Martin Brodeur chose a Tuesday in late January -- otherwise a completely unremarkable day on the 2014-15 NHL calendar -- to hang up the skates. Maybe he truly wanted to save the news for Thursday, when he is expected to formally announce his retirement at a news conference in St. Louis, but word leaked out, regardless.
It doesn't make much of a difference either way, because whether Brodeur was to ride off into the sunset in the storybook ending people wanted (it didn't quite happen that way) or make a rather unceremonious exit, it doesn't change his place in the history of the game.
Brodeur will go down as the winningest goaltender in NHL history, an ironclad first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the most innovative to ever play the game. His superior puck-handling skills changed the way people viewed the position, providing his teammates at times with what must have felt like an extra defenseman in their own end. Opponents must have felt that way, too.
When I went down to Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this season to cover Brodeur's debut with the St. Louis Blues, the sight of Brodeur in anything other than a New Jersey Devils sweater was as disconcerting for me as it was for any other hockey fan.
I didn't grow up in the New York metropolitan area, so I wasn't around for the three Stanley Cups he brought the Devils. By the time I was on the scene, Brodeur's glory days were squarely in the rearview mirror, but he was still special. You can't play over two decades for one organization and make the sort of magical run to the Stanley Cup finals that Brodeur made in 2012 at age 41 and not evoke a visceral reaction when you switch allegiances.
At the time, I wanted to write about Brodeur's legacy and how his stint with the Blues could affect that, but I ultimately realized that was a convenient, and ridiculous, angle.
Fans don't like to see their childhood idols age or falter, or spurn the opportunity to leave the game with grace. They want their legends to be remembered as untarnished, infallible. Sportswriters fall victim to this, too. By virtue of the fact that we like to tell a good story, we sometimes crave the sort of stock-standard, wrap-it-in-a-bow-and-call-it-a-day tale that makes sense and doesn't challenge what we believe to be true.
If you doubt this, note the reaction on media row when a team blows a lead in the final minutes of a game. Deadlines play a powerful role in our belief system, I can assure you.
Unfortunately, writers and fans and any other sort of person who feels invested in the game tend to feel a sense of entitlement about how a player's career should play out, especially when it comes to the great ones. For instance, why screw with what was an illustrious career with the Devils for a brief, seven-game stint with the St. Louis Blues?
Because Brodeur wanted to, that's why.
I know because I asked, along with many others, whether he took into consideration the hand-wringing over his legacy that his midseason debut had triggered. Brodeur is a smart guy, very insightful and articulate, but if memory serves, he didn't give much of a reflective answer.
He sounded like a guy who missed hockey and wasn't quite ready to give it up and wanted to give it another shot. And so he did. Simple as that.
Brodeur's time playing for the Blues while they were without an injured Brian Elliott was not particularly memorable or noteworthy: 3-3, 2.87 goals-against average, .899 save percentage. In all likelihood, it will go down as a footnote to the litany of accomplishments he accrued over a fantastic NHL career.
He did finish on his own terms, though, and I'm happy for that. And he'll join the Blues' organization as a front-office executive, which means he will remain a part of the game.
For that, we should all be happy.