Welcome to the very first edition of Holding Court, a column where both sides of a fantasy hockey debate are argued just like in courtroom, complete with a final verdict. Then you, the DobberHockey readers, can comment on whether justice was properly served! You can also leave ideas in the comments section for other debates to be settled right here in future editions of the column.
Today we'll focus on Martin Brodeur. He stands accused of no longer being a valuable fantasy asset, but of still having a reputation that will lead many fantasy GMs to pick him too early in their drafts. So it’s time to settle a difficult yet important fantasy debate – is Martin Brodeur still a better than average fantasy hockey goalie at this point in his career? Here are arguments for both sides.
No - Brodeur is at best a middle of the road goalie at this point
Clearly Martin Brodeur is among the greatest goalies in NHL history, holding numerous records that will likely never be broken. Beyond that, he’s won countless fantasy leagues for his proud owners over the years. But sadly, what we’re seeing now is a painful fall from greatness, as it can no longer be denied that he’s become a shell of his former self. Simply put, at age 40 Martin Brodeur is at best an average netminder with a legendary reputation that far exceeds what he can offer to a fantasy hockey team.
If you look at goalies who started 50 or more games last season, among the major fantasy hockey goalie categories Brodeur was no better than 10th in any single category (GAA), and he fared below average (which would be 15th, given the 30 NHL teams) in nearly all of the other categories - 13th in wins, 20th in save %, 20th in shutouts, and 22nd in saves. The truth is Brodeur hasn’t been the same since his injury shortened 2008-09 campaign; but his performance has fallen off most dramatically in the past two campaigns. For example, in each of the past two seasons he had a GAA above 2.40, which had previously happened only once in a 50+ game season during his long and illustrious career! And his nine total shutouts in the past two seasons is the lowest in his career for any two consecutive seasons where he played 50+ games each season. He also gave up four or more goals 13 times last season, which was brutal for all those who owned him in fantasy leagues, but particularly for GMs with weekly roster settings. These poor recent numbers cannot be denied, or ignored.
Another factor that doesn't bode well for Brodeur is the defense that the Devils will put in front of him. Quick - name three current Devils defensemen. It's not so easy, and it shows why Brodeur's stats don't stand to be helped by his defense of today like they were back in the Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer neutral zone trap glory days. And for those who still think there’s a chance Brodeur might somehow reverse this negative course, if you look at comparable goalies who tried to extend their careers past the age of 40, you don’t find any reason for hope. Instead, there are the cautionary tales of once elite netminders like Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, who limped into the sunset with stats at or past age 40 that they must now look back upon with deep regret and embarrassment. Sure, Brodeur is in a class somewhat above either of them, but they showed that age and games played catch up to the best of everyone, as it clearly has with Brodeur. If anything, his numbers of the past two seasons represented only the start of what will next be a fall below mediocrity for the once mighty Brodeur.
Yes - Brodeur still a top 10 or better fantasy hockey netminder
Wow – reading all that you’d think this was about Dwayne Roloson, not the all-time great, still elite Martin Brodeur. In truth, everything mentioned above can be more than adequately countered. First, we need to instead focus on another superstar goalie who played into his 40s – some guy named Dominik Hasek! Hasek’s remarkable career and accomplishments surely make him a far better basis for comparison to Brodeur than Belfour or Joseph, who were great, but not in the conversation as one of the best of all time like Brodeur and Hasek. Let’s take a gander at where Hasek finished among NHL netminders who played 50 or more games in the 2006-07 season, one in which Hasek suited up for 56 games (right around where Brodeur figures to be) and was actually 41 years old (one year older than Brodeur is now) when the first puck dropped. Aside from saves (23nd), Hasek was in the top 10 in every category, including FIRST in one and SECOND in another (wins - 6th, GAA - 1st, save % - 9th, shutouts – 2nd) among goalies who played 50+ games that year. This bodes quite well for Brodeur, as does the fact that if you look at the last third of the 2011-12 season, Brodeur had a stellar stretch of hockey, giving up two or fewer goals in 20 of his final 27 games.
And let’s also not forget reality beyond the numbers. New Jersey was playing a different brand of hockey last season, what with the firepower of Kovalchuk and Parise in the line-up. The fact that Brodeur’s numbers were as good as they were in 2011-12 amid the more run and gun game being played around him is a testament to his continued greatness. And now that Parise is gone, signs point to the team placing a renewed focus on defense like they did during Brodeur's glory years. Given that, Brodeur might actually be UNDERvalued going into this season. Plus, with Brodeur, you’re getting a guaranteed starter, unlike so many teams (St. Louis, Tampa, Chicago, Washington) where it’s unclear at best who the #1 guy really will be.
It can probably be conceded that Brodeur is no longer one or the very best of the best NHL goalies, with the likes of Lundqvist, Quick or Rinne. But to say he’s merely average is pure crazy talk - he's a solid top 10, with an outside shot at top five. Lastly, remember that as a three-time Stanley Cup winner, Brodeur is a lock under pressure, and think of all the pressure he’ll be facing in proving that he was worth the two year contract he signed this offseason, which had more than a few pundits raising eyebrows at him and the Devils. Don’t bet against Martin Brodeur, or you and your fantasy team will regret it.
The Final Verdict
As much as the "yes" side of the debate can point to past success and Dominik Hasek for comparison, its case simply has too many holes. Hasek didn’t have nearly the same mileage as Brodeur at age 40, what with Hasek only having played 70+ regular season games once in his long international and NHL career compared to 12 seasons of 70 or more regular season starts for Brodeur, not to mention Brodeur’s over 200 playoff games. And it’s not like Brodeur is coming off only one subpar season, which could be written off as a fluke. The numbers don’t lie - both of his last two years were barely average for a 50+ game netminder. Also, the argument about the Devlis being more offensively focused last season falls somewhat flat, as Brodeur put up considerably better stats in 2009-10, when both Parise and Kovalchuk (with the Devils for a third of the season) topped 80 points and were firing on all cylinders. And the point about the defense in front of Brodeur not helping him as it did in the past is pretty persuasive.
The reality is that it is a buyer beware market for Brodeur at this point, and with that Martin Brodeur is hereby sentenced to being a merely average (at best) fantasy goalie in 2012.
Holding Court is now out of session until next week.
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