CHICAGO -- It wasn't the actual free agent signee -- Sheldon Brookbank -- who caused chatter among Blackhawks’ nation on Sunday after inking a two-year deal.
The news that the organization might be interested in all-time great goaltender Martin Brodeur caused the bigger stir. According to league sources, the Hawks are indeed kicking the tires on the 40-year-old, longtime New Jersey Devil. And subsequently Brodeur is doing similar with the Hawks.
After spending 19 years with the same organization, it’s probably a good idea to make some calls to find out what your potential new home is all about. Sources say Brodeur is doing just that. It doesn’t mean he’s only investigating the Hawks and it doesn’t even mean he’s leaving the Devils. But where there is smoke there's the possibility of some flames.
Brodeur hired one of the biggest names in the agent business, Pat Brisson, who also manages Hawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. It’s understandable why Brodeur would like Chicago. They have an offense, they have a veteran coach, they have a great fan base, they will make the playoffs. How many teams with that much potential need a goalie?
Toronto needs one, but who knows what kind of team the Maple Leafs will be. And the Hawks could probably be persuaded to give Brodeur a two-year contract -- if that’s a sticking point. So there are plenty of reasons why Brodeur would like Chicago, but do the Hawks like him back?
The Hawks weren't on a mission to replace Corey Crawford this offseason but if something made sense --and was a definite upgrade -- they wouldn't say no. Brodeur fits that description. It will cost the Hawks in the range of $3-5 million per year, but with the rise in the cap and the Hawks' potential to shed some salary on defense, that should not be a problem.
Critics will point to a sub-par season, statistically, by Brodeur as reason to avoid him -- especially after adding another year to his age. But it was only sub-par for Brodeur. His 2.41 goals against average was more than respectable and that plummeted to 2.12 in the playoffs. In almost the same argument you could make back when people doubted Antti Niemi, work backwards on Brodeur: He won three and a half rounds in the playoffs before losing in the Finals in six games.
That’s all that needs to be said about the goaltender. The grind of the postseason, for young and old alike, is the test. He passed it yet again, as he has so many times in his 19-year career. If the Hawks can massage Crawford’s low-maintenance ego then they could have something special over the next two years.
The situation is unusual, but not unheard of. Crawford becomes the backup but plays as much as any backup in the league to give Brodeur a rest for that two-month spring grind. Then in two years, maybe its Crawford’s job again, full time, or maybe the Hawks move on completely.
It’s not the exact situation Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask faced in Boston, but it's close. Thomas had the job in 2008-09, then Rask basically took it the next season only to see Thomas grab it back and win the Vezina, Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe. Now it’s Rask’s job again as Thomas takes a year off. The point is it’s possible to go from starter to backup back to starter -- if it’s handled correctly.
Crawford looks up to Brodeur and if you can’t make way for the best of all-time then what kind of a teammate are you going to be viewed as anyway? Crawford won’t be thrilled but he’ll still be paid handsomely and will still see plenty of action. The pressure will melt away from him as well; that can’t be a bad thing.
The only question is if Brodeur has anything left in the tank. But the Hollywood-script feeling if it happens is too juicy to pass up, especially for the marketing-conscious Hawks. But this should only be done if it’s the right hockey move and the more you think about it the more you have to like it.
Remember, Brodeur was the one playing into this past June -- not anyone wearing a Hawks jersey.