If Martin Brodeur returns to the NHL this season, no one should complain and no one, except Sean Avery, is going to boo him. At some point, almost everyone will tune in to see the all-time great wearing whatever non-Devils jersey he's wearing. He's still a draw as he chases 700 wins (he's currently at 688) and he'll always be an all-time great NHLer.
Brodeur has earned the right to officially end his career whenever he wants to announce it. But for fans and onlookers, this is getting hard to watch.
Last week, QMI Agency had a story on Brodeur, who said he was 80 percent sure he'd be back for the 2014-15 NHL season. He also talked about signing with Montreal as a backup:
"I would like to play one last season before retiring and I want to have fun doing it," said the three-time Stanley Cup winner.
"If the Canadiens made me an offer, it goes without saying that I would listen to what they have to offer me."
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is not among the NHL executives who has contacted Brodeur this summer.
Brodeur believes he still has enough in the tank to be a team's No. 1 goalie but understands that Price, an Olympic gold-medal winner, is the man in Montreal.
"This is Carey Price's team," Brodeur said.
"I would definitely still want to be the No. 1 goalie, but it wouldn't bother me to play in only 20 to 25 games during the season if I know I'll have fun playing within a winning team."
With training camps around the corner, Brodeur is still without a contract and it seems likely his only chance of getting one is from a team that suffers an injury or two in pre-season. Montreal isn't a fit because even Peter Budaj is a better backup than Brodeur right now.
In 39 games last season, Brodeur posted a 2.51 GAA with a .901 save percentage that handcuffed the Devils and probably cost them a playoff spot. Had Cory Schneider been the No. 1 from start to finish, this year's Devils may not be quite the underdogs they're made out to be.
Even the Devils aren't going to bring Brodeur back to play goal.
"Marty and I have come to an agreement that is best for both himself and the organization, and there's nothing negative about that," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said earlier this summer. "Marty knows what it is to be a No. 1 goalie and to have that feeling, and that's what he wants. Cory feels the same way.
"I think it's time to move forward, but never negate what Marty has brought, nor was the door ever shut. It was a mutual understanding of what was best for both parties. Marty will always be a Devil and the communication with him is still there, even recently."
At 42 and coming off a lowly .901 save percentage, Brodeur won't be getting any better at this stage in his career. It's a stretch to consider him a legitimate No. 2 option on a contender, let alone the starter he still believes he can be. That's the trouble with being an elite athlete and one who is among the best at his position all-time: it's hard to let it go. It's hard to not believe you can still play at that level after making such a long and successful career on your natural ability. You may not be able to win Vezinas anymore, but you still believe you can compete.
It's only going to get harder for Brodeur to be anything but a liability. Cam Ward, Antti Raanta, Reto Berra, Kevin Poulin and Devan Dubnyk were the only goalies among those who qualified to have a worse save percentage than Brodeur last season - and Brodeur was tied with Ondrej Pavelec. This was behind a New Jersey Devils team that allowed an average of just 25.5 shots against per game - the lowest mark in the NHL.
He says he doesn't mind filling in a backup role if it's with a good team that may take a run at the Cup. But even finding a fit for those criteria is hard to do - especially so for a player who brings such a mammoth presence. Aside from Colorado, what other backup goalie might he be an affordable upgrade over? Reto Berra is one of those goalies who performed even worse than Brodeur last season, but as interesting as it would be to have Patrick Roy coaching Brodeur, if it was a fit there would probably already be a deal in place.
Brodeur may yet find a role as a backup before the season starts in October and if he wants to end his career like that, all the power to him.
But he has nothing left to prove, nothing left to show. He won three Stanley Cups. He won four Jennings Trophies and two Vezinas behind a stacked blueline corps that included Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko - and then he won two more Vezinas and reached another Stanley Cup final when all of those guys were gone. He stayed relevant and elite after the Dead Puck Era died off. The trapezoid behind NHL nets today are there because Martin Brodeur was too good.
He has earned the right to wait through September, October and November. He can wait however long he wants before officially calling it a career and joining the Devils front office. No one can tell him otherwise.
But none of his fans want to see him in a Nashville Predators jersey for a February game in Dallas (no offense). We don't want to see him sitting on the bench or his save percentage to fall below hockey's Mendoza Line (.900).
Selfishly, those who celebrate him and his career want to remember this as his last moment on an NHL ice surface as an active player. Martin Brodeur the Devil; Martin Brodeur the winner; Martin Brodeur on top.
We just want Martin Brodeur with the New Jersey Devils.