Emptying The Bag: Brodeur On IR
Martin Brodeur scratched himself from Sunday’s game after feeling a twinge or a tweak or a pull (whatever language you prefer) in his back during warmups. Initially, the Devils called him day to day and said the injury wasn’t believed to be serious. Brodeur sat out practice Tuesday and was sent to see a doctor.
Then, just before 5 p.m. ET, Brodeur became the third Devil to be place on injured reserve in the last two weeks. After a couple hours to think it over, I’ve come up with a few thoughts on the injury, the roster move and how this affects the Devils going forward…
Why so serious: The first question, obviously, is just how serious is the back injury? And subsequently, how much time will Brodeur legitimately miss? Lou Lamoriello says the doctor who examined Brodeur doesn’t believe the injury is serious and the main reason behind him not playing Thursday has to do with the long plane ride to Winnipeg. OK, Lou. I’ll bite. That’s a fair point. As someone who has sat on a plane for more than two hours while also having a sore back, I can tell you that I was in much worse shape when I get off the plane than when I first boarded. So if there’s absolutely no way the Devils want to risk aggravating the injury further by putting Marty on a plane, they still need a backup goalie in Winnipeg in case something happens to Johan Hedberg. But wait — the Devils already added Hedberg’s backup when they recalled Keith Kinkaid from Albany to take Jacob Josefson’s spot. If it’s all about roster flexibility for one game, mission accomplished, right? Not really — and it comes back to something we already addressed on the blog: forward depth.
Unless Ryan Carter is activated tomorrow, the Devils only have 12 forwards, one of which is the “banged up” Stefan Matteau. If Carter doesn’t feel well enough to return, then DeBoer is forced to roll a group of 12 forwards that includes Krys Barch and a wounded Matteau and if Matteau were to aggravate the injury or is unable to play his normal compliment of minutes, Pete DeBoer would either have to stretch out his top six guys or play the bottom two or three guys more minutes than he’s comfortable with. But what about Pete Harrold, you say? Well, let’s just cut to the chase on Harrold: He’s a wasted roster space. The Devils have had plenty of opportunities to play him at wing but have repeatedly declined to do that. In the end, the Devils had no choice but to place Brodeur on IR and lose him for at least two games because of the way they’ve managed their roster up to this point by continuing to carry Harrold as the eight defenseman. If they had an extra forward on the NHL roster, they could have left Brodeur behind and waited to see how Carter felt. If he’s healthy enough to return, then you place Brodeur on IR and give Carter the spot. Or, you could create a spot while avoiding Brodeur on IR by sending down that 13th forward as long as he doesn’t have to clear waivers (Josefson). In that situation, DeBoer, hypothetically, could also pick 12 out of those 13 NHL forward and leave either Matteau or Barch on the bench. In the end, Brodeur was definitely going to miss tomorrow’s game and the Devils were forced to lose him for Saturday as well because of their insistence of having eight defensemen on the NHL roster.
Trust factor: All of what I wrote above is contingent on the fact that you trust Lou. And I’m not using trust in the sense that Lou has suddenly lost his ability to be one of the best general managers in the NHL. I’m asking if you trust Lou when he tells you the injury is “minor.” Remember, Ryan Carter’s injury was “minor” before he went on IR and missed at least eight days. The Devils also called Dainius Zubrus’ wrist injury a “minor” issue before Zubrus ended up needing surgery that will sideline him for at least four weeks. Lou hasn’t said or done anything differently than almost every other GM in the NHL. Hell, look at the ubiquitous use of “upper-body,” “lower-body,” and the Rangers’ use of “undisclosed” injuries. Teams lie about injuries. They lie to buy themselves time. They lie to give themselves leverage. And they lie sometimes just for the sake of greedily hogging information. But to play devil’s advocate, what’s to say Lou isn’t lying about Brodeur’s injury? What if Brodeur will miss more than a couple games and the Devils, in the midst of a serious funk, have to rely on Hedberg and Kinkaid for an extended length of time? Do you trust him then? Again, this is all just to play devil’s advocate. As we wrote above, the way the Devils’ roster is currently constructed didn’t really leave them much choice but to put Brodeur on IR. But if there’s anything I’ve learned with this team, it’s not to take them at their word.
Replacement level: It seems somewhat timely that the struggling Devils are faced with starting Hedberg in possibly four straight games after we wondered aloud Sunday night whether the Devils would have to use him less going forward. After allowing two goals combined in his first three starts (2-0-1), Hedberg has allowed 14 goals over his past three (0-3-0). DeBoer says the Devils aren’t giving him enough offensive help, which is true. The Devils have scored just four total goals in his last three starts. However, last I checked, the amount of goals a team scores doesn’t exactly relate 100 percent to the amount of goals a goalie allows. There is a correlation in the sense that an offensive explosion or even an offensive push in the other direction takes pressure off of your goalie and forces the other team to react rather than attack. Still, what I’ve seen from Hedberg over those last three starts leads me to believe that he’s not going to steal or maybe even win games for the Devils as a starter. That means the Devils are going to have to snap out of their offensive funk and carry the play in front of Hedberg while Brodeur is out, which is at least two games.
Those games are against Winnipeg and Buffalo, both of which are on the road. We saw on Sunday how difficult Winnipeg can be to play against if the Devils don’t establish the forecheck and keep the pace of the game under control. If they can’t do that, the Jets’ defensemen will jump up into the play and can create mismatches that can overwhelm an average goalie (as they did Sunday). As for the Sabres, I would really like the Devils’ chances with a semi-rested Hedberg in net, but are the Devils really going to play him in four straight? I don’t necessarily think that’s wise, which brings us to Kinkaid. We’ll have a more in-depth post on Kinkaid before the weekend, but just speaking in generalities, do you want a player’s first NHL start to be on the road against a desperate team and a player like Thomas Vanek? I get that the Sabres as a whole are struggling, but all I’m saying is that’s an ideal situation for a rookie goalie. Especially a rookie goalie on a Devils team that is starting to slide.
Other options: For this segment, I’m going to need Devils fans to sit down. Everyone sitting down? Let’s say, in the absolute worst case scenario, this is an injury that will sideline Brodeur for weeks, not days, and possibly into April. Now that you’ve imagined life without Marty, take several very deep breaths and remember this is all hypothetical. All set? Good. With that out of the way, let’s talk about what the Devils would have in front of them if Marty were to miss a good chunk of the remainder of the season.
There are a couple goalies on the trade market that would be/are available. Chief among them of course is Roberto Luongo, who is very publicly on the block, yet maybe not on the block. It’s very confusing. Luongo would obviously represent the closest quality version of a Brodeur replacement. He’s got the pedigree, the skill set and the current ability to immediately step in and keep the Devils at the level they’re currently playing (three points out of first in the East). He also comes with an exorbitant contract and likely a fairly stiff price tag to pry him from Vancouver. Plus, he’s got a no-trade clause and a limited amount of teams for which he’d be willing to waive the clause. There’s also the issue of just how willing the Canucks are to deal him considering how well he’s been playing overall this season. They seem to like the idea (at least for now) of platooning him and Cory Schneider unless they get blown away by another team. With Brodeur under contract for another season after this one, I find it very hard to believe Lou would be willing to trade a can’t-miss package for a 33-year-old goalie with nine years left on his contract after this season.
This brings to three other options on the trade market. One is someone Devils fans are very familiar with: Scott Clemmensen, who currently backs up Jose Theodore in Florida. Although he was never really all that with the Devils, Clemmensen has shown in the past two years that he can cover for a starting goalie for stretches and even play really well at times. The Panthers already have their goalie of the future in the system in Jacob Markstrom, who is currently toiling in the AHL and needs an NHL roster spot. There’s no market for Theodore, so the Panthers either have to leave Markstrom in the AHL for the year, roster three goalies or deal Clemmensen. I can’t imagine Clemmensen would cost more than a mid-round pick, although the Devils are already light on those after the Loktionov and Ponikarovsky deals. Perhaps the Devils could offer a conditional 2014 pick that could reach third-round status based on Clemmensen’s performance. Of course, Clemmensen and Hedberg would be the epitome of “stop-gap solutions” and Clemmensen has another year left on his deal with a cap hit of $1.3 million, while Hedberg has one year and $1.4 million left. One of them would have to go when/if Brodeur returns and you’re essentially trading a third- or fourth-round pick for a few weeks of serviceable play. Not exactly ideal.
Okay, so with no Luongo and no Clemmensen — I have two other options for you: the Senators’ Ben Bishop and the Kings’ Jonathan Bernier. Like the Panthers, the Sens have their “goalie of the future” at the AHL level in Robin Lehner. Bishop, meanwhile, is a tantalizing option. He’s 6-foot-7 and has been stellar while Craig Anderson has been sidelined and at 26 years old is young enough to potentially be looked at as a long-term replacement for Brodeur. He could come in, platoon with Hedberg and then Brodeur and enter next year in maybe a 60/40 split with Marty before taking on the full-time gig in 2014-15 after Brodeur’s contract is up and he retires. However, admittedly, Bishop is a bit of a wild card. He began his career in the Blues organization but was eventually traded to Ottawa for a second-round pick and seems to have dismissed a lot of the concern about his ability to move laterally and is suddenly a very attractive option on the trade market.
If you prefer a goalie with a higher ceiling and stronger pedigree, then maybe Quick is for you. The former first-round pick (11th overall in 2006) has been unofficially on the trading block ever since Jonathan Quick emerged as an All-Star-caliber goalie. He’s got loads of potential, has seen his level of play increase every season and even got the experience of the Kings’ Stanley Cup run last season. Of course, a guy with that kind of resume at the age of 24 comes with a high price tag in trade talks and Kings GM Dean Lombardi has made it clear he won’t just trade Bernier to trade him. The Lightning, who were openly interested in adding a young, franchise-caliber goalie in the offseason, traded for Nashville product Anders Lindback instead. Would Lou be willing to sacrifice multiple young assets (Reid Boucher, maybe?) in order to acquire a 24-year-old potential franchise goalie that could learn at the feet of arguably the greatest goalie ever? That’s a question for another day, but intriguing to ponder nonethteless.