Can Martin Brodeur be the Devils' front-office version of Sakic and Yzerman?

It's becoming en vogue for 1990s franchise legends to take over as GMs of their teams. Could Brodeur do the same? He explains why it's far too soon to consider that – and why he loves his current role in the hockey ops department.
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Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports

Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports

“Hi. Marty Brodeur, executive vice-president of business development. Nice to meet ya.”

It just didn’t…sound right, did it? No disrespect to Mr. Brodeur’s skills in the corporate realm, but this is the NHL’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts. Given his gift of gabbing about the game and cerebral play across his Hall of Fame career, which included four Vezina Trophies and three Stanley Cups, it was always easier to picture Brodeur deployed in a hockey role during his retirement.

That’s how his hockey afterlife started, of course, when he worked under Doug Armstrong as the St. Louis Blues’ special assistant to the GM and then their assistant GM, with a brief foray as their goaltending coach, during which he worked wonders with a struggling Jake Allen. But Brodeur took a detour onto the business side when he rejoined the Devils starting in 2018-19.

“I wasn’t really doing much with hockey – I wasn’t doing anything with hockey,” Brodeur said. “I would talk to (goaltending coach) Rollie Melanson once in a while for the goalies, stuff like that. I would come across the GM Ray Shero and say hi. I was doing something completely different. I was more in the fan interaction, and sponsorships, and community outreach and all stuff like that.”

A friendly face like Brodeur could do perfectly fine in that role but, to the outside observer, the idea of Brodeur not making hockey decisions felt strange. That changed in January when the Devils, sinking toward a seventh playoff miss in eight seasons, fired Shero. They named Tom Fitzgerald assistant GM and moved Brodeur, 48, into a senior advisor role. His official gig now: executive vice-president of hockey operations and senior advisor.

“It’s been fun for me, to get back to a language I finally understand, because the business side threw me a couple of curveballs,” Brodeur said.

He’s only been at the role for five months, but now’s he part of the small group shaping the franchise with which he became a legend. He’s studying draft scenarios. In conversation, he readily lists all the different pick permutations the Devils could encounter depending on the June-26 draft lottery and whether the Vancouver Canucks beat the Minnesota Wild in the qualifying round, giving the Devils another 2020 first-rounder. With no hockey on the schedule anytime soon, he and Fitzgerald are assessing in detail what to do with the Devils roster going forward. It’s the best way to combat what will essentially be hockey atrophy among the fan base. Building up the long-term youth pipeline will be important for a franchise that will be playing from behind next winter in popularity after its closest geographical rivals have competed in the 24-team play-in tournament.

“Our fan base has really been supportive, even in these hard times,” Brodeur said. “Our big problem is we’re not going have hockey for nine months. In our market, that’s tough. And then the Islanders and the Rangers will have a little bit of life in our market. So that’s a tough one for us, not to be able to compete. What was the point-percentage gap, .007? Just under Montreal for the 24th spot.”

Brodeur acknowledges there’s “still a lot that needs to be done to get this organization back on track,” but things aren’t as bad as they may have seemed in 2019-20. While No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes’ rookie year was pretty disastrous, he’s still just 18 years old. His surface numbers were among the worst of any rookie forward’s this year, but he rated highly in generating shots, rush attempts and high-danger chances and had a ridiculously low shooting percentage, so the debut season was as unlucky as it was bad. Our Future Watch panel of scouts grades the Devils’ current developmental crop as the fifth-best in the NHL. It may not have too many top-end talents behind Hughes and defenseman Ty Smith, but it’s deep and got deeper when the Devils acquired power forward Nolan Foote in the Blake Coleman trade.

The Devils’ goaltending situation also looks stronger than it has for several years, as Mackenzie Blackwood emerged as one of the league’s top rookie netminders this season, ranking first among freshmen in starts and wins. Brodeur believes its better for pupils to hear from one voice and thus prefers to let Melanson do most of the goalie mentoring, but, c’mon, it’s Marty Brodeur. He obviously has some insight to offer Blackwood and does spend plenty of time studying video and relaying observations to Melanson. Brodeur sees Blackwood as one of the best pure athletes on the team and an extremely hard worker. He pushes himself so hard, Brodeur says, that the team got better results by scaling back his starts a bit later in the season, which allowed Blackwood more time to work in practices, and the result was a big spike in his stats. From Dec. 1 onward, among 59 goalies who logged at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5, Blackwood posted the sixth-best save percentage, fourth-best goals saved above average per 60 and second-best high-danger save percentage, and that was despite facing the ninth-most shots against per 60. Blackwood was one of the league’s best goalies, including rookies and veterans, in the last two thirds of the season.

“The future is bright for him,” Brodeur said. “He’s a big body. He plays really well. If there’s one thing he’s gonna need to learn, it’s to play the puck a little bit better, just be a little more assertive with it. He’s got the skills to do it. It was just never his game, really. And at the NHL-level, you need to be able to at least help your players and not be a problem back there as far as having the puck and controlling your rebounds and all that. But we’ve learned a lot about him, what type of player he is, what type of person he is. The players love to play for him, so that’s a good sign. He works really hard, and that, for a goalie, is a good thing.”

You can hear the passion and attention to detail in Brodeur’s voice, and that’s after less than half a year working on the Devils’ hockey side. OK, so it’s time to read between the lines. A Devils icon now works in their front office, during an era in which Joe Sakic is GM of the Colorado Avalanche and Steve Yzerman is GM of the Detroit Red Wings. The Devils still haven’t removed the “interim” tag from Fitzgerald’s GM title. Is it possible, then, we’re seeing Brodeur groomed for the job?

Not yet. It’s far too soon, he explains.

“The reason why I went back to New Jersey is because I was able to control my time – because I’m not moving from St. Louis yet, and I have a 10-year-old at home who does all the activities in the world,” Brodeur said. “I know what it takes to be a GM. I’ve been around Doug Armstrong for a long time and Lou Lamoriello. I’m just not ready for the commitment, regardless of whether it would be offered to me.

“I’m not saying that one day, I won’t say, ‘You know what? This is the time for me to do it, maybe.’ But right now, I value my time off too much to get myself involved. Not that I’m not involved, as in my role I need to be pretty much present, but I’m able to kind of make my own schedule and not rely on the general manager setup.”

So for now, just as he sponged up pucks with the Devils, he’ll sponge up experience in more of a supporting role. It still fits a heck of a lot better than Marty Brodeur, Businessman.

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