Even when they stop playing the game they played, they never truly leave. There’s a burning desire to win and to be the best and that is something that has never left Martin Brodeur. The emotions run deep, even when you’re not playing anymore.
“Guys that have played the game, they know exactly what I’m talking about,” Brodeur said Thursday. “You know, you get excited, you get mad, you get sad, and just the emotion. But when you don’t have that (after you finish playing) it’s tough as a hockey player when you don’t have it. It’s nice to be back in it.”
And in it, Brodeur is, having signed a multi-year contract as the Devils Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. After spending time venturing into the business side of the franchise, along with serving as an advisor to General Manager Tom Fitzgerald, the move means Brodeur will focus solely on hockey, reigniting that competitiveness that is required to be at the top, where Brodeur had spent most of his career. It’s a feeling that never goes away, it just has to be channeled differently.
“When you’re an ex-athlete, you’re a still competitive guy, so it doesn’t matter what you do, you play golf or play anything, you want to be competitive. And so definitely like being part of the franchise, you want that to be the same, even though you can’t really do the work on the ice, you want to be competitive, we’re playing against 31 other teams, and we want to be the best.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind, it was never a doubt in my mind,” he said.
Where he had one focus – to stop pucks – as a player, this new role will stretch him far beyond and into things he never even thought of as a player. He’ll have a hand in development, roster management, transactions, and player recruitment among others. He’ll have had his fingerprints on the future success of the franchise, which he admits, may be more difficult than doing what he previously did with the franchise.
“There are tons of things you have to think about that as a player you just don’t, you just play hockey, you stop a puck. I mean that puck is not that hard to stop compared to managing a team, let’s put it that way.”
Over the few years since he’s retired from the game, the time he’s spent in the Blues front office, part of the Team Canada Olympic management team, and the last few years in New Jersey, it’s opened Brodeur’s eyes to a whole part of the game he never really knew about. The past few years have set him up for this moment.
“As a player, you don’t see all that stuff,” he said of the behind the scene management of a team, “So when you’re on the management side, it’s kind of cool to see how everything works.”
In his EVP role, he’ll continue to oversee the Goaltending Development Department, it is something that he is very proud to have brought to the organization and relatively unique to the franchise.
“It’s something that when I was with the Blues, I was talking a lot to (General Manager) Doug Armstrong about and we were never able to put it together. And so when, I got to the hockey side (in New Jersey), a couple of years ago, I kind of mentioned that to (Tom Fitzgerald) that I think this is something that really should be important for the organization. Just because it’s hard, you know, you go through the free agency market, you overpay for people. You have to grow them (from) within and so to have a department that solely just looks at goalies, I think was an important part.
“To give me the blessing to put Scott Clemmensen in charge” Brodeur continued, “we hired two goalie coaches, how many teams have a goalie full time goalie coach and in the American Hockey League we do. And there’s Anders Nillsen, up in Europe, in Sweden, looking out for us, we have weekly meetings. And I think we might not (see it) pay off right now but down the road, it’s going be an important factor of why we might have a leg up on (other) teams.”
Making this role official was not something he took lightly. Brodeur shared that he dug into all the connections he’s made over the years, to make sure this was the right move for him. He spoke with Doug Armstrong in St. Louis, Luc Robitaille in Los Angeles, and several agents, knowing that moving from the advisor role to the EVP role requires a different level of commitment.
In the end, despite all those conversations with some hockey greats, we may actually have 12-year-old Max Brodeur to thank.
Max is Martin’s youngest child, almost 13 years old. When the elder Brodeur left the game as a player, he remained in St. Louis, where his family had settled, to spend more time with his son, who was then just eight years old. Brodeur wanted to spend more time with his son and his wife at home, his older kids are grown and on their own. In a subtle way, Brodeur suggested it was Max’s blessing, as he reaches 13, for Martin to fully commit once again to the franchise.
“Why now?” Brodeur asked rhetorically, “You know, when I came back to New Jersey three years ago, my little one was, nine or eight years old. Now he’s getting older. He’s so invested in his hockey, and he wants me to do this.
“I was reluctant to kind of go back at it after my three years in St. Louis, to get back full time into hockey. And now I just feel is the right time. I think the team, I’ve been around the team for two years, on the hockey side anyway, but I just see a lot of growth. I love what’s going on with the way the hockey operation is set up. And I want to be part of the solution. I think the time was perfect for me.”