- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
And while Brodeur reigned supreme as the face of the franchise for years, leading it to three Stanley Cup championships while establishing himself as perhaps the best goaltender of all time, the time has finally come for him to part ways with his long-time team.
That may be a good thing for the Devils.
With the departure of Brodeur, the Devils have since swung full support behind incumbent Cory Schneider, who recently inked a seven-year, $42 million extension.
"He was ready to take that mantle,” former Devils goatlender Kevin Weekes told ESPN.com in a telephone interview last week. “I like that the franchise was able to put that to bed and start that transition.”
For a good chunk of last season, Schneider outplayed Brodeur, leaving the Devils in a tight spot in how to handle the situation with an elite, accomplished player who will surely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Schneider, who was mired in long goaltending controversy in Vancouver before he was acquired by the Devils in a stunning trade in June 2013, was clearly the heir apparent in New Jersey, but Brodeur seemed reluctant to relinquish the throne.
“It’s a unique situation,” said Weekes, now an analyst for NHL Network. “Because he’s Marty Brodeur, he’s earned the right to his influence and impact. Sometimes, the problem with that is it’s not always what’s best for the Devils’ personnel.”
The Devils, who finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, missing the playoffs by five points with a disappointing 35-29-18 record, may benefit from having a clear-cut starter moving forward. And Schneider, who posted a 1.97 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage last season, has proved himself more than capable of assuming the No. 1 job.
Weekes, who has known Schneider since he was an NHL rookie, said the 28-year-old Marblehead, Massachusetts, native is a gem.
“He’s a first-rate individual,” said Weekes, who finished his career as a Devil. “Classy, super-intelligent and he handles himself like a pro.”
Weekes was also thrilled to see veteran goal scorer Mike Cammalleri sign with New Jersey as a free agent this summer. He thinks he’ll be a great fit with the Devils and will provide the club with leadership and much-needed offense, especially after a strong 2013-14 season with the Calgary Flames.
“He’s obviously a goal scorer and it’s not just his shot, but also his legs. He kind of got back to doing things to get open space, finding holes, eluding defenders, setting himself up in position to shoot,” Weekes said. “I think he did an unbelievable job at that last year in Calgary. He really rediscovered his game.”
But what Weekes is most intrigued to see is how 21-year-old Adam Larsson fits into the plan moving forward. The Devils’ handling of the young Swede has been a puzzling case for many, particularly vexing to some Devils fans who’d like to see the talented prospect develop into the type of defenseman anticipated when he was selected fourth overall in the 2011 draft.
Instead, he has struggled to find a consistent spot among the Devils’ regular defensemen.
“I do know there is definitely a value to having a player earn it -- trust me, I know what that is like,” said the 39-year-old Weekes, who spent time in both the AHL and IHL before cracking an NHL roster. “It’s a curious case for me. He obviously has an exceptional ability, he’s built beyond his years, has a good shot, he’s very smart, a good kid, but for some reason the organization isn’t fully buying in on where his game is at.
“He is still young. But he’s good enough to be an everyday regular.”
That will be one of the many storylines to follow come training camp. Peter DeBoer, who signed a contract extension last season, enters his fourth season as head coach. He’ll have some challenges ahead, but with an Eastern Conference that is wide open -- especially compared to the uber-competitive West -- the Devils should have a good chance to make the playoffs this season.
“I think anything is possible in the NHL,” Weekes said, “but especially in the East.”
It will be a strange sight indeed should legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur, now an unrestricted free agent after more than two decades with the New Jersey Devils, sign elsewhere.