Martin Brodeur and a baseball record (Huh?)

I’m not the biggest hockey fan, but I do enjoy the sport — mostly live or during the playoffs, because really, why play 81 games when the postseason is about half that (give or take)? But I have had my moments of devotion to the sport, beginning in 1995, when the New Jersey Devils won the first major sports championship in the state’s history. That was a lot of fun to watch, except for the part when they had to have the “parade” around the parking lot of the Meadowlands. Now, at least with the new — and very nice, I must say — arena, they can have the parade in an actual city. The city’s Newark, but still. They can parade from the NJ Performing Arts Center, past the Bears’ minor league baseball stadium and over to the Pru for the rally. That’ll be nice enough.

In fact, the Devils’ three Stanley Cups have come in interestingly regular intervals, at least in terms of my life. The first, in ’95, came when I was in college. The second, in 2000, was during my first job, at the Asbury Park Press. I remember sitting on the floor of the newsroom in front of the big TV in the sports department. It was a Saturday night, we’d already put the section to bed and the game was in overtime in Dallas. Basically, we were waiting around for the game to end to put out a late edition — either saying they were going to Game 7, or that the Devils had won the Cup. When Jason Arnott scored in OT, my arms shot up as I yelled “CUP!” and we got back to work.
And their last title, in 2003, came while I was working for a magazine. I watched at home, then went to Modell’s down the street the next morning to buy a championship T-shirt to wear to work the next day.
So the Devils won once while I was in college (a four-year stretch), once while I worked at the newspaper (I was there for four years) and once while I worked at the magazine (I was there 3 1/2 years). March will mark four years at my current job, and though the Stanley Cup Finals aren’t until May/June, they’d pretty much hit the mark if they can pull it off. Four Cups in 15 years — or an average of one not quite every four years — would be quite impressive.
Anyway, there’s a reason I’m writing about hockey on my otherwise erstwhile baseball blog — Martin Brodeur’s NHL-record-setting 104th shutout last night. Marty’s excellence and longevity has made him into one of the greatest goalies — or THE greatest goalie — in hockey history. I know there’s an argument that he’s had it easier than others because of the Devils’ style of play, that their trapping zone defense puts less pressure on the goalie, but I’m not enough of a student of the game to be able to argue that point one way or the other. And I realize that goalie equipment and training today is much more advanced than it used to be, but that also rules changes in recent years have been to goalies’ detriment. Again, that’s about the extent of my knowledge of the situation. But that’s nothing different than what we have in baseball when we try to compare eras or determine the greatest hitter (Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Pujols?), pitcher (Big Train, Koufax, Seaver, Ryan, Maddux, Clemens?) or team (’06 Cubs, ’27 Yankees, ’75 Reds, ’98 Yankees?).
But now, Brodeur — and here I’m getting to the baseball tie-in (finally) — has a chance for the all-time North American sports shutout record. Walter Johnson threw 110 in his Hall of Fame career, and Brodeur is now just six away from that mark. I suppose if we really wanted to pin down the continent’s career shutout mark in all sports where individual players are credited with the statistic, we should dig up the record for professional soccer circuits like the North American Soccer League and others like it to see if any of those goalkeepers had more than 110 clean sheets (the Major League Soccer record, as of this writing, is 84). Though the nature of the game makes shutouts much more frequent in soccer than in baseball or hockey, I’m willing to amend this post should someone point me to those stats, but I haven’t been able to find them just yet.
So congratulations on your hockey record, Marty. Only seven more to go to set a new mark for the continent.

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