NEWARK - Martin Brodeur readily acknowledged that all of those games finally are taking a toll on his 39-year-old body.
The New Jersey Devils goaltender, who would be called to the Hockey Hall of Fame on the day of his retirement if such a thing was possible, said following practice on Tuesday that he’s ready to return to work after recovering from a shoulder injury that he suffered on Oct. 13.
But Brodeur, whose 1,134 NHL games are the most any goalie has played, wouldn’t give anything back in order to ensure his everyday health.
“I wouldn’t trade anything I did in my prime to try to get better now, that’s for sure,” Brodeur said. “I’ve won Stanley Cups, there have been a lot of great things. One day I won’t be playing anymore.”
Brodeur practised hard the past two days, and told Devils goalie coach Chris Terreri said he is good to go. Devils coach Peter DeBoer indicated that a final decision on Brodeur’s status would be made before the club’s game on Wednesday night against the visiting Maple Leafs, but all that was needed was a rubber stamp from club doctors.
Still, with the Devils playing Thursday night in Philadelphia versus the Flyers, there was the chance that Brodeur might wait one more day.
But legendary goalies are legendary goalies, and if they’re healthy and capable, they should be in the crease.
“Practice (on Tuesday) was probably the hardest as far as reaction and competing that I was able to do,” Brodeur said. “That’s a really good sign for me. I have felt good for a week with not much trouble. I told (the staff) I felt good.”
What has made this return from injury for Brodeur unique from times in the past has been the play of his backup, Johan Hedberg. Because Hedberg has been solid (too bad he can’t score goals too), Brodeur has been able to recover at a rate that has not been rushed.
“I’m not coming back because the team needs me, I am coming back because I feel good now,” Brodeur said. “If this occurred in other years, maybe it is a different situation, the way you approach how to come back.”
The Leafs wouldn’t mind seeing Brodeur, who beat every other Eastern Conference team at least 20 times before he recorded his 20th victory against Toronto. But for Brodeur, who figured that his shoulder injury could come back — “It is a possibility, because I rehabbed it, I didn’t fix it,” he said — what sticks out most is the playoff success the Devils had against the Leafs in the early 2000s.
“Even though the personnel changes, the logo does not,” Brodeur said. “The players (on the Devils roster) probably don’t have the same feelings, but we had some great battles. It’s like a little bit of a rivalry, just like Carolina is for us.”
For DeBoer, still trying to make his mark on the Devils after three seasons as coach of the Florida Panthers, simply having Brodeur back in uniform represents something positive.
“I’m sure it gives (the players) a lift,” DeBoer said. “Maybe one of the best goaltenders of all time, and one of the leaders in the dressing room. Just having him healthy, whether he is playing or on the bench, can definitely help.”
It’s not clear how much longer Brodeur will strap on the pads until he has decided he has had enough. But a decreased workload — the Montreal native didn’t hit 60 games in two of the past three seasons — doesn’t bother him that much.
“It’s good,” Brodeur said. “You realize when you play a lot, you skip on things and things creep into your game.
“It’s not by choice. It’s because I have been getting injured lately. If I’m healthy, I will play the bulk of the games. I have to take my time with the shoulder. I don’t want to come back for a couple of games, I want to come back for the whole year.”
EYES FOR KESSEL
Peter DeBoer hasn’t had a chance to watch Phil Kessel live and in the flesh this season.
But with Kessel’s player-of-the-month start, DeBoer, the New Jersey Devils coach, has seen more than enough highlights to get in tune.
Question is, how do DeBoer’s Devils make Kessel an ordinary player on Wednesday night?
“He is absolutely flying in the clips I have seen of him,” DeBoer said. “There has to be team awareness when he is on the ice. He has the ability where you think you are in good position against him and all of a sudden he is five feet by you.
“You know he is going to get opportunities, just like (Ilya) Kovalchuk for us. We just have to try to limit them.”
The Leafs as a whole have impressed DeBoer.
“They are playing well,” DeBoer said. “A lot of confidence, a lot of speed. Real deep up front. They have given their defence a face-lift and they are very active and jumping into the play. When teams like that play with confidence, they are a hard team to handle.”