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Martin Brodeur's reluctant retirement shouldn't tarnish his legacy

Even as he declined, Martin Brodeur remained a treat to watch, and his reluctant retirement and time in St. Louis is just part of what made him such a great NHL player.

Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

Martin Brodeur had nothing to prove to the hockey world in 2012. He was already cemented as one of the best goalies to ever live. He already won multiple Stanley Cups and Olympic gold medals.

He was 39 years old, injured, a shell of his former self.

But, after missing a month of action with a pinched nerve, he returned on March 22, because he's not wired to sit out when he can stand between the pipes. Regardless of what the critics thought -- and many of them thought he was done -- he marched right back out there, logic be damned.

Surely he understood why people thought he should quit. The evidence was right there in the stat sheet.

He just wasn't ready.

I was fortunate to cover his first game back from IR, a contest against the Hurricanes at PNC Arena. It turned out to be a memorable one.

A little less than four minutes into regulation, Patrick Dwyer danced around Ilya Kovalchuk and fired a shot, drawing a penalty in the process. Brodeur made the stop, and Dan Ellis left the opposite crease for an extra attacker.

Jordan Staal got ahold of the puck and tried to sweep it out of harm's way. However, his clearing attempt bounced off the boards and slid into the Canes' vacant net.

The last Devil to touch the puck: Brodeur. It was his third career tally -- the most all-time among NHL goaltenders. 1-0 New Jersey.

The Devils scored three more and won 4-1. Not a bad way for an old man to get back on the saddle.

About 10 minutes after the final horn, a large media contingent assembled outside the Devils' dressing room. Eventually, Brodeur came out for a quick TV interview, but before jumping in front of the camera, he paused, looked around at many of the journalists who doubted him and asked, "Anything else you [expletives] want?"

His question drew a few chuckles; a couple heads shook. Meanwhile, he smiled from ear to ear and gaily paraded over to the makeshift broadcast booth.

Here was Brodeur in a nutshell: dominant on the ice, refreshingly humorous off it.

***

Contrary to what many believed, Brodeur had a lot more in the tank. Even though his skills continued to diminish, he helped propel New Jersey to an Eastern Conference title that season. Then he played two more years with the Devils and joined the Blues for a brief stint this winter.

On Thursday -- satisfied, exhausted or some combination of the two -- he officially retired as the winningest goalie in NHL history. Many believe it was long overdue. It's unlikely he shares this sentiment.

"Yeah, 691 [wins]. It's not too bad," he said. "It would have been nice to be at 700, but it is what it is. I wish I could have played more games."

And then, his sense of humor emerged once more.

"It's all these lockouts," he added with a grin akin to the one flashed in Raleigh. "I got killed on it."

Vintage Marty.

Lots of people have questioned Brodeur's choice to join the Blues instead of riding off into the sunset last year. Why leave the only franchise you've ever known? Why bring your stats down?

His reluctance to hang up the skates shouldn't be viewed in a negative light

Yes, it would have made more sense to drop the curtain after 2013-14 and begin preparations to raise No. 30 to the Prudential Center rafters. Yes, in an age when loyalty is often neglected, it would have been nice to see an illustrious athlete remain with the same team from start to finish.

But, again, he isn't wired to think this way. Common sense isn't one of his greatest strengths -- and that's fine. As was the case in 2013, he didn't need to prove anything to anyone other than himself. Not the fans; not the writers; not those he played for, with or against.

While people have searched for some unique motive behind Brodeur's return, it's actually quite simple: he missed playing hockey, and he wanted to take every opportunity to enjoy the game he loves.

His reluctance to hang up the skates shouldn't be viewed in a negative light; rather, we should commend him for pushing himself in spite of his declining abilities.

Still, some fans will inevitably think Brodeur tarnished his legacy over the past few weeks. Think of it in another way: if he never had this powerful, irrational drive in the first place, he would have never been good enough to create such a stir.