By Sean Hartnett
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As the final seconds ticked down on Game 5, the New Jersey Devils gleefully celebrated their progression into the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals after eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers in swift fashion.
For 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, this might be his final opportunity to add a fourth ring to his already impressive collection of three Stanley Cup championships.
As Brodeur marched on to his sixth career Eastern Conference Finals appearance, I couldn’t help but think of another 40-year-old in Jaromir Jagr who faces an uncertain future in Philadelphia.
Moments after the Flyers were eliminated from the 2012 playoffs, an emotional Jagr stood in front of a sea of microphones inside the Wells Fargo Center. He reflected upon his first season in Philadelphia, which could very well be his only season spent in ‘The City of Brotherly Love.’
“I love everyone on this team. That was probably the most enjoyable year I’ve ever had,” an older, wiser Jagr revealed.
He continued, “I’ve won some cups, I’ve won some trophies, but I loved this year. From the organization to the last player on the team, and the fans, they were so nice to me. I hate to finish it right now, that’s the worst feeling. You finish the whole story, the whole year, that’s a sad day, today for me… I want to cry right now.”
Hours earlier, Jagr was in a jovial mood as took a moment to break from his pre-game chat with NBC’s Pierre McGuire to playfully tease Brodeur who turned 40 on Sunday.
Jagr called over to the legendary Devils net-minder, “Hey, Marty, how does it feel to be 40?”
The two aging combatants shared a laugh as Jagr flashed a beaming smile which made him appear closer a youthful 20-year-old than his current 40-year-old self who admits to shaving gray areas from his playoff beard.
By 20, Jagr had already lifted the Stanley Cup twice and was surrounded by future Hall-of-Famers in Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Joe Mullen and Larry Murphy. At the time, it appeared that Jagr would have plenty of cracks at reaching the finals again but 1992 remains his most recent visit to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Brodeur, on the other hand, is returning to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2003. That of course, was the last year the Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup.
“It seems forever for a lot of guys,” Brodeur said after the series-clinching victory. “It’s tough to do that. We’re fortunate to have made it there so far.”
As he looks across the locker room, the only other remainder from the Devils’ 2003 championship roster is Patrik Elias. Teammate Petr Sykora was on the opposite side as a member of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Together, Brodeur, Elias and Sykora helped the Devils capture the 2000 Stanley Cup over the Dallas Stars.
If Brodeur needs any reminding of his longevity, all he needs to do is look over at Stephen Gionta. When the Devils’ won their 2003 Stanley Cup, older brother Brian Gionta had just completed his first full season in the NHL.
My hope is that Tuesday night wasn’t the final meeting between Brodeur and Jagr. Their careers have taken very different paths but each have made an indelible mark on the game of hockey.
Jagr has been ‘the happy wander of the NHL,’ jumping from one rival franchise to another while always endearing himself to his new teammates.
In total, Jagr’s represented four NHL teams, returned twice to his hometown club HC Klando, played for Avangard Omsk of the KHL for four years and spent brief stays in Italy and Germany. He came into the NHL with a flowing mullet but has since experimented with a number of hairstyle alterations and facial hair combinations.
Meanwhile, Brodeur has been the constant between the Devils’ pipes for 19 seasons. He didn’t even opt to play overseas during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
The only uniform change Brodeur ever made was switching from the number 29 to the iconic number 30 when the Devils ditched their red and green ‘Christmas tree jerseys.’
That famous red and black number 30 will one day be raised into the Prudential Center rafters alongside Scott Stevens’ number 4, Scott Niedermayer’s number 27 and Ken Daneyko’s number 3.
Like fellow ’40 and over club members’ Nicklas Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne and Ray Whitney, Brodeur and Jagr are still capable of playing at very high level. I’m crossing my fingers they’ll all return for the 2012-13 season.
On a side note, wouldn’t it be something if Brodeur’s Devils and Whitney’s Phoenix Coyotes were to meet in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals? Hey, you never know…
Where will Jagr call home next season? Can you see Brodeur returning next year even if the Devils win the Stanley Cup? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.