I'm not one that welcomes change. I believe in tradition, sentimental values, and fear taking things in the present for granted, but want to appreciate them when they're not around to appreciate anymore. Change is constant and you have no choice to embrace and deal with it, especially the inevitable changes. When Martin Brodeur was injured for a three month stretch this season, the hockey world thought the Devil's regular season and chances of a playoff appearance diminished. Unknown to the multiple doubters and pessimists, the outcome was anything but. A hero rose in Scott Clemmensen, who saved the Devil's season and picked up where Brodeur left off. When Marty made a healthy return, the Devils were atop their division and battling for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 spot.
My point is Brodeur's three month absence was an indication of an inevitable change that is coming to New Jersey in the near future: Life without Marty. Brodeur has three years left on his current contract and just turned thirty-seven. He's getting older, and is clearly not the dominant force he once was. Now is the time to prepare for the inevitability of Brodeur's retirement and deal with an aging Martin Brodeur, who still has the heart, but not the stamina to play 70+ games a year...someone please tell Lou this!
This season, Scott Clemmensen made a name for himself in the NHL. In 40 games this season, Clemmensen posted a 25-13-1 record with a .917 SV%, a 2.39 GAA that was 2.18 at one point, and two shutouts. Clemmensen turns 32 in July, and should have a few years of solid play left if this year was any indication of his official NHL career debut. The reason I say re-signing Clemmensen should be a priority for the Devils is because he is a perfect fit in Jersey for many reasons.
If there is anyone more suitable to take some of Marty's workload off his shoulders, Clemmensen is the man. His numbers showed he is a "system player" and the six years he spent as a minor leaguer with frequent backup appearances are paying off. The Devils showed they are capable and confident to play without Brodeur and the fact Clemmensen is familiar with the team's core since he is a native Devils player strengthens that comfort and confidence, especially after his performance this season.
During the success Clemmensen endured as New Jersey's starting goaltender, I have reason to believe he brought changes to the team's game that seemed "revolutionary", at least to me. While Marty was injured, the Devils offense started scoring goals when Sutter began rolling all four lines. This season was the team's largest offensive output since the pre-lockout era, a vital part of the team's regular season success. The Devils started playing a more open fast paced style, Sutter's new system, which Brodeur's injury and Clemmensen's initial success seemed to kick start.
Marty's absence gave the Devils psychological gain in their important games, particularly divisional matchups. Having played Marty for years, the divisional rivals of the Devils have taken advantage of this, along with Marty's aging state and seemed to have figured him out. The numbers show. This year, Brodeur went 3-6 against divisional teams and an appalling 17-18 against divisional opponents in 2007-2008. In his 40 games, Clemmensen played in ten divisional matchups and went 7-3. My question is how do the Devils have the same team throughout the entire regular season and double up on wins with one goaltender, but double up on losses with another goaltender in divisional matchups? Is it psychological? That's what I think.
Ignorant as it may sound, I don't think Clemmensen will experience the success he endured this season on any NHL team of equal or less skill than the Devils. Clemmensen played and developed in the Devil's system style of play for six years, which is the only system he has truly been played NHL hockey in. Clemmensen did play 40 games for the AHL's Toronto Marlies in 2007-2008, where he posted a 23-14 record with a 2.44 GAA and a .910 SV%. Given the record is impressive, there is a rift in talent and game pace between the AHL and NHL, not to mention the Toronto Marlies have been a solid above .500 team the past two seasons, winning 50 games in 2007-2008.
Clemmensen proved to be a capable NHL starter on the right team. Preventing Clemmensen from becoming an unrestricted free agent would be a wise move on the Devil's part, since he proved he could play in the Devil's system at the NHL level. His time starting in net became an unintended symbolic representation of upcoming change that is dawning on this Devil's team, and since Clemmensen is younger than Brodeur, signing him long term could help as he will be 35 when Marty will probably retire, and should be able to maintain a good part of the workload as a younger successor develops or is found.
Most likely, Clemmensen will leave the Devils for greener pasture, a long term deal that includes a salary raise and a guaranteed shot at becoming a starting goaltender. How much or how long Clemmensen may sign for can vary, but he definitely should have a good number of suitors this summer. Likely destinations that come to mind include St. Louis, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Atlanta, even Edmonton or Colorado. He's going to be fun to watch come July 1st, and whatever he decides to do, I wish him the best of luck and thank him personally for his huge part in this year's season for the Devils.