Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cujo deserved better

It wasn't even a month ago that we were celebrating Martin Brodeur as the winningest goaltender in NHL history. Last night, we turned our attention to the other end of the spectrum when Toronto Maple Leafs goalie, Curtis Joseph lost to the Buffalo Sabres 3-1, tying him with Gump Worsely for the most career losses (352). A lot of Cujo's critics are using this as the opportunity to gloat and make such ridiculous remarks as "See? I told you he sucked and now he has the record to prove it!". Well for starters, he's tied for the record and unless he plays this Saturday, which he isn't expected to, the 41 soon to be 42 year old goalie probably won't play another game ever. As for him "sucking", nothing could be further from the truth.

Joseph never won the Stanley Cup or any personal award for his performances, but he did win 454 games, good for 4th all time. That puts him ahead of guys like Sawchuk, Plante and Esposito. That's some pretty good company for a guy that "sucks". He was the ultimate hard luck goalie. Joseph never fell into the right situation. Everything he accomplished was done almost entirely by himself. He started out with the Blues where he got absolutely shelled, night in, night out. For two straight seasons, Joseph faced more rubber than any other goalie in the league. Before the start of the 95-96 season, Joseph was traded to the Edmonton Oilers where he began to really make a name for himself. In the 97 playoffs, Joseph engineered a huge upset over the heavily favored Dallas Stars in the first round. Cujo just made one incredible save after another and it wouldn't be the first time he would do it either in the playoffs. The very next season Joseph and the Oilers fell behind the favored Colorado Avalanche, 3-1 in the first round. At that point, Joseph took over, surrendering only one goal in the final three games of the series leading to another stunning upset.

With his reputation as a big time playoff performer growing in the summer of 98, Cujo signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he would blast into super stardom over the next four seasons. Joseph won over 30 games in his first three years with the Leafs (29 wins in the 4th season), finished as Vezina runner up twice and led the Leafs to the Conference finals twice. In 2002, Joseph turned in another spectacular playoff performance leading the Leafs to the conference finals. Playing a broken left hand, Joseph nearly pulled off another big playoff win, but fell short in 6 games.

With his unforgettable and gutsy playoff run still in everyone's mind, the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings signed Cujo to a huge contract to replace the retired Dominik Hasek. For the first time in his career, he was playing on a team that actually played defense and he wouldn't be counted on to be a one man defense like he had been. Unfortunately, Joseph's seasons in Detroit were very rocky. In 03, he played well, but lost to a red hot goalie in JS Giguere. In 04, he posted a 1.39 GAA, but still lost out in the second round to another hot goalie in Miikka Kiprusoff. In both years, Joseph was the scape goat for the losses and left Detroit after the NHL lockout. With Joseph entering his late 30's, there wasn't many takers for his services. He played his final years for Phoenix, Calgary and then back to Toronto.

Cujo deserved a better ending to his career than what he got. A goalie that can steal a series and single handily beat some of the best teams in the league deserved better. He deserved to have his name on the Cup or at the very least, have a shot at it. If he had played his entire career in Detroit or played for a team like Colorado or New Jersey, people would be debating on whether he's the greatest of all time. He played for bad teams almost his entire career and the fact that he still won 454 games says a lot more about him, than the 352 he lost.

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