Given the choice, I’d take Martin Brodeur over Zach Parise.
It’s a terrible hockey decision. Brodeur is 40 and in decline while Parise is just shy of 28 and one of the top forwards in hockey. If I were looking at this from the perspective of any of the other 29 teams, it would be a no-brainer to take a decade of prime Parise and leave the last year or two of Brodeur’s career for someone else. From the perspective of the Devils, though, it’s also a no-brainer. Because while 29 other teams have the opportunity to get one or two years of stale Brodeur, the Devils stand to lose some measure of the Brodeur we’ve adored for 18 years.
Losing Parise would dim the team’s prospect of competing for the Cup next year, and maybe beyond, and nobody is excited about that. Devils fans really like Parise, and for good reason. He’s been a strong leader, a reliable point producer and, at any given moment, the hardest-working guy on the ice. Plus, it’s always fun to reminisce about that time the Devils stole him at #17 overall in the 2003 draft. We are very fond of Parise and we want him to stay, but if he doesn’t, our hearts will go on.
We aren’t merely fond of Brodeur. We’re in love with him, obsessed with him, devoted to him. He completes us. Brodeur has been a catalyst for all of the Devils’ greatest moments but one (ask your Devils fan friends about “the Johnny Mac game”), and the Devils have helped lift Brodeur to all of his spectacular on-ice achievements but one (ask your Canadian friends about the Salt Lake City Olympics). For a fan base cursed from Day One with a built-in inferiority complex, knowing that one of the true greats of the game is a career Devil is a source of genuine pride. Brodeur has long made it seem like it’s a source of pride for him, too. He’s vocal about how much he loves being a Devil and, almost as importantly, how much he hates the Rangers. In his 2006 autobiography, Beyond the Crease, he called himself a “company man” and devoted a chapter – “Me and Lou” – to the agent-free contract negotiations he traditionally conducted directly with Lamoriello.
New Jersey has won the Stanley Cup three times with Brodeur in net, and nothing can undo that. But if Brodeur opts to finish his career elsewhere, that decision will cast a pall over his Devils career. He’ll still be the all-time leader in wins and shutouts, but some small percentage of those totals will belong to some other club. He’ll still be a Hall of Famer, but his plaque will be cluttered with more than one team name. He’ll still have been a spectacular Devil, but his name won’t be a source of pure joy to New Jersey fans any more.
If Parise leaves then the team might falter without him, or it might thrive with whoever Lamoriello brings in to replace him. Whichever path he chooses, we will never know what would have happened had he gone the other way. It’s just the opposite with Brodeur: We know that if he leaves we will feel betrayed, and if he stays we will continue to cherish him wholeheartedly. The choice is between possibly gaining a good tomorrow or definitely losing a great yesterday. Like I said, it’s a no-brainer.