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Martin Brodeur and learning to say goodbye

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Martin Brodeur joined the New Jersey Devils' organization in 1990 and spent two decades cementing himself as the face of the franchise. This week, he will learn whether he is still good enough to earn an NHL contract.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Most professional athletes do not get to go out on their own terms. Their bodies can't keep up, the opportunities dry up and the phone stops ringing. The end is a door and they are led out by security.

But, there are exceptions to every rule and extraordinary instances to break the mold of the mundane. Some players have rode into the sunset how they see fit. John Elway had a chance to do it with the Denver Broncos, as did Ray Bourque with the Colorado Avalanche.

In the case of Martin Brodeur, the sunset is on the horizon. The NHL hopes he has a chance to ride out to it -- but also has security on speed dial just in case.

Brodeur is currently on a professional tryout with the St. Louis Blues and should know by Wednesday whether his NHL career still has some life left in it. Having spent the entirety of his illustrious career with the New Jersey Devils, Brodeur not only established himself as the face of a franchise, but also as one of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the game. After two decades worth of accolades, championships and records, Brodeur's career appeared to be winding down only to be wound back up again.

However, despite a late resurgence in the form of a run at the Stanley Cup in 2012, it became abundantly clear that Martin Brodeur's expiration date was due with the Devils.

2013 NHL Draft

Hosted in New Jersey, the 2013 Draft was a huge moment for the Devils.

A year removed from winning the Eastern Conference and losing captain Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild, the Devils had to deal with the loose ends left by Ilya Kovalchuk's 15-year, $100-million contract signed three years prior.

The NHL had ruled the contract circumvented the league's salary cap because it utilized a practice known as back-diving, where the first several years of the agreement had substantially larger annual payments than the final years. In the case of Kovalchuk, he was scheduled to receive nearly $80 million over the first eight years of the deal, while earning $21 million over the remaining seven.

In short, the long-term, back-diving deals allowed teams to artificially keep the annual average value -- or, salary cap hit -- of a contract low, while keeping the player's salary high. This was beneficial to the clubs given the ceiling of a salary cap system and benefited the players because they got a ton of money in a short period of time.

Now, these types of contracts had become fairly common in the league. Despite this, the Devils were the only team to be punished for using one. In addition to paying a $3 million fine and forfeiting a third-round selection in the 2011 Draft, the Devils also had to give up a first-round selection prior to the 2015 Draft. Given their poor finish in 2013, the team ended up with the No. 9 overall pick. Combine that with their hosting duties and there was no way they were going to give up the pick. So, they had to make it count. And they did.

The Devils traded it to the Vancouver Canucks for goaltender Cory Schneider.

The beginning of the end for Brodeur

The trade for Schneider was the final nail in the coffin, but Brodeur's end with the Devils was apparent after the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Brodeur was a 40-year-old pending free agent when the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup after Game 6. Despite speculation he might test the market, Brodeur eventually signed a two-year deal with the Devils.

While Brodeur is one of the best, there was no way the Devils could honestly plan for the future with a 42-year-old goaltender at the helm. This was made apparent with the absence of Parise as well as the team's 48-point finish in the lockout shortened 2013 season.

Time's were changing and the sun was starting to dip towards the horizon.

The timing of Schneider's acquisition was not coincidental; Brodeur had one year remaining on his contract. This would allow Schneider to show his potential to the Devils, while supporting Brodeur's final year. Of course, no one really expected things to go smoothly. This turned out to be the case when Brodeur played coy by not so subtly hinting that he would be amiable to a trade without expressly demanding a trade. But there was no way Lou Lamoriello was going to trade the most important player in the history of the Devils. So everyone just waited it out. Fortunately, Schneider was experienced in this type of situation given the dramatic carousel he had been on with Roberto Luongo in Vancouver.

Even so, it's hard to imagine that anyone involved was totally comfortable with what was going on. Brodeur was probably upset that the writing on the wall was in permanent ink and Schneider was probably upset he had to spend another year platooning with a larger-than-life figure. But everyone knew it would eventually end with Schneider taking over.

Which is exactly what happened.

Saying goodbye is the hardest part

It's frustrating when generational players stay in the game longer than they should. Or at least longer than we think they should. That was the case with Brett Favre and it's looking like that's the case with Martin Brodeur.

But beyond a third party's selfish desire to wrap-up a career with a neat little bow, one which begins with one team in 1990 and concludes with the same team in 2014, the drive that fueled those years of extraordinary excellence is the same drive that is compelling Brodeur to chase an opportunity in St. Louis.

Brodeur made it clear he wants to play in 2014-15. His reasons have been the purist an athlete can express: He wants to win and he wants to have fun. When we take away the big business of elite-level competition, having fun is one of the core principals of playing a game. But, of course, the business of this game is winning and it remains unclear whether Brodeur is still capable of doing that.

That's what the Blues will use the next few days to determine.

It seems like, at worst, Brodeur doesn't know when to quit and, at best, is chasing another Stanley Cup. Both are difficult hurdles when standing on the opposite side of 40. But, Brodeur's phone keeps ringing and the opportunities haven't dried up. So until that's no longer true, Martin Brodeur will continue his pursuit of leaving the game his way.

Even if it means he needs security to give him a nudge towards the sunset.