The National Hockey League is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, which in professional sports, is quite the impressive milestone, because it means that the league has been able to successfully provide audiences with an entertaining product for a century. Throughout its existence, the NHL has showcased the best hockey players in the world, and each and every year, all of those players attempt to achieve the same goal: winning the coveted Stanley Cup. The current NHL, as well as the Hockey Hall of Fame, is home to a large number of Cup winners, and although all these players may have played in different eras, there is one major thing that most of them can agree upon, and that would be that every team needs to have a good goalie if they hope to win any championships.
The Hall of Fame commemorates the achievements of several great goalies who helped lead their teams to championship glory, goalies like Ken Dryden, Grant Fuhr, Dominik Hasek, and Patrick Roy. Joining them shortly will be Martin Brodeur, who is considered by many to be the greatest goalie in history. Brodeur played in 21 NHL seasons, 20 of which were spent with the New Jersey Devils, and as their number one starter, he won 688 games, posted a 2.24 goals against average, a .912 save percentage, and earned 125 shutouts; which are great numbers to go alongside his four Vezina Trophy wins for being the league's best goalie, and his three Stanley Cup wins. When a goalie has the kind of successful and lengthy career that Brodeur had, it means that they had some good defensemen helping them out, which Brodeur did, but playing for so long also means that you will likely play with some bad blue liners too, and the purpose of this article is to identify the eight best and seven worst defensemen to ever play in front of Marty Brodeur.
15 Best: Andy Greene
Many of the defensemen who will be appearing on this list are individuals who were drafted by the Devils and developed through their system, but others like Andy Greene did not need to go through the draft to become a part of the franchise. Greene was signed by the Devils as an undrafted free agent in 2006, and has been on the main roster ever since, and although he is not a huge point producer, he still plays a fairly solid defensive game, which is why he was given the captaincy last season. In all, he played in front of Brodeur for parts of eight seasons, including the 2011-12 season which saw New Jersey make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final where they lost to Los Angeles; and although Greene had a combined +/- rating of just +6 while playing with him, Brodeur cannot hold it against him considering that New Jersey has had problems scoring for years.
14 Worst: Anton Volchenkov
No matter what sport it is, every team at one point finds themselves signing at least one player to a terrible contract that is far too long, and far too expensive, and that is what New Jersey did when they signed Anton Volchenkov in 2010 to a six-year contract worth $25.5 million. Volchenkov was initially drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2000, and spent seven seasons there, where he became known for having a rocket for a shot. Despite having such a powerful shot, he did not put up any crazy numbers, while his defensive skills were not all that impressive. Upon signing with New Jersey, he played in a total of four seasons, which consisted of 222 games, where he scored 3 goals, 32 points, and had a rating of +7, but the positive rating had more to do with luck than it did with his defensive play, because it likely would have been in the negative if it were not for Brodeur being in net. To give you an idea of just how bad Volchenkov played, he was placed on unconditional waivers and then bought out of the final two years of his contract.
13 Best: Tommy Albelin
Tommy Albelin was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques 152nd overall in 1983, and despite being taken that late, he went on to play for three different teams over a career that spanned parts of 18 seasons. Albelin may have played for Quebec and Calgary, but it was with New Jersey that he had the most success, as he helped the team to win the Stanley Cup in 1995 and 2003. In total, Albelin played in front of Brodeur for parts of eight seasons, and he was a very sturdy defenseman who likely would have had an even greater career if it were not for numerous injuries that caused him to miss a fair bit of playing time. Albelin was indeed good, but it makes sense why not many people remember him, because he played alongside three blue liners who were much better players than he was, two of whom are now members of the Hall of Fame.
12 Worst: Bryce Salvador
Bryce Salvador was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 6th round in 1994, but before he could even play a game with the team, he was traded to St. Louis where he spent parts of seven seasons. Salvador was never much of a point producer, but he was still regarded as a defenseman who could adequately protect the space between the goalie and the blue line, which is why New Jersey went out and traded for him, and why they re-signed him in 2013 to a 4-year contract worth $11.5 million. In all, Brodeur and Salvador played together for parts of six seasons, and although he was named captain in 2013 because of his leadership skills, those skills never turned him into the player that the Devils wanted him to be. The reason for this, is because his offensive numbers never seemed to improve, and seeing as he sustained lengthy injuries in his last two years playing with Brodeur, in which he earned a combined +/- rating of -14, he was unable to offer Marty much needed help on defense either.
11 Best: Bruce Driver
Many young Devils fans are probably unaware of the fact that their team was once located in Colorado. where they were known as the Rockies, and while in Colorado, the franchise drafted a good defenseman who is considered by some to be the original Devil. Bruce Driver was taken 108th overall in 1981, and after debuting with New Jersey in the 83-84 season, he went on to play for the team for another seven seasons before finishing his career with the Rangers. With Brodeur debuting in 1993, Driver only played in front of him for two years, but those were good years, as he posted 12 goals, 48 points, and a +28 rating; and their short time together was capped off in 1995 when they both hoisted the Stanley Cup in victory.
10 Worst: Sheldon Souray
When you hear the name Sheldon Souray, you think of a mostly offensive minded defenseman who spent years in Montreal, where he would often blast pucks towards the net using a massive shot. In truth though, Souray actually started his career with the Devils, who drafted him 71st overall in 1994, and after debuting in 1997-98, he went on to play in front of Brodeur for parts of three seasons before being traded to the Habs in 2000. While with New Jersey, Souray scored 4 goals, 26 points and had a +/- rating of +17, but like Hale, that rating is deceptive because of the great defensemen he played with at the time. Souray was criticized throughout his career for not being that good defensively, and seeing as the Devils went on to win the Cup the same year that they traded him, it goes to show how little confidence they had in his ability to help Brodeur.
9 Best: Colin White
Between 1995 and 2003, the Devils either had the second best or overall best defensive core in the entire NHL, and Colin White was a part of that group, even though he played in the bottom pair for most of that time. White was drafted by New Jersey in 1996 with the 49th overall pick, and he would go on to play with the franchise for 11 seasons, where he played a solid game in front of Brodeur which helped lead the two to Stanley Cup wins in 2000 and 2003. In 743 games with New Jersey, White put up 20 goals, 125 points, and a rating of +69, and well over 600 of those games were spent playing in front of Brodeur, who must have been very grateful to have had such a fairly reliable defender for over a decade.
8 Worst: David Hale
In the 2000 draft, the Devils went out and selected David Hale with the 22nd overall pick, and although this Colorado Springs native went on to play in 327 NHL games, he was not a good defenseman by any means. Hale debuted with the Devils in the 2003-04 season, and the only reason why he was even called up was because New Jersey needed to start replacing their defensive core as a result of their best blue liners either retiring or choosing to go play elsewhere. In 147 games with the team, he scored just nine assists, and had a +/- rating of +19, but that rating is a bit deceptive because he had a +12 rating in his debut season, which saw him playing on a good team that was just coming off a Stanley Cup winning season. It is because of his poor play, that they did not trust having him play in front of Brodeur, which is why he was traded to Calgary in 2007, and he went on to play for four different teams in three years before retiring in 2011 while playing in the minors.
7 Best: Brian Rafalski
On May 7, 1999, the New Jersey Devils went out and signed undrafted free agent Brian Rafalski, who was done playing in Finland, a move which turned out to be great because Rafalski is still considered to be one of the best American-born defensemen to ever play in the NHL. Rafalski ultimately spent seven seasons playing in front of Brodeur, and in that time, he scored a combined 44 goals, 311 points, and posted a rating of +100, which are all great numbers for a defenseman who wanted to keep playing with one the world's best goalies at the time. Along with Brodeur, Rafalski helped the team to win their 2000 and 2003 championships, and when he signed with Detroit in 2007, he won another Cup in 2008. It is because he was so good on both sides of the puck, that he is definitely one of the best defensemen Brodeur ever played with, and he is a deserving member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
6 Worst: Ray Giroux
In 1994, the Philadelphia Flyers drafted defenseman Ray Giroux in the eighth round at 202nd overall, with the hope that maybe he would turn out to be a hidden star, but he ended up having absolutely zero impact in the NHL. In 2002, he was acquired by New Jersey through a trade with the Islanders, and he went on to play in a combined 22 games over the course of two seasons (2002-03 & 03-04), where he recorded just four assists and a +/- of -5. Giroux did not play well at all while with the Devils, and seeing as his numbers were terrible, the team decided that he was not good enough to play in front of Brodeur, and they were right, because he spent the last decade of his career playing in the minors and Europe.
5 Best: Ken Daneyko
With professional sports being just another business, it is a very rare sight to see a player have a career spanning two decades in which they only played for one team, but there are instances of this happening, and Ken Daneyko is one of them. The Devils drafted Daneyko 18th overall in 1982, and after putting him on the roster the following season, he went on to play for the team for 20 years, where in 1,283 games, he scored 36 goals, 178 points, and posted a +80 rating. Although Daneyko was not a point producer, he was great at actually defending because of his physical nature and his willingness to work hard every single game. He and Brodeur played together for 10 seasons, and their combined contributions were what helped New Jersey to win three Stanley Cups during that time.
4 Worst: Adam Larsson
In 2011, the Devils used their fourth overall pick to draft Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, a move which should have worked out well for the team, but unfortunately, Larrson was never able to adapt to New Jersey's system. Larsson ended up playing in front of Brodeur for parts of what were Marty's final three seasons with the team, seasons which saw Larsson score a combined 3 goals, and 27 points, while posting a +/- rating of -4. Overall, Larsson went on to play for the Devils for parts of five seasons, where he spent quite a bit of time in the minors, and seeing as he was never able to crack the 20-point mark, it is no wonder that New Jersey, who is trying to re-build, saw no future with him and traded him to Edmonton last offseason.
3 Best: Scott Niedermayer
With this entry, we finally get to meet one of those aforementioned Hall of Famers, and anyone who followed Scott Niedermayer throughout his career, can attest to the fact that he absolutely deserved that induction. New Jersey drafted Niedermayer third overall back in 1991, and after debuting with the team near the end of the 91-92 season, he remained on the main roster until 2005 when he signed with Anaheim. He and Brodeur played together for 11 seasons, and as evidenced by his 101 goals, 396 points, and +163 rating, it is fair to say that Brodeur was very pleased to be playing behind a defenseman who was highly proficient on both offense and defense. Niedermayer also happened to also be a big reason why New Jersey won all three of their championships.
2 Worst: Mark Fraser
In 2005, there were defensemen taken in the third round and later like Keith Yandle and Anton Stralman, and if New Jersey could go back in time, they would have likely taken one of them instead of using their 84th pick to select Mark Fraser. Despite having played in a combined 219 NHL games, Fraser has spent the last two seasons in the minors, and with good reason, because not only could he not provide his teams with any offensive help, but he is also known for being more of a tough guy than a proper defensively-minded blue liner, which in today's NHL just does not work anymore. Fraser played in front of Brodeur for parts of four seasons, and in all that time he managed to score just 12 points to go along with a +2 rating, a rating which would have likely been in the negative had it not been for Brodeur. New Jersey, along with Marty himself, must have had very little faith in him, because most of Fraser's tenure with the team was in fact spent in the minors.
1 Best: Scott Stevens
In 1982, the Washington Captials drafted Scott Stevens fifth overall, and after playing with the team for eight seasons, he was signed by the St. Louis Blues after Washington was unwilling to match the offer sheet. His time in St. Louis would last just one year, though, as the Blues also gave an offer sheet to Devils' forward Brendan Shanahan in 1991. Because New Jersey was unable to match it, they had to be given some kind of compensation in return-compensation which turned out to be Stevens, a man who will continue to be regarded as the franchise's best defenseman for generations to come.
Stevens spent 13 seasons with the Devils, ten of which were spent playing in front of Brodeur. Throughout his career, he was viewed as one of the most intimidating and biggest physical presences in the NHL, which is why he was such a great defenseman, because he would use his strength and toughness to knock the opposition off the puck. In the years in which he played with Brodeur, he tallied 64 goals and 314 points, to go along with a +244 rating, and when you consider that for his career, he had a combined 196 goals, 908 points, and a +393 rating, it is no wonder that he is a member of the Hall of Fame. Stevens won three Cups with Brodeur, and as important as Brodeur was in those wins, the Devils may have not won all of them if it were not for Stevens.