Friday, November 30, 2012

Martin Brodeur slogging through his fourth NHL work stoppage

Martin Brodeur slogging through his fourth NHL work stoppage

By DAVE STUBBS, THE GAZETTE November 30, 2012

No shortage of players have voiced their opinions on the National Hockey League lockout, which on Saturday enters its 77th day.

But you won’t find one with a more illustrious career and more right to say his piece than New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who now is slogging through his fourth work stoppage — a 1992 players’ strike and three lockouts.

“Whenever people talk about the possibility of a lockout, trust me, there’s a lockout happening,” Brodeur said on Friday, returning a text message with a half-hour phone call.

“I’ve heard ‘lockout’ three times in my career and three times we’ve been locked out.”

Brodeur, 40, is bound for the Hall of Fame during the first breath he becomes eligible. But that’s a bit of oxygen in the future, the native of Montreal-district St. Léonard holding a two-year contract that, admittedly, is in danger of dissolving in half.

With all the records Brodeur holds, some unlikely to ever be overtaken, with his three Stanley Cups and his Calder and three Jennings and four Vézina trophies, with his 18 full NHL seasons and nearly 1,200 games played, he has earned the right to express his opinion.

On Friday, many of his words packed a wallop.

“It was obvious to me that a lockout was going to happen,” Brodeur said. “But I didn’t feel the differences between both parties were so great as to jeopardize the whole season like the owners are trying to do right now.

“I still really believe there’s hope to salvage something from our season and I hope everybody will come to their senses and try to figure something out. We’ve come a long way since 2004 to get this game to a better state as far as competitive balance and everything else. I didn’t think we’d still be talking about this lockout in December. That’s the thing that bothers me the most.”

On Tuesday, the NHL sacrificed its 2,000th regular-season game through the three lockouts called by commissioner Gary Bettman. Brodeur whistled softly as the statistic was run by him, and he acknowledged that the omnipotent NHL head is just the top of a pyramid, the man who has a pocket-sized group of like-minded owners in CBA negotiations with all the rest muzzled on the outside.

“Understand this: Bettman is not commissioner of the game, he’s commissioner for the owners,” Brodeur said in a measured tone. “I have a hard time when you go through so many work stoppages under the same leadership. But he has the power. Owners are the ones who put him in office to run the ship.

“Like players, I’m sure owners have different agendas, different situations. A team like Winnipeg was striving last year and can’t wait to keep going. I’m sure they have a different perspective on what’s going on than some other teams in this negotiation.

“I guess for the NHL, it’s tough to ask for too many opinions,” he said, pausing for effect. “You just hope that people who represent the league and the players are really talking on behalf of the rest of their group. Every player is well informed about everything that’s going on. I hope all the owners are, as well.”
Of his three lockouts, Brodeur says players this time are best aware of the issues “by far.”

“It’s pretty impressive how the younger players have been staying together. We saw our union break in December last time around, giving up that 24-per-cent rollback when we weren’t even asked to. A lot of things the players did in 2004, I don’t see this trend with us now. We feel a lot stronger together.

“For me, as an older player, it’s kind of nice seeing some of the younger guys stepping up and being part of some meetings. Whether you’re a superstar or not, guys are involved and committed to make this right for the players.”

Brodeur considers the proposed meeting between players and the league, without official NHL and NHLPA representation, and sees value in anything that might push this stalled sedan out of the mud.
“I’m open to any idea,” he said. “I don’t know how productive it could be. At the end of the day, these people won’t be making decisions. Maybe we’d offer a little clarity to owners and players may hear different things from them.

“When Bettman or (hardline Boston Bruins owner Jeremy) Jacobs are not around, I think people are acting differently, that’s for sure. But all these people will get back in the room and they’re the ones who are going to make any deal. If a meeting could open a line of discussion and give us a more reasonable opportunity for us to make a deal, I’m all for it.

“The thing you can’t do is close options. Whether they’re good or not, you’ve got to try them. There’s too much at stake, people are suffering from us not playing — fans, businesses, it’s just not a fun thing that we have to go through.

“It takes seasons and playing time away from us. That’s what we do, we play hockey, we don’t make business. We’re not asking for the world, we’re just trying to keep what we have and we’ve been giving up a lot. Any kind of discussion could be a positive thing for both parties.”

Indeed, Brodeur has left many millions of dollars on the table through three lockouts. Statistically, he’s standing at 656 regular-season victories and surely he’d have eclipsed 700 had work stoppages not cut deeply into his career.

But he’s not losing sleep over the personal hit, saying, “I’m fortunate to have gotten what I’ve got so far.”

Brodeur thinks about 700 wins only when the milestone is brought to his attention. He knows that lockout-killed games are gone forever, most painful being those sacrificed in 2004-05, “when I was 32 and in the prime of my career.

“But now the situation is different. New Jersey is coming off a great season,” Brodeur said, the Devils having knocked off Florida, Philadelphia and the Rangers before falling to the Los Angeles Kings in a six-game Stanley Cup final.

“We really wanted to keep that going. Because of our run, a lot of good things were coming up in youth hockey in our area. The lockout is hurting a lot more than just NHL players and the owners. Canadian markets and some of the big U.S. markets won’t feel the effect, but I guarantee you, New Jersey and other places will feel it, big time.”
So for now, arguably the greatest goaltender of all time plays some shinny with teammates and, in the back of his mind, considers the idea of decent hockey in Europe, where 16 locked-out NHL goalies have found work.

He’ll explore options if the lockout is not settled soon, but not merely for the sake of playing.

“I want the right situation. I’d like to do something fun and competitive at the same time,” Brodeur said. “Many much younger goalies need to get out there and play to continue on their way in the NHL. I’m not going to take a job from them.

“Lately we’ve had moments of hope and then tough meetings and (failed) mediation. The lockout has been a roller-coaster for everyone.”

He manages a laugh as he considers the ride.

“When the reports on talks are positive, you get in the gym. When they’re not, you slack off a little bit. After a long playoff run, I worked really hard to be ready for training camp. The tough part now is trying to stay upbeat about playing.”

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