Curtis Joseph Returns to Toronto Maple Leafs: CuJo, A Beginner's Guide

M MacDonald Hall@@DocMacHallSenior Analyst IJuly 1, 2008

Like him, love him, or hate him, Curtis Joseph is coming back to Toronto to do what he can to help out the rebuilding Leafs. First announced by AM640 in Toronto, the news has now come down the wire for all to see.

When Toronto released 2006 starter Andrew Raycroft and his $2 million contract, spaces opened on the roster and under the salary cap.

The Maple Leafs put the collar on the CuJo contract with the opening of NHL Free Agency on Canada Day, signing one of the League’s most reliable veteran goaltenders at a reported $700,000 for the 2008-09 season. The team and the city are looking to Curtis Joseph to recapture his past blue-and-white standards and put the Leafs back into top contention. Although he is a few years out of his prime, he has been a pivotal cog here in the past and looks to give the fans more confidence in their team as a back up, likely to Vesa Toskala.

Joseph has posted a 2.78 GAA over a very consistent seventeen NHL seasons, first signing into the League with St Louis out of University in 1989 having been named WCHA MVP that year. His first season with the Blues he played 15 games with a 9-5-1 record, and since then he has written himself a consistent stat sheet. He’s played 922 NHL games at 449-343-95, and surpassed Terry Sawchuck for the all-time wins record last year with the Calgary Flames. He came in third in Vezina voting in 1992-93 as he continued to make a name for himself as a key player with the Blues.

He was also gaining a reputation around the League as one of the highest paid netminders and remained so throughout his career. Commanding his own price, Joseph has signed as a free agent with every team he has played for and has caused many to feel that he plays where the money is. His current contract, which will pay a reported $700,000 reflects his current position as a high profile back-up. If he ends up as a starter at some point in this season, he would be considered a relative steal.

More recently Joseph won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy (2000) due to his large impact on the local Toronto community.  Internationally he has played for Canada in two Olympics (4thplace, Gold), two IIHF World Championships (Silver, Gold), one World Cup (2nd place) and most recently won Gold at the 2007 Spengler Cup.

He played only one game at the 2002 Olympics, a loss against Sweden in the first game of the tournament as the Canadiens were victimised by the Swedish Torpedo. The Leafs traded him to the Flames, but he didn’t play in Calgary before signing with Detroit.

Calgary fans next became aware of him during the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Brought into Detroit in 2002, CuJo was meant to continue on a Cup Dynasty for the Wings. When Dominik Hasek came out of retirement Joseph was pushed onto the bench, but came in to play a solid end-of-season when the Dominator was injured. Joseph came into the Flames/Red Wings series of 2004 with a 2-0 record and one shutout. Calgary went on to defeat Detroit four games to two in a result that had less to do with Joseph than it did the entire Detroit team. Yzerman had been injured, Nicklas Lidstrom did not play his best, nor did fading star Brett Hull, and Derian Hatcher spent more time being intimidated by boos than playing hockey. Joseph still played for a career-best 1.39 GAA and .939 save percentage for the Playoffs.

After the lockout he signed with Phoenix, where, while playing for an average team had average stats. In 2007 he joined Team Canada to vie for the Spengler Cup in a bid to stay sharp while looking for an NHL club to play with for 2007-08. He spent the last few weeks shopping around teams like Toronto, San Jose and the New York Rangers, eventually settling on the Calgary Flames.

Joseph spent half of last season as a back-up to Miikka Kiprusoff and the Calgary Flames. Reuniting with head coach Mike Keenan proved to be less of a distraction than was originally feared in light of their past experience.

Keenan had singled out Joseph for criticism while GM-coaching St Louis, often pulling him out of games and reading him the riot act in front of team mates. CuJo lost his own temper, clearing the coach’s desk and scattering the contents during an encounter. The stormy relationship prompted Joseph to say that the trade from St Louis to Edmonton was “the best thing that ever happened to me. I couldn’t take it anymore.” Both men worked as professionals while working for the Flames, and Joseph had a limited but successful 2007-08 season.

Joseph's greatest moment in a Calgary sweater came during the first round of last year’s playoffs against the San Jose Sharks. Just four minutes into Game 3, Kiprusoff was replaced by Joseph after allowing three early goals. CuJo shut the door from there on out, and the Flames effected a brilliant comeback, winning the game 4-3 to take the lead in the series.

Over the years CuJo has been known for many things, not least of which is his nickname and the mask designs it has created, sporting the ferocious growling dog inspired by Stephen King’s horror novel. Joseph’s intention has always been to inspire a worse type of fear in shooters he faces with his unorthodox and unpredictable style, the trademark by which he is truly known. “You think you have him beat, but he comes out of nowhere and makes the save,” says former Oiler team-mate Jason Arnott, referring to Joseph’s disconcerting way of looking out of position only to flip back and make a stop.

Like all good goaltenders, Joseph battles to make a play. However he doesn’t play in any defined style, and so saves and plays can look like everything from a Pedigree to the dog’s lunch; it also means opposition offence will never know what to expect until it happens.

He would be defined as a stand-up goalie for lack of a better term, but he intentionally mixes things up.  Some have compared his style of play to that of former Red Wing team-mate Dominik Hasek, with words like flopping, off-balance, flexible, stick-play, and unconventional being used regularly to describe both players. However where Hasek has tended to rely heavily upon using his team’s defence, Joseph displays a greater ability to play with anyone he needs to in whichever system required.

While his movement is unconventional, it finds consistency in his re-positioning and ability to stay with the puck. He may be considered cooler and more determined in his acrobatics than Hasek, and he seems less likely to let a game situation get to him. Former Flames head coach Pierre Page once said of Joseph, "He has no style. He's not very predictable. He's usually down on the ice, scrambling, but he always seems to find a way to get in front of the puck. He's a gambler, but he knows the percentages."

Joseph, returning to his “home team” will add to the Leafs if only in the dressing room. He has become comfortable with making the play in the big game or riding the bench as much or as little as is needed, so don‘t expect him to take over the team. Expressing a desire to return East to his home province, Joseph was always likely to move from Calgary and back to Ontario, where he hopes to continue making an impact. CuJo may have had an All-Star career, but he and many others in the Leafs locker room still long to win their first Cup. Toronto has some rebuilding to do to get to that point, but veteran leadership and a reliable back-up can only help the team towards their greatest eventual goal.

To learn about Joseph's childhood and hockey roots, read Curtis Joseph: Behind the Mask.

Curtis Joseph’s Vital Stats: Numbers coming into 2008-09

Born: Curtis Monro, 29 April 1967, Keswick, Ontario

Age: 41

NHL Teams: St Louis, Edmonton, Toronto, Detroit, Phoenix, Calgary, Toronto (re-signed 1 July 2008)

NHL Seasons: 17

Games Played: 922

Career Shutouts: 51

Career GAA: 2.78

Career Save Percentage: .907

Post-Season GAA: 2.45

Post-Season Save Percentage: .917

Post-Season Shutouts: 16

Sweater Number: 31