Were you shocked by how poorly Cam Ward played this year? We weren’t. Were you shocked by J.S. Giguere’s plummet back to earth in the 2003-2004 season? We weren’t. Were you shocked the Rangers missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons after their run to the conference final in 1997? We weren’t. Because we know something a lot of teams should take into consideration before the 2007 playoffs begin: you beat Marty Brodeur at your own peril.
Years ago, IPB’s friend Morgan noticed that teams generally seemed to lapse into financial ruin almost immediately upon eliminating the Devils from the playoffs. First it was Hartford beating the Devils in their last game of their failed Cup defense in 1996; they promptly fell into further disarray as a franchise before packing up for Raleigh. Then it was Ottawa in the first round in 1998; they followed that fluky playoff win with a lengthy flirtation with bankruptcy. Then it was Pittsburgh in 1999; they proceeded to wallow in nearly a decade of near-insolvency that has only this season been resolved. Morgan was clearly onto something, but we think it goes much deeper than that. We think the issue isn’t beating the Devils, it’s beating Marty Brodeur. And the repercussions go far beyond mere franchise financial ruin. Let’s examine the history, shall we?
Obviously Marty has been defeated in more playoff years than he has won (11 playoff years and 3 Cups), which means an awful lot of teams have been hurting badly after thinking they’ve accomplished something to be proud of in knocking off the hated Devils.
Exhibit A: The Rangers
The most prominent team to best Brodeur in post-season play is the Rangers; they did it in 1994 and 1997, and in those intervening years seemed to be getting off scot-free. But no. Just when their guards were down, the Hockey Furies smote them. They went seven consecutive playoff-less seasons, suffered the humiliating flame-out that was the end of Mark Messier’s career, and then, in their triumphant return from the brink, got smacked down on the last day of the season to lose the division title to the Devils, got swept 4-0 in a playoff series with same Devils that wasn’t even that close, and Jagr threw out his shoulder in the single most idiotic injury in New York sports history.
Exhibit B: The Senators
In 1998 the first-place Devils lost pathetically to an eighth-seeded Ottawa team that was backstopped by no less lofty a goaltender than Damian Rhodes. Yes, it was awful. And yes, the Senators were kicked around by whomever it was who eagerly pounced on them in the next round, then plummeted into the aforementioned financial ruin. But look closer. They have in recent years built themselves into quite the stacked little team, with all manner of flashy scorers, solid defensemen and big-name coaches. But always is coming the big “G”: goaltending. And the big “P”: playoffs. And the big “M”: Maple Leafs. The curse of Brodeur has made the Sens into an annual springtime joke. (Perhaps this year will be different, though. Maybe they atoned for their misdeed with their losing to Marty in the 2003 conference final, and, after one last year of twisting the knife, the Hockey Furies will back off this spring.)
Exhibit C: The Penguins
Another first-round upset in 1999, and more financial ruin for the team that did the upsetting. The curse extended beyond that, though, first in the form of the utterly humiliating loss the Devils handed the Pens in the 2001 conference final (see: the “Hey Ace” Madden goal), then smothering the Pens in the division and conference basement for years, and even following Jagr to Washington and New York. It has taken five top-5 draft picks to reclaim this team from the wasteland that was their cursed years.
Exhibit D: The Flyers
For years the Flyers gnashed their teeth at their playoff failures against the Devils and finally broke through in 2004. We’re sure now they wish they hadn’t. We’d provide a litany of their woes since then (their being taken hostage by Peter Forsberg, the frequent smack-downs at the hands of the Sabres, etc.), but really, their record this season speaks for itself.
Exhibit E: The Hurricanes
The Hurricanes provide an interesting study in the subtle nuances of this curse. They were consigned to missing the playoffs the year after they upset the Devils in 2002, but then they seemed righted coming out of the lockout. So righted they did it again, crushing a Devils team that was clearly satisfied with their first-round Rangers demolition. And how’d that turn out for them? Sure, they won a Cup, but, in an original and clever twist, they also bumped the Devils up the list and will now be, for who knows how long, the team that most recently failed to make the playoffs the year after winning it all. In a panic move at the start of the season their GM threw away one of the highest touted prospects in hockey for essentially a sack of pucks, their superstar forward got outplayed all season by his 18-year-old brother, their highest-scoring defenseman was Mike Commodore, and their Conn Smythe-winning goalie was exposed as the sub-ordinary player he really is.
Exhibit F: The Avalanche
The Avs beat Marty and the Devils in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2001, and for the most part, walked away unscathed. That is because Devils head coach Larry Robinson publicly talked smack after the Devs choked on home ice in Game 6 and the Hockey Gods rightly smote him for doing so. But still. There is no explanation other than the Curse of Marty for the Jose Theodore thing.
Which leads us to…
The Vezina Trophy:
Sure, you’re thinking, you’ve made a good case that teams are ill-advised to try to beat the Devils in the playoffs. But I’m still not sold on this being a Marty-specific thing. Oh, Gentle Reader, let’s take a look now at the individual goalies who made the mistake of besting Marty at his own game.
Exhibit A: Jim Carey (1996)
Yeah, go look him up. We can wait.
Exhibit B: Olaf Kolzig (2000)
For a guy who gets to go into games with the label “Vezina-winner”, Kolzig has been achingly ordinary. In fact, he encouraged Pookie’s proudest moment as a hockey pundit — during a Caps-Rangers game a few years back, Kolzig gave up a spectacularly weak goal that prompted John Davidson to cheerfully proclaim, “Well, big goalies have big five-holes.” Pookie immediately finished J.D.’s thought for him, “And big, slow goalies have big, slow five-holes.” So true. Since winning that Vezina Kolzig and his team haven’t had a whiff of success, which is a pretty damning statement for a guy who’s supposed to be both a stellar goalie and fearless leader.
Exhibit C: Jose Theodore (2002)
Ouch. He taunted Marty and invited perhaps the most painful iteration of the curse ever by winning the Hart on top of the Vezina. And the hits have just kept on coming for poor Jose. The crazy loan-sharking thing, the getting run out of Montreal on a rail, the publicly being perceived as the worst albatross on any team’s salary cap, Paris Hilton.
Do you really need any clearer proof that? We didn’t think so. Wait, what’s that? Did you just mention Dominik Hasek as a guy who won multiple Vezinas in Marty’s place? Well, we think that’s just proof that whatever dark magic Marty’s working, Hasek doing some of the same himself. Either that, or Hasek’s just so crazy even the curse-happy Hockey Furies want to leave him alone.