This time, it's Joseph in goal with Cheli still on defense
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
Two years ago, a Toronto reporter asked Maple Leafs president Ken Dryden how long goaltender Curtis Joseph, then 33, could keep stopping pucks.
"If he keeps in good shape, he could carry on for some time," said Dryden, a Hall of Fame goalie with the Canadiens. "He plays a fairly uncomplicated game and you must remember that before the legs go, you have to be concerned about the drive that makes the legs go. For the most part, the answer will be inside him."
But now, with Joseph's decision to sign with the Red Wings, the answer is out in the open.
Joseph's biggest motivation is to win a Stanley Cup, and he decided the odds of achieving that with the Red Wings were better than they were with Toronto. He signed a three-year, $24-million contract with the Red Wings, with an option for a fourth season.
"Detroit offers a very unique opportunity," Joseph said Tuesday before leaving Toronto. "Everybody who plays there says the future is now. That was enticing.
"I guess the bottom line . . . at 22 years old, when I came into the league, if you told me I was 35 and I hadn't won a Stanley Cup, and you are able to go where the odds may be 3-to-1 or 2-to1, I'll take it."
Joseph went 29-17-5 with a career-best 2.23 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage last season. He had a 2.30 goals-against and a .914 save percentage in 20 playoff games before the Leafs were eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals by Carolina.
His play could be helped this season: Dryden also said in that 2000 interview that good goalies play better with good teams.
"It's so rewarding for a goalie to watch his team catch fire and score twice to win the game after he lets one in," Dryden said.
The Wings did that for Dominik Hasek on several occasions during their Stanley Cup-winning season, and he reciprocated with great games at times when Detroit's offense struggled.
Wings defenseman and two-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom said Joseph could do the same thing for the Wings.
"He's similar to Dom in the way he can make that save when you think the other team can score," Lidstrom said. "His reactions are so fast, especially on the shots in close. I think he's really capable of playing good with a good team."
Joseph became an unrestricted free agent Monday after failing to reach a deal with the Leafs.
He broke into the NHL with St. Louis in 1989-90 and played there for six seasons. It was in St. Louis that Joseph acquired the nickname "Cujo."
"At the time, the broadcasters were calling him 'The Cat,' " said hockey writer Dave Luecking of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Cujo liked it because he might have been called 'The Cat' in college. But to me, 'The Cat' was goalie Emile Francis, so I never used it.
"When I got wind of his teammates calling him Cujo, I ran with it and used it every chance I could. I loved the creativity of pulling the letters from his first and last names, and of course, the imagery (from the mad dog of the 1981 Stephen King novel) was cool. . . . It proved fortuitous when Felix (The Cat) Potvin came into the league. Instead of having two cats, we had the dog and the cat."
But Cujo the goalie is no mad dog. "Cujo's a great guy," Luecking said.
Joseph has created charity programs: Cujo's Kids sends sick children to hockey games. Cujo's Kids Foundation, with Coca-Cola as a partner, funds research at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
When Joseph joined the Edmonton Oilers in 1995, he and his wife, Nancy, started Cujo's Kids, treating 10 kids to a game. When he joined the Leafs, he expanded the program, bringing 16 kids a game -- every game -- to his private box in the Air Canada Centre. Joseph made sure each received a complimentary program and autographed souvenir, and he frequently visited with the kids after the game.
The program will move with him to Detroit.
"The first 10 minutes he was in the building he expressed an interest in that," Wings spokesman John Hahn said. "We took him up suite level to show him the suites available next season. I'd say he's looking forward to continuing the program here in Detroit."
Joseph has his own Web site -- www.Cujo31.com -- and there are several others dedicated to him by fans, many of whom have stuck with him, team to team.
"I think the world of Curtis, as did everyone in the organization," Bill Watters, Dryden's assistant, told a Toronto radio station. "He's a wonderful young man, he has a great family. He's done wonderful things for the city of Toronto, particularly the children's hospital. Hey, we are going to miss Curtis."