The Devils will welcome back a familiar face at the Rock on Thursday night. Martin Brodeur will be between the pipes for the first time since November 1st. With two 4-0 losses in the last three games, Brodeur's return is, on the surface, a welcome return. Not just because he's the best goalie of his era, but because the team has been flat and could use the emotional boost provided by their returning leader.
Scott Clemmensen got sent to the AHL to clear space on the roster for Brodeur. That's a tough beat for a guy who has played great hockey all season, but was the necessary move under the NHL's rules. Clemmensen didn't have to clear waivers, Kevin Weekes would have been subject to a claim, and can be returned to the roster on March 4th without ever being available to another team.
There are only four games until the 4th, so there isn't much chance of the wheels coming off the bus before Clemmensen can return. There is plenty of time, however, for the team to see if Brodeur is having a hard time shaking off the rust caused by his extended absence. The Devils are only six points clear of the Flyers at the top of the division, so a shaky Brodeur could have a serious impact on the race for the top of the Atlantic.
Would the Devils be able to bench Brodeur if he doesn't have his best stuff? It would be a tough sell. More than any other player, Brodeur is the Devils franchise and the thought of replacing him because of performance is something few have ever contemplated. It will be a dead sprint to the finish line once they get to the 4th, however, and the Devils would have to weigh allowing Brodeur the chance to play himself into shape against the prospect of diminishing their chances in the playoffs.
It would be a brutal decision, but the Devils are lucky because they have a man capable of making such a call. Lou Lamoriello is one of the smartest men in sports, and wouldn't have a problem making a tough, unpopular call if he thought it improved his team's chances at winning.