in a 3-1 loss. In game 2, they got 23, but beat Brodeur 4 times in a 4-2 win. In games three and four, Brodeur posted back-to-back shutouts, making 20 and 21 saves respectively. Pittsburgh finally scored a couple of goals in game 5, but New Jersey closed out the series with a 4-2 win. Over the series, New Jersey outscored Pittsburgh 17-7 and outshot them 139-99. Brodeur had his best series of the playoffs with a .929 save percentage and 2 shutouts, although he was again rarely tested with just 20 shots against per game.

That led to a much-hyped goalie showdown in the Stanley Cup Finals: Martin Brodeur vs. Patrick Roy. Colorado was the President's Trophy Winner with 118 points, but they did it in a weaker division, had a worse goal differential than New Jersey, and were missing their best playmaker in Peter Forsberg who was injured for the Finals. Against the weakened Avalanche, the Devils were the better team.

In game one, however, the Devils came out flat, and Colorado jumped all over them, lighting up Brodeur for 5 goals in a 5-0 win. Game two was a tighter defensive affair, with both teams putting just 20 shots on net. With a 2-1 win, New Jersey grabbed a split of the games in Colorado.

The Avalanche took home ice advantage right back again with a 3-1 win in game 3, Brodeur giving up 3 goals on 21 shots. Facing a must-win situation, the Devils dominated game 4, outshooting Colorado 35-12. Brodeur let in 2 goals, despite being rarely tested, while Roy nearly stole the game, holding off the Devils until he made a costly puckhandling error to give up the tying goal, and the Devils found a late winner to tie the series. In game 5 in Colorado, New Jersey again outplayed the Avalanche, putting 4 goals past Roy. Brodeur stopped 22 of 23 shots in his best game of the series. The Devils were a win away from the Stanley Cup.

In game 6, Patrick Roy came ready to play. The Devils had early pressure, with three of the first four power plays and a 12-5 edge in shots through one period of play. But Roy stopped everything. Colorado scored 4 goals on Brodeur on only 18 shots, and Roy and the Avs blanked the Devils to send the series back to Colorado for game 7.

The season therefore came down to one game. The media focus was on Ray Bourque, attempting to win his first ever Stanley Cup, but the key players would be Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. In this high-stakes showdown, Brodeur blinked first, giving up a first period goal to Alex Tanguay, and in the second period was beaten again by Tanguay and then by Joe Sakic. New Jersey kept attacking, outshot Colorado yet again and managed to get one goal back, but that was all Patrick Roy would allow and the Avalanche took the Cup with a 3-1 win (Youtube).

The Stanley Cup Finals came down to goaltending. Over the 7 games, New Jersey outshot Colorado 178-146 and carried most of the play. Patrick Roy gave up only 11 goals in 7 games for a glittering .938 save percentage. Brodeur's numbers were mediocre: .870 save percentage and 2.71 GAA. The difference was even more glaring in the crucial games 6 and 7, where Brodeur let in 7 goals on 40 shots while Roy stopped 49 of 50. This is not just the stats either - from watching the games it was clear that New Jersey was the better team, but Colorado won because they got much better play from the goaltender position.

Brodeur was not merely outplayed in one playoff series by one of the greatest goalies of all time, he was actually one of the worst goaltenders in the 2001 playoffs. He ranked 15th out of 18 goalies in save percentage, and dead last among all goalies who made it past the first round. Brodeur's poor stats were despite New Jersey having a creampuff run to the Finals against the bottom three seeds in the East. He finished 3rd in GAA and tied for 1st in shutouts, but this was simply because he finished first in fewest shots per game with far and away the lowest total at 20.2 shots per 60 minutes. The next lowest was 23.7. On a game-by-game save percentage basis, Brodeur was outplayed by the opposing goaltender in 13 of his 25 games, including 10 out of 14 times against Roy and Joseph combined.

For comparison's sake, in 2004 Patrick Lalime was chased out of Ottawa after posting a .906 save percentage and a 1.95 GAA in 7 games against Toronto. Famed choker Marty Turco's career playoff record is a .909 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. Roman Cechmanek, last playoff season in the NHL: .909 save percentage, 2.15 GAA. In Curtis Joseph's single worst playoff year with the Oilers, Leafs or Wings he posted a .907 save percentage. In 2001, Brodeur went to game 7 of the Finals with an .897 save percentage, .017 worse than the average of all of the other playoff goalies combined, facing the weakest conference opponents he could possibly face and then a Finals opponent missing one of the best players in the league.

Despite the erratic performance by Martin Brodeur, the New Jersey Devils almost won the Stanley Cup. Dominant at both ends of the ice, the Devils were probably one of the best teams of the last two decades. But they did not win it all, and the main reason was goaltending. Brodeur may have been a bigger factor in his team's loss in 2001 than he ever was a positive factor in his team winning in 1995, 2000, or 2003. By my accounting, therefore, Brodeur should get credit for no more than 2 Stanley Cup wins. He still owes New Jersey one from 2001.


Anonymous said...

One bad playoffs doesn't make him a fraud.

How do you explain all his wins, shutouts, career save pct., GAA, etc, etc, etc.

When all is said and done he'll be one of the best ever PERIOD.

This column is a fraud if you ask me.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I agree with you, one bad playoffs doesn't make Brodeur a fraud.

But it actually does go a long way towards explaining all his wins and shutouts. The reason is the strength of his team. If his team could almost win the Stanley Cup despite poor goaltending, then it shows that you don't have to be that good to win there, which is a huge advantage for any goalie.

Also, my point is that you can't pick out only a goalie's good playoff performances (for example, Cup wins, used by many to back Brodeur). You have to look at all of them as a whole.

I don't think Brodeur has ever singlehandedly won his team a Cup, but I do believe he almost singlehandedly lost his team one in 2001, and that is a pretty heavy strike against him in my book.

Anonymous said...

well i think the whole league is a fraud. i dont know if anyone has notices but goalies must be being advised to take a dive, just the way new york and bettman want it. notice how all thecontroversial teams that bettman moved south are either winning the cup or appearing in the finals? now look at the last three stanley cup finals. carolina , tampon bay and anaheim all win, all these controversial teams. playing against canadian teams, well it took 10 years to get a canadian team into the finals since bettmans tender, and the only reason they got there recently is canada has a tv contract, no canadian teams in the finals no one watches, no money in bettmans nhl. and look at the goalies all took a dive well i think calgary won but the refs disallowed their goal and reffing was suspect since kippersoff was so damn good . but anyways, i think they knew it was bourques last year for a cup and brodeur was to "take a dive". i wish broduer played for another team he is the only reason the devils have 3 cups. bettman has ruined this league to the point that its not worth watching unless your there live and looking at babes

Anonymous said...

i agree edmontons roloson who dominated the early rounds "gets hurt". emery was horrible for ottawa last ear last round but dominated the first three rounds and calgary just got robbed all to make bettman look like a genius for moving hartford to carolina even though fans werent there either till they were winning in the playoffs. tampa bay won even though they struggled with fans and i guess the deal was if the ducks drop the mighty , "you can win to" man gary you got it all worked out. you wont the predators move to canada , but you'll let phoenix win the cup, its gotta be their turn.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with some of your methods, but this column is very well laid out and presents a strong case against Marty B. I was on vacation during the finals in 2001 so I missed out on this series against Colorado. I wish I had been able to see it.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at some other events as part of the evaluation:

His play in the Olympics was excellent, and he is one of the significant reasons Canada was able to go double gold that year.

I recall a series where Patrick Roy completely fell apart and blew a crucial game which effectively put them out of the playoffs (it was only a game 6, but after his poor perfomance - here Stevie Y, I'll hold my empty catching-glove hand up in the air and show boat thinking I have the puck while you slide the loose puck into the net and totally embarass us - the game 7 win was a mere formality, and totally one-sided at that).
Whoever won that series was probably going to win the cup, and Roy did his best to make sure it was Detroit.

Does this make Patrick Roy something less than one of the best of all time? Absolutely not!

And the few cases where Marty played average while at centre stage do not negate the fact that over the length of his career he has shown himself to be one of the best of all time as well.

I wonder what is the highest level of hockey you ever played at, and also if you have ever played in goal.

I come from a family where all three boys played goal. Two of us played at university level, and the third played in the NHL long enough to garner a pension.

From my position, your whole approach to evaluating a goalie is suspect because it is obvious you don't like or respect Marty as a goalie and you have gone on a statistical scavenger hunt to prove your point.

As Mark Twain once said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Yet as Leonard Courtney once said, "After all, facts are facts, and although we may quote one to another with a chuckle the words of the Wise Statesman, 'Lies - damned lies - and statistics', still there are some easy figures the simplest must understand, and the astutest cannot wriggle out of."

Do you believe all goalie stats to be worthless? Sure, some stats can be manipulated or misused, but if I have the total number of shots a goalie faced, and the total number of goals a goalie let in, where is the subjectivity? For example, pointing out that a certain goalie had a much higher save percentage than another isn't a misuse of statistics, it is pointing out a simple fact (although of course we should always consider team factors).

It doesn't matter whether I like Martin Brodeur or not, my arguments should be judged for what they are. Would you never accept an argument from a Martin Brodeur fan because he is biased in the other direction? I have dealt with many other goalies on this blog, and I believe I have been consistent in applying my methods to all of them. The fact that Martin Brodeur comes out poorly in some of the measures is not because I am cherry-picking numbers, but because of his actual play. I have never ran across any performance numbers that have caused me to reconsider my position on Brodeur, and that includes when examining similar work done by other bloggers and analysts. As always, however, I would welcome evidence that I am wrong or that I am overlooking something, but unfortunately most people tend to attack me rather than the arguments.

I have never played high-level hockey, but I do play in goal. As a goalie, no doubt you realize the importance of the team in front of you with respect to both your performance and the likelihood of your team winning the game. That is the main point I am trying to make - that the rest of the team makes a greater contribution to winning than the goaltender, and therefore is primarily responsible for some of the popular goalie stats like wins, shutouts, and GAA.

Anonymous said...

If you are a goalie, you should know that sometimes it's easier to face more shots, because it allows you to get into a groove and stay focused. A game where you face 12 shots can be difficult, where a game where you face 20-25 shots may be easier. It also depends on how the shots are taken. you can face 30 easy shots and get a shut out or you can face 15 shots where they are mostly 2-1s or break aways and let in a couple goals. As for him having a good team you should look at thier 2008 roster. I'm sorry but I have to say this again you are a joke. why don't you join the devils and win a cup hotshot.

Anonymous said...

clearly you have not looked at statistics form any other year. this year, 2008, the sole reason the devils even made the playoffs was brodeur. 1994, and 95, and brodeur. you probably dont remmeber the 3 shutouts brodeur had in round 1 in 95 against the briuns, one of which was a 37 save overtime 1-0 victory. or the 3 shutouts in the 2003 cup finals including game 7. not to mention his career save % is around 92%, plus his playoff gaa, shutouts, and save percentage are all records or close to records. 2001 he didnt play well, but every goalie/player has an off game, week, or season in his career. i would like to see who you rank as your best goalie ever, i could easily pick them apart and make them look like roman checkmanik, or marty biron if youd like.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Posts filled with gratuitously profane personal attacks that have nothing to do with the arguments presented will be deleted.

Anonymous said...

Marty is a total fraud. If you have been watching the Rangers/Devils series this year, you would see it. Marty has let in 2 or 3 soft goals in all 4 games, while Henrik was an absolute wall in 1 and 2, and has been making absolutely amazing saves since. The only reason Marty got a win in game 3 was the strong play of his teammates and an overly lax Rangers team. Marty has dived/embellished at least 10 or 12 times so far, getting called only once because the refs think a goalie with such good stats must be really hurt if he flops on the ice. Marty speared Avery in the groin without due cause and got away with it. I don't care if Avery was calling his mother a whore, spearing is unacceptable. Marty pulled his helmet off on a bump from Jagr, no call, and to top it off. He clearly faked covering the puck when it was loose, drawing a whistle from the refs who were at a bad angle to see the play. He is despicable, and not nearly as good in goal as everyone says he is. The only reason he has such good stats is the team in front of him, and the fact that they play a tight defensive game.

Anonymous said...

Boohoo Marti is not only a fraud he's one of the biggest cry babies on the ice. Get the guy a tutu.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I thought I saw I comment from you that you you have dealt with many other goalies on this blog (yeah right!!!) What is the blog called by the way. You are so clearly biased, transparent and maddeningly holier-than-thau when it comes to providing only those stats that help your case. WHATEVER you think or say, those people that count (the fans and the players) believe that Brodeur is the equal of the greatest goalie of all time. How anybody can say that Brodeur is a fraud clearly knows nothing about playing on a team and being at the top of your game for most of a very long and decorated career. All I can think is that you make up for your failings with your petty jealousies with bloggers (including me) feeding your cause.

Give it up! Its getting a bit tired now (particularly after Vezina #4)

Anonymous said...

well, just look at the conclusion of this article... "By my account..."
That means it's only personal... it has nothing scientific about it... just a personal opinion.
Anybody can write an article, fill it with the statistics they wanna show, but in the end say: "in my opinion", or "By my account", and that means nothing.

I would just like to see the "author" do one hundredth of what Brodeur has done in his illustrious career and then we'll talk.

Brodeur is about to pass Roy in career wins... yet, no one seems to notice.
IN MY OPINION, hehehe, Brodeur is much better than Roy, better goalie, more wins and a person, kinder, person than the arrogant Roy (I won't say anything about the way he raised his son...)

If winning 3 Stanley Cups is a Fraud... how do you call whining about it online?

Anonymous said...

Brodeur is the greatest ever. Period. If you think NJ was a stacked team in 2001, I want to know where you buy your crack, because Colorado was a far, far better team. NJ won all 3 of its cups without ever even having a full blown superstar forward on the roster, think about that. No Forsberg, Sakic, Crosby, etc... just great goaltending by the one and only MARTY!!! :0)

Anonymous said...

To The Anonymous right above this post:

New Jersey didn't have stars? I guess in a world where the #3 point producer in the league (Elias) isn't a star, sure, or a 43-goal scorer (Mogilny) isn't one either, sure? Also, if you're talking superstars, what about Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens? Are defensemen not able to be stars? Also, you bring up Forsberg, Sakic...FORSBERG WAS INJURED FOR THE PLAYOFFS, AS CG STATED IN THE POST. Anyways, I guess Marty willed Elias and Mogilny to score those goals.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you said except one. Forsberg, while great, was definitely not the Avs best playermaker in 2001. That honor would definitely have to go to Super Joe Sakic who was an absolute beast that year, and played the playoffs with a shoulder injury that would have kept most out for a month.

Anonymous said...

If you think this of Brodeur than it probably explains why you left out the only goalie that is better than him. Ken Dryden is the best goalie to ever play the game and Brodeur is number 2. Anyone who thinks differently has no idea of what they are talking about. Their records speak for themselves. Use your head before you make idiotic comments.