If Curtis Joseph’s NHL career indeed comes to an end at the conclusion of this season, he’ll retire with the fourth-most goalie wins of all-time and a giant question begging to be answered: has he done enough to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Most people I talk to instinctively say no. He was a very good goalie, who wove an excellent 19-year tapestry – at times he was stellar – but didn’t set himself apart enough to become an Honored Member. He never won a Stanley Cup or appeared in a final, never earned a post-season all-star berth, never captured a Vezina Trophy.
In his one shot at ultimate glory, with the 2002 Canadian Olympic team in Salt Lake, he was given the starter’s job, but surrendered that after a disappointing 5-2 loss against Sweden to open the tournament.
In addition, his career is ending dolefully. He’s a seldom-used backup on a bad team with little to show for his swan song to Toronto. In fact, if he played more frequently this season, he’d likely grab the “top” spot for all-time goalie losses. As things stand, he’s three back of ‘L’ king Gump Worsley.
The here-and-now image we have of ‘Cujo’ colors the big picture with more vibrancy than it ought to, but that perception is our reality.
All that said, upon deeper reflection, there is an argument to be made for Joseph’s enshrinement.
For starters, there’s that fourth all-time wins stat that won’t evaporate. Every other netminder in the top 11 in victories is either already in the Hall or will be as soon as they’re eligible. Joseph is the very lonely, glaring exception.
And it’s important to note, he wasn’t often the beneficiary of great teams in front of him. During his stints in St. Louis, Edmonton and Toronto, he carried his teams for long stretches, engineering playoff-round upsets with some regularity. You’d have to wonder what kind of success he would have enjoyed had he spent time, during the prime of his career, behind defenses like the ones in New Jersey or Dallas.
He has also been remarkably durable and consistent, topping 30 wins twice and posting winning records in 15 of 19 campaigns. Where does longevity come into the equation? Skaters such as Mike Gartner and Bernie Federko won Hall induction despite never being the best at their positions, getting post-season all-star nods, being on Stanley Cup champions or winning major individual awards. Their strong, sustained efforts carried the day.
Similar to Gartner and Federko, Joseph also has built up considerable goodwill among media members and fans; his image is clean if not impeccable. Right or wrong, players with public dark sides sometimes have a tougher time getting in – for case studies, see Dino Ciccarelli, Tom Barrasso and Pavel Bure (he of the All-Star Game early departure).
As for lack of championships, there is precedent. Fellow stoppers Roy Worters, Chuck Rayner and Ed Giacomin were elected without ever having won a Cup. Tony Esposito, meanwhile, got his only NHL title as a backup in Montreal, sitting on the bench while Rogie Vachon did the puck-stopping.
Where does all this leave Cujo? Likely still outside the Hall, but a few years from now when he becomes eligible and visions of the past couple seasons have subsided, it could be a much tougher call than we originally imagined.
ONE MORE THING
Career loss No. 349 for Joseph was a glaring example of a deficiency in how the NHL tracks goalie defeats.
He entered the game in relief of Vesa Toskala, with the Leafs trailing 4-1 in the first period. Toronto failed to get back to even terms with Tampa the rest of the way in a 6-4 loss. But because his team scored a meaningless fourth goal with about two minutes remaining – one that theoretically would have tied the contest had Joseph been perfect – he was tagged with the ‘L.’
If the match ends 6-3, Toskala takes the loss. It’s a small point, but one the league should examine for the sake of fairness. For those keeping score at home, Worsley’s all-time loss record is 352.
OK, LAST ONE, REALLY
I was industriously working away in my office when I heard repeated laughter coming from our editorial “pit.” I wandered over to see the guys watching this video of Panthers play-by-play man Randy Moller’s goal calls, as found on Puck Daddy (and now THN.com). Wocka-wocka.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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