As Curtis Joseph's Career Winds Down, He Still Deserves That Next Magical Win

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IDecember 22, 2008

Back in 1998, the NHL free agent frenzy was in full swing.  Players were moving to different teams in different towns, some in different time zones. 

It was on that fateful day in 1998 when another athlete left the city of Edmonton for more money and what he thought was a better chance to win.  He was the latest in a long line to leave the city.

His name was Curtis Joseph, and he had just signed a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, leaving Edmonton behind to take the starting reins from Felix Potvin, who had fallen in status as the starting goaltender of the club. 

In Joseph, the Maple Leafs got a top-notch goaltender.  Undrafted, Joseph spent time in St. Louis and Edmonton before landing in Toronto, and he was instantly a fan favourite.  His warm personality, his cool goalie mask, and his stellar play through his time in Toronto put him in the same breath as "Wendel" and "Killer."

Joseph helped the Maple Leafs reach two Eastern Conference finals during his time with the Leafs, was a two-time runner up for the Vezina trophy, and the Lester B. Pearson award.  He won the Clancy in the year 2000.

In a word, Joseph was good.  No, he was better than good.  He was great, and during his first run in Toronto he established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the National Hockey League.

Then, following the 2002 season, a season in which the Leafs were two wins away from going to the Stanley Cup finals, Joseph departed, leaving the Leafs for the Detroit Red Wings, the team that won the Cup that year.

Joseph left the Leafs for more money, and because he thought they had a better chance to win the Stanley Cup than Toronto.  Now, Joseph was obviously right on the second statement, but to hear a man who was cheered so loudly and cared about so passionately during his time in Blue and White say something like that shot a dagger through Leafs Nation.

Suffice it to say, there weren't too many Leafs fans who weren't pleased when Joseph fell on his face in Detroit.  After a couple of unsuccessful seasons there, including time in the minors, he was cut loose.  He signed on with the Phoenix Coyotes for a few more seasons of good, but not great hockey.

Joseph spent a few years away from the NHL, but a strong showing at the Spengler Cup drummed up some interest in the aging netminder, and he was signed by the Calgary Flames to back up Miikka Kiprusoff for the Flames' playoff run in 2008.  Though he only spent a fraction of the season there, Joseph proved he was more than capable of still playing the game.

This past summer, amidst rumblings he yearned for a return to Toronto, then-Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher and CuJo agreed to a one-year, $700,000 deal in hopes he would provide solid backup goaltending for Vesa Toskala.

It hasn't really happened. 

To make matters worse, Toskala didn't have the start he wanted, magnifying the struggles of Joseph.

Sometimes it takes you back.  Sometimes you have to wonder, if Curtis Joseph had remained in Toronto after the 2002 season, what more would he and the team have accomplished?

When in Toronto, he was seen as one of the top goalies in the league.  All of that changed when he went to Detroit. 

Though the Wings enjoyed regular season success, it meant nothing as they faltered in the postseason.

His career numbers don't lie.  Curtis Joseph was one of the best goalies of his time.  But it seems slightly tarnished by what he did in Detroit, Phoenix, and everything after.  One has to wonder, how would he be viewed if he had stayed in Toronto and continued on the pace he was at when he left?

Either way, it's time to stop slinging mud in the direction of CuJo.

Sure, his season hasn't been as good as we have wanted it to be.  Well, to be honest, it hasn't been as good as he has wanted it to be either, and he will tell you as such.

Still, he came back to here to help the young guys, try to provide solid backup goaltending, and to finish things right.

Oh, there is also the whole 450 wins thing staring him in the face.

Curtis Joseph, an undrafted goalie no one wanted, sits one win shy of 450.  Despite his struggles, and despite the fact the game has passed him by, it would be a shame to see him not get that magical 450.


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