Martin Brodeur on new role with Devils, Hall of Fame (PHT Q&A)

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It’s been a busy few months for Martin Brodeur. In August, he left his position as St. Louis Blues assistant general manager to take on the role of executive vice president of business development with the New Jersey Devils, the franchise that he spent 1,259 of his 1,266 NHL games with. A little over two months later he was inducted as part of the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class.

In his new gig with the Devils, he’s still getting a grasp on everything but he’s finding his hockey playing background is coming in handy.

“I think the fact that I played the game of hockey, I think there’s a lot of value for the business people here to kind of pick my brain about what the game’s all about, what the players are comfortable and not comfortable to do,” Brodeur said. “I played here so long I know a lot of people around the arena. I’m sure it’s going to get a lot different moving forward, but right now it’s really a learning curve, sitting down with meetings and understanding a little bit about the business and where everything’s coming from.

“I’m fortunate to work with [Devils president] Hugh Weber, who’s been president in different organizations. He’s been here for a little while and it’s nice to learn and see how everything works on that part. They’re teaching me about business and I’m teaching them a bit about the game of hockey at the same time. It’s been good.”

Brodeur works 3-4 days a week and commutes back to his home in St. Louis to spend weekends with his family. After spending 55 days in Europe last season while with the Blues, the Hall of Famer wanted to take a step back and enjoy retirement.

We chatted with Brodeur earlier this season in his office inside Prudential Center to see what life was like these days for the legendary netminder and how he’s enjoying the switch from hockey operations to business development.

Enjoy.

Q. How did you go from playing to assistant GM to this position?

BRODEUR: “It happened quickly. [Blues GM] Doug Armstrong called me and said he needed me for a couple of months. I was going to retire anyway and so I said I’ll try it. I had never played for a different organization and it always intrigued me a little bit, so I took the challenge and went over there. When everybody got healthy I was not going to play, so I said it was time for me to move on. I was getting ready to get back to Jersey and Doug asked me if I wanted to stay as an advisor for the rest of the year — watch the games, travel with the team. I already had my apartment there and I told my wife I might as well just check it out and find out if I like it or not. I did that the rest of the year and I was going to move back to Jersey and [Doug] called me up and offered me the assistant general manager job.

“I still live there now. It was good. It was a good learning curve. I think the organization were really good to me. Now it’s just a different challenge. I think to be a good GM you have to understand the business of hockey a little bit and I have no clue. When I was there I was picking Doug’s brain and other people there, and now I’m living it. Obviously, I’m not sure what the future will bring me, I’m not worried about it, but I think I’m learning most of what’s going on in hockey outside of playing the game.”

Q. Did your curiosity for this side of the game develop later on in your career?

BRODEUR: “Later on. When retirement was eminent I had a lot of conversations with [former Devils GM] Lou [Lamoriello] about how it works, where the money comes from, how do guys generate [revenue], just a lot of questions. I wanted to do something to stay busy. I thought hockey was the [direction] I would go in and that’s what I did. It’s just that I didn’t think about how demanding it was and with your family and the little one at home and the wife, it’s like OK, we’ve got to be careful here.

“It’s something that always intrigued me a little bit, that aspect — who deals with what and how everything goes. When you’re in management in hockey you understand a little bit because you’re doing some of the travel for the team, the plane, the hotels, the meals. When you play, everything’s given to you. You don’t even know who’s doing what. You learn a lot about the game when you work on the other side. I was lucky enough to be exposed a lot in St. Louis to everything and now here it’s a different scale because what the Devils are. Right now, I’ve barely touched the Devils. I’ve touched the big umbrellas of the 76ers, Prudential Center, Devils. There’s a lot to learn and a big staff, that’s why I think it’s going to take me a long time because there’s so much — where everything’s coming from, from game ops to season tickets to suites to the 76ers to the building to the renovation of a building, real estate for a big company that wants to build up Newark. So you’re involved in a little bit of everything. It’s been really interesting and a big learning curve for me. I’ve been asking a lot of questions.”

Q. Do you see yourself getting back into hockey ops in the future?

BRODEUR: “Yeah, maybe. That’s not what I’m looking for for the near future. That’s not my goal. Tomorrow if somebody would offer me [a job], I would definitely decline. But in the future I don’t know what I’m going to do. This is good for me, my family. I’m commuting back and forth from St. Louis. This is a good setup. My weekends are spent with my family. I know with hockey ops I need to be ready, I need to be older, I need to get more experience if I ever want to do that again. I might just get really comfortable doing this because so far it’s been good.”

Q. Why didn’t you want to go in the coaching direction?

BRODEUR: “I did it for a couple of months when we fired Ken Hitchcock [in St. Louis]. I enjoyed it. I think it’s really rewarding. At one point it just got to be a lot of downtime, especially for a goalie coach because it’s not like you’re doing the X’s and O’s. But it was a fun experience, I really liked it. I think if I didn’t have a family that would be an unbelievable job to have. It’s not for everybody but I enjoyed it. I thought I was OK at it, I don’t know how good I was. But my goalie played well, so that was good.”

Q. You won Stanley Cups, Vezina Trophies, Olympic gold medals, you have a statue outside. Has the magnitude of being a Hall of Famer hit you?

BRODEUR: “It’s mind-boggling. First, you don’t expect to get a statue, that’s for sure, and you don’t expect to be in the Hall of Fame. Winning a Stanley Cup, that’s your goal, that’s what you work for. I played a team sport so you go out there and success is driven by the people that are around you and it makes you better. You can distinguish yourself a little bit out of the pack and people give you accolades, but when that phone call happens, even though everybody thought I was going to get the phone call you still, when you get it, it’s something.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.