So the Blues aren't going to be on the ice as a team until Jan. 29. But you want some stuff to read and comment on. And we like to say we're right. So in this instance, our very occasional columnist Duke, who happens to be a goalie himself, wrote this piece for our Dec. 11 issue against the Islanders. You'll find that he had some valid points.
History will certainly smile upon Martin Brodeur as one of the greatest goaltenders to ever step on NHL ice. There isn't much you can say about his body of work that isn't already stated by his league records, Stanley Cups and personal awards. Seeing him in the 'Note is surreal and should warm even the coldest, deadest hearts of Blues fans. There's just one problem: Watching him in goal in 2014 is like watching geriatrics fuck.
Don't get me wrong. I'd be thrilled to see him play in an old-timer's game before a Winter Classic or - even better - for somebody else's current NHL team. If you think he's a legitimate answer to start in net for this team over any period of time, in any universe, then you probably already torn the tags off of your brand new 30 Blues jersey.
In the interest of full disclosure I don't want to completely disrespect the guy. I'm happy to see him get a $10,000 bonus for every point he earns with the team. Everyone loves a Kurt Warner glory story where the old guy gets back in the game and leads the team to victory. It's great for the pom-pom Blues beat writers and will certainly be the subject of some regrettable team giveaway next season. If I thought Brodeur had a chance to make a difference on this Blues team, though, this column simply wouldn't exist tonight.
One final disclaimer. I'm not confident there is a better answer than Brodeur for the current roster. Goaltending coach Jim Corsi was hired in May, and Jake Allen has arguably shown regression since the start of the season. That fact combined with minor leaguer Jordan Binnington's limited exposure at the AHL level tells me that Corsi isn't suited to coach two green goaltenders. Nor should he be.
I suppose the Blues could have signed Bryzgalov. Salary issues aside I'm not confident he'd put the team in a notably better position. Moving on.
With all of that said, Brodeur looks like a dumpster fire in the crease. He's (understandably) slow on his feet which doesn't help the fact his footwork is just terrible. On Tuesday the Panthers made a third period zone entry where the puck was dumped near Brodeur's far post. Brodeur attempted to move laterally, tripped over his own feet, and fell into a Grant Fuhr-esque kick save.
His poor skating capability points to his first major problem: skating depth. In his limited time on the ice, I haven't seen Brodeur step in front of the blue paint to challenge a shooter. He's gotten away with this so far because the five skaters in front of him have been more Jekkyl than Hyde. On Tuesday he was only challenged once by an unhindered shooter from between the faceoff dots, and the result was a blocker-side goal that would've hit the back of a 3x5 net.
You're holding copy of Game Time in your hand, so I know you're not just some asshole with free tickets from work. I'm also not going to lay out my credentials to speak on the position of goaltender because I know you really don't give a shit. Allow me, though, to briefly explain how goaltenders typically learn the game.
Imagine, if you will, two pieces of string attached to the blade of a players stick, then attach the other ends to the upper corners of the crossbar on goal. From an aerial view the funnel created by the string represents the only possible path for a straight shot from that stick to reach the net. If the puck is being fired from, say, the edge of the paint at the top of the crease, that angle is steep and can easily be covered by a single leg pad in the butterfly position. If that stick is in the center of the slot, though, that funnel narrows and is greatly extended. This requires the goaltender to meet the edges of that funnel in order to cover the angle, often requiring him to step in front of the crease when the puck is within the faceoff dots but beyond the hash marks.
I'm telling you with confidence that Brodeur doesn't have the ability to reliably save that fairly dangerous shot which is typically taken numerous times per game. The ways the Blues are mitigating those higher-percentage shots involve physical contact with the body or stick, shot blocking or forcing that angle to the outside where the shot should become exponentially less dangerous as the angle arcs toward the goal line.
Should the Blues be doing that every night, for every goaltender? Absolutely. That's the plan the best teams are able to execute on defense. While five-man defensive units have shown the ability to do that on the ice from time to time, they're far from consistent in executing that game plan. In fact, most teams in the league are. The difference between most teams in the league and the Blues, at least in this respect, is other teams aren't trying to defend in front of a goaltender who might be league average if he were playing Thursday nights at Brentwood.
The second primary issue I'm seeing with Brodeur is his ability to seal the ice. Current NHL pads are 11 inches wide and up to 38 inches tall. In a perfect butterfly position (knees on the ice, heels flared outward) those pads would create an 11 inch tall by (up to) 76 inch wide arc that acts as an impenetrable barrier. That's where the best goalies in the league control the game - in that 11 inches of airspace above the ice. They create the angle with their feet, then seal it with their flexibility.
I haven't seen Brodeur successfully execute a single flush, square, two-pad seal on the ice yet. His lack of flexibility forces his heels to stay close to one another behind his body, creating (at best) a wedge rather than an arc. When one leg flares out he's rarely able to get that knee down to the ice.
The worst part for me, though, is his post coverage. While many NHL goaltenders are constantly working to achieve perfect post coverage (primarily used when the puck is inside the funnel between the faceoff dot and the goal line or behind the goal line), Brodeur just looks like he's fighting to not fall over. His inability to create a flush seal anywhere - against the post or on the ice - is compounded by his inability to fluidly move out of the position when the puck moves in order to stay with the play.
That's how goal No. 2 from Tuesday is explained. A simple push from a near post coverage position into the butterfly would have allowed him to stop that shot (which was about 10-11 inches off the ice, by the way) with ease. Instead, his capabilities and old-school mentality led to something that looked like a Street Fighter character executing a double leg kick after shotgunning a barrel of whiskey.
I don't know how much more exposure Brodeur is going to see against competition that's more capable than the Panthers. If Jim Corsi and the Blues staff are seeing what I'm seeing, and I'm confident they are, he should be strictly considered an emergency backup to Allen until Elliott is ready for gameplay.
Blues goaltending has taken a disproportionate amount of credit (good and bad) over the years for the minor successes and heartbreaking failures of the team. While the goaltender is your team's most important penalty killer, even-strength hockey requires well-executed defense from all five skaters to consistently succeed. Nostalgia and unchecked fanboy-ism has led to Brodeur receiving accolades he simply hasn't yet earned while wearing the Note.
I'm pleading for everyone to drop the fantasies about Brodeur leading this team to a Cup or any scenario where he, Elliott, or Allen are dealt to acquire that "final piece" the team needs to get there. What we're seeing now is the price of not retaining veteran AHL goaltenders like Mike McKenna, who represents "replacement value" goaltending at the NHL level. Brodeur has a long way to go before achieving that "replacement" level status. When his house of cards comes down, at least you'll know why.