The Grand Canyon is like that. The Himalayas. The Great Wall of China. The Great Hall of Karnak. Machu Picchu.
And now, Marty Brodeur.
Tuesday night in New Jersey, the greatest goaltender in the history of the NHL put up a record that can be described only with that word: magnificent. Sixteen years and 51 weeks after he won his first NHL game, he won his 552nd. No one has won more.
It is as grand a record as there is in sport, not better than but certainly equal to those put up by Henry Aaron, Cy Young, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Favre or any other of the greatest athletes who have ever played a team sport. Brodeur belongs with all of them, a true immortal, the best of thousands who have gone before him and likely to remain the best of thousands to come after him.
Great records almost never fall easily. Most are conquered by great men in the twilight of their careers, trying desperately to hang on to fading skills long enough to reel in the immortal who stands ahead of them. Often, the players chasing the records have to go to new teams willing to let them hang on long enough to etch their names in the game’s history.
Not so with Brodeur. He is 36 years old, going on 37 in May, and is playing the game as well as he ever did. He has won more games than the previous record holder, Patrick Roy, in fewer games and fewer seasons. There are three years left on Brodeur’s contract with the New Jersey Devils, the team that drafted him and the only team he ever intends to play for, and by the time he retires — barring injury — he’s likely to take the record 100 games beyond where he found it, to 650 wins and beyond.
The glamour records in hockey — and all sports — belong to the scorers. But the ones that mean the most belong to the winners. So if you want to compare Brodeur to anyone, put him up there with Cy Young, whose 511 wins as a pitcher are 94 ahead of the next highest total, Walter Johnson’s 417.
Just 22 pitchers in baseball history have won as many as 300 games. And just 23 goalies in NHL history have won that many. And Brodeur has more than anyone, ever.
Wins are the ultimate statistic, a reflection both of the person who gets them and the team who helps him do it. Brodeur has said as much himself. He’s going to retire with all the meaningful records for goalies — most wins, most shutouts, most games, most minutes, most games, lowest goals-against average in the modern era. But the one that means the most is the one he took possession of Tuesday night — wins.
You can’t separate the organization from the record. New Jersey’s disciplined, self-sacrificing team concept has helped the organization roll to 12 straight 40-win seasons — the second most in hockey history. Their ethos of defense first has always been cited by Brodeur’s critics as a mitigating factor in his accomplishments.
But if the team is solid in front of him, he is just as solid behind them. Three times, he’s backstopped them to Stanley Cups. Countless times, he’s saved them all when the defense broke down. You don’t win 552 games without being special. Brodeur is special.
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