With Martin Brodeur at 550 career regular season victories, and set to overtake Patrick Roy's NHL record of 551 any day now I figured it would be an appropriate time to compare the careers of these two legendary goaltenders.
Though old-timers who watched such greats as Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Turk Broda might argue, there are many in the hockey world who consider Roy and Brodeur to be the top 2 goalies in NHL history. While I won't go so far as to agree with that assertion, (even among recent goaltenders Dominik Hasek would have to enter into the conversation) I will say that both Roy and Brodeur have been as consistent and as clutch as any I've seen in my 30+ years of watching hockey.
So, while I am unwilling to concede the title of best ever to either gentleman I will weigh in on whether I think Roy or Brodeur has been the better goalie to date.
Though Patrick Roy's rookie regular season in 1985-86 was average by most standards, he really showed what he was capable of in the Canadiens' incredible 1986 playoff run. After the powerful Edmonton Oilers were shockingly eliminated by the Calgary Flames in that spring's playoffs the draw became wide open for the remaining teams, and Roy put on a performance for the ages, making incredible save after incredible save as he backstopped his club to series victories over the Boston Bruins, Hartford Whalers, New York Rangers, and finally the Calgary Flames to capture Stanley Cup glory. Roy finished the playoffs with a 15-5 record, and a sparkling 1.93 goals against average. His performance was good enough to capture the Conn Smythe trophy that year, becoming the first rookie goaltender to do so since fellow Habs alum Ken Dryden accomplished the feat in 1971.
Roy would prove his 1986 playoff run was no fluke, winning 3 Vezina Trophies (league's best goaltender) and 4 William Jennings Trophies (lowest GAA) over the next 6 seasons. In 1989 he backstopped the Montreal Canadiens to the 2nd best record in the NHL, going an incredible 33-5-6 that season. He would carry that level of play into the playoffs, and was outstanding in helping Montreal make another Stanley Cup final appearance. However, this time grizzled veteran Lanny McDonald would spoil the party, scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal as the Flames eliminated the Canadiens in 6 games.
The loss would only make Roy hungrier, but the team around him was being slowly rebuilt, with veterans from the 1986 and 1989 playoff runs moving on to greener pastures. The next few years were tough on the ultra-competitive Roy as the Habs wallowed in mediocrity. In 1993 he took matters into his own hands. After going down 2-0 in the opening round series against the Nordiques, Roy and the Canadiens would start a magical streak that saw them win 11 games in a row. However, that wasn't the most impressive streak Montreal put together that spring. Backstopped by Roy's incredibly clutch goaltending the Habs won a jaw-dropping 10 straight overtime games, an NHL record that is unlikely to ever be broken. After coming back to win the series against the Nordiques, Montreal swept aside the Buffalo Sabres, crushed the New York Islanders, and marched into the Stanley Cup final against the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings.
The overtime magic continued in the finals, and Roy was at his absolute best in the decisive 5th game of the series, only giving up 1 goal to an offensively talented, desperate Los Angeles Kings team with their backs against the wall. Roy finished that playoff year with a 16-4 record, a 2.13 GAA, and was a landslide choice as he won his 2nd Conn Smythe Trophy.
That miracle run was the peak of Roy's time in Montreal, but this fiery competitor's career wasn't over...not by a long shot.
The Colorado Years
On December 2nd, 1995 everything would change for Patrick Roy, the Montreal Canadiens, and Habs fans everywhere. The Habs were crushed 12-1 at home by the visiting Detroit Red Wings, the worst home loss in franchise history. Roy, in for the bulk of the goals, was obviously not on his game, but coach Mario Tremblay refused to pull his increasingly infuriated goalie as puck after puck went past him. When the hook finally came, the damage was done and irreparable. Roy, completely humiliated, came to the bench, leaned over the glass and told Canadiens' president Ronald Corey that it was his last game as a Montreal Canadien.
Patrick Roy's prediction would come true, and just 4 days later he and team captain Mike Keane were traded to the Colorado Avalanche in a blockbuster deal for young goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, and forwards Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky. The trade was a huge blow for Habs fans, and Roy's destination was even more salt in the wound. The Colorado Avalanche franchise had called Quebec home just a single season before, and fans hated to see their favorite son traded to a club spawned from the arch-nemesis Nordiques.
In a new environment, and surrounded by stars, Roy, ever the proud athlete, would quickly prove his best days were by no means behind him. He helped the club finish 1st in their division and 3rd overall in the league with 104 points. But once again it was the playoffs where he did his best work. After disposing of the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks in the first two rounds the Avs faced a monumental challenge in the machine that was the Detroit Red Wings. That season the powerful Wings had set an NHL record with 61 victories, and their 131 points was the second highest total in NHL history. With incredible skill, speed and depth at all positions the Wings looked poised to cruise to Stanley Cup glory that year, but Patrick Roy had different ideas. He backstopped the Avs to 2 straight wins in Detroit to start the series. The stunned Wings would never recover and Colorado moved on to the Stanley Cup finals to face the Florida Panthers.
The Cinderella Panthers were never a serious threat and the Avs went on to win the Stanley Cup with a 4 game sweep over the cats. Roy earned his 3rd Stanley Cup, but teammate Joe Sakic, with 18 goals that playoff year, interrupted his streak of Conn Smythes, stealing the hardware for his own mantle.
The next few years would see many legendary battles with the Detroit Red Wings with the powerful Wings holding the upper hand. However Roy, now in the twilight of his career, still hungered for one more drink out of Lord Stanley's silver mug and in 2001 he got his wish.
That year the Avs, led by a powerful roster featuring Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Rob Blake, and a grizzled Ray Bourque, steamrolled their opposition, finishing the regular season with 118 points and capturing the President's Trophy for the NHL's best record. After eliminating the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues the Avs cruised into the finals for a date with the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils. Backstopping the Devils that year was none other than Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy's protege, and the man many said had supplanted Roy as the best goaltender in the game.
Roy would go on to prove that he wasn't ready to concede his crown just yet. With his Avs down 3 games to 2 and facing elimination Roy would pitch a shutout in game 6 to force a 7th and deciding contest. In game 7 Roy was just as good, making several breathtaking saves and only giving up a single goal as Colorado won the game 3-1, and the second Stanley Cup in their history. The cup was Roy's 4th, and he was awarded another Conn Smythe Trophy as well, becoming the only player in NHL history at any position to win the award 3 times.
Roy would go on to retire following the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs, but he left the game remembered as one of the most ferocious competitors ever to grace an ice rink. His 551 career regular season wins and his 151 career playoff wins are, at the time of this writing, NHL records, and with 4 Stanley Cups, 3 Conn Smythes, 3 Vezinas, and 4 Jennings Trophies he is one of the most decorated goaltenders in NHL history.
Around the same time that Patrick Roy was winding down his time with the Montreal Canadiens another French Canadian goaltender was making a name for himself in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils. Martin Brodeur, in sharp contrast to the fiery Roy, was as calm, cool and collected as they come, and his poise on the ice translated to incredible results. Brodeur won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year in the 1993-94 season, finishing the campaign with a stingy 2.40 goals against average. However, Brodeur, much like Roy before him, showed early on that he reserved his best work for playoff time. That spring he helped lead the Devils to within one game of the Stanley Cup finals, before finally bowing out to Mark Messier's New York Rangers. The Rangers would go on to win the cup, leaving Brodeur and the Devils to wonder what might have been.
It turned out they didn't have to wait long. The following season was shortened by the NHL lockout and the Devils only had to endure 48 regular season games before they got another shot to battle for the Stanley Cup. This time they would make the most of their chance. Brodeur was spectacular in backstopping his club to series victories over the Bruins, Penguins and Flyers. In the Stanley Cup finals the Devils really battened down the hatches, playing stifling defensive hockey and getting spectacular goaltending as they completed a stunning sweep of the Presidents Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings. Brodeur finished the playoff run with a miniscule 1.67 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
The next few years would belong to the teams in the Western Conference with the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars battling it out for supremacy. However, New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello continued to be patient, knowing the asset he had in net. Brodeur's play continued to improve and he started playing almost all of his club's regular season games, helping the Devils to 2 Jennings Trophies in the late 90s. It wasn't until the year 2000 that Lamoriello's patience would finally pay dividends. After a 5 year absence the Devils finally made it back to the Stanley Cup finals, this time matched up against the defending Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars. Brodeur and his Devils would survive two 7 game series scares against Toronto and Philly along the way, yet Brodeur always seemed to shut the door when the game was on the line. This was never more evident than in game 6 against the Dallas Stars. Brodeur was stellar, allowing only 1 goal despite playing into double overtime. His stinginess allowed teammate Jason Arnott to finally be the hero, and Arnott's OT winner made the Devils the first Stanley Cup champions of the new millennium.
The following year Brodeur would suffer the biggest heartbreak of his NHL career as he was out-dueled in the Stanley Cup finals by Patrick Roy, and his Devils blew a 3-2 series lead to eventually succumb in game 7. However, as each year passed, and despite the workload that was heaped upon him, Brodeur continued to improve. When Patrick Roy called it a career in 2003 everyone in the hockey world was in agreement that Martin Brodeur was the preeminent goaltender in the NHL.
To put an exclamation point on that belief Brodeur would prove the pundits right by capturing the Jennings, his first Vezina Trophy and by leading his Devils to another Stanley Cup in that 2003 season, as they squeaked by the surprising Anaheim Mighty Ducks in another hard-fought 7 game series. Brodeur was again denied a chance for the Conn Smythe, as another up and coming French Canadian goaltender, the Ducks' J.S. Giguere captured the award.
Since 2003 Brodeur hasn't been back to the Stanley Cup finals, but his numbers continue to be incredible. He has captured 3 more Vezina Trophies to give him 4 in his career, and has continued to be amongst the league leaders in wins, GAA, save percentage and shutouts. In 2006-07 he set an NHL record by recording 48 victories in a single season, and with 550 career regular season wins and 100 career regular season shutouts he is poised to pass Patrick Roy and Terry Sawchuk respectively for the all time lead in two of goaltending's most important statistical categories.
Picking a winner between these two phenomenal athletes is no easy task, but as it has been the whole point of this exercise I am forced to do so. Based on his playoff victories, one more Stanley Cup, and his 3 Conn Smythe Trophies I have to give the victory to Patrick Roy. However, Martin Brodeur still has several good years ahead of him, and his New Jersey Devils are poised to do some damage in this year's playoffs. I may have to come back to this post and change my decision when the curtain finally closes on Martin Brodeur's career.
WINNER - PATRICK ROY
Can't make up your mind? Check out these tribute videos to Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur to help you choose.
Patrick Roy Tribute Video
Martin Brodeur Tribute Video
Check out my previous Now and Then article - Alexander Ovechkin vs. Pavel Bure