Curtis Joseph represented a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending was one of its strongest positions
The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone through six different starting goaltenders since the 2006-2007 season, when they traded for Andrew Raycroft. In that time, along with Raycroft, the Leafs have had Vesa Toskala, Jonas Gustavsson, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier occupy the starter’s role.
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However, from 1992 to 2006 the Leafs only had three goalies occupy the starter’s job; Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph, and Ed Belfour. During that 14 year stretch the goaltending position was the strongest part of the team, as they only failed to qualify for the playoffs three times.
All three goalies had their moments in Toronto. However Joseph, also known as “CUJO” did a lot to earn the appreciation of Leafs Nation.
Every season that Joseph started for the Leafs he made the playoffs, which is where he had his most memorable moments. After the Leafs missed the playoffs for two straight seasons and Pat Quinn took over as head coach, he brought in Joseph as a free agent.
That season, the team made it to the Eastern Conference finals. At the time, the Leafs defence consisted of Yannick Tremblay, Danil Markov, Alexander Karpovtsev, Dallas Eakins, Bryan Berard, Chris McAllister, Tomas Kaberle, Kevin Dahl, Sylvain Cote, Jason Smith and Dmitri Yushkevich.
Only Yushkevich, Smith,and Cote played more than 60 games with the Leafs that season. The team would eventually lose to the Buffalo Sabres in the conference finals.
Lke the Leafs, the Sabres relied a lot on their goaltender, Dominik Hasek. That season Joseph had his highest goals against average as a starter with the Leafs with a 2.56 GAA and a 2.43 GAA in the playoffs.
Dec 31, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs former goalieFelix Potvin
(29) makes a save during the Alumni Showdown against the Detroit Red Wings as part of the Winter Classic at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Leafs goaltenders have had their fair share of challenges during their time in Toronto, as the Leafs have never had that dominant shutdown defenceman. From 1992-2006, Potvin, Belfour and Joseph faced on average 27 shots per game, which does not look like a lot.
However that was also a time where the games best players were scoring 100+ points in a season. On top of this, goaltenders did not have big equipment.
When Potvin took the Leafs to two straight conference finals, he did it with Doug Gilmour putting up two straight 100+ point seasons. Then in the playoffs players like Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Dave Andreychuk, Dave Ellett and Glen Anderson were putting either a point per game or close to that during that time.
In the playoffs, only Sundin and Berezin had more than 10 points, with six of Joseph’s nine victories in the playoffs decided by one goal. It is safe to say Potvin had a better supporting cast than Joseph.
Just to compare the two goaltenders, during the 1992-93 playoffs Joseph had a .938 sv% and a 2.27 GAA in 11 games with the St. Louis Blues, while Potvin had a .903 sv% and a 2.84 GAA with the Leafs. The Leafs as a team only scored 250+ goals once during Joseph’s time in Toronto, which came in 1998-99, while the team did it twice for Potvin in 1992-93 and 1993-94.
During Joseph’s time with the Leafs, the team’s goals against kept dropping, from 231 in 1998-99 to 207 in 2000-01 and 2001-02. During Potvin’s time, the Leafs goals against rose each season ,from 241 in 1992-93 to 273 in 1996-97 (granted Potvin played 74 games that season).
This is not to say that Potvin was not a good goalie – any goaltender that gets a team to the conference finals two straight years is damn good. However, Joseph was relied on more and put up dominant numbers during his time in Toronto.
Joseph made the 2002 Team Canada as the starting goalie, but got benched in favour of Martin Brodeur, who was a pretty good goaltender at the time. He was a runner up for the Vezina trophy twice in 1999 and 2000, and a runner up for the Lester B. Pearson Award in 1999.
Jospeh won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2000 for his charity Cujo’s crease, which helped patients from Toronto’s Sick Children Hospital. From 1998-2002 Joseph was among the league’s stars being selected to two All-Star games in 1999 and 2000.
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The only Leafs goalies to participate in the All-Star game were Wayne Thomas back in 1975-76, Potvin in 1993-94 and Belfour in 2002-03. However, Joseph is the only Leafs goalie to be named to multiple All-Star games.
His departure from Toronto was a sour one, with reported issues with coach and GM Pat Quinn about contract length. while also being benched during the Olympics. Joseph would make his return to the Leafs in 2009 after playing for the Detroit Red Wings, Phoenix Coyotes, and the Calgary Flames.
In his final hurrah, Joseph played 21 games as the Leafs back. His return was highlighted by a late game relief of Martin Gerber, who got ejected for pushing the referee against the Washington Capitals.
Joseph came into the game and kept the offensively dangerous Capitals team off the scoresheet and got the shootout win. Below is a video of that relief performance, which includes stellar commentary from Pierre McGuire:
Watching Leafs hockey for the first time while growing up was exciting, because Joseph was by far one of the best Leafs players along with Sundin. It was during his tenure that I began to truly understand what it meant to be a Leafs fan.
The rivalry with the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs, the iconic Cujo goalie mask and having his name on the back of my first Leafs jersey made growing up a Leafs fan fun. (Unlike some of the pain that followed his departure.)
He is still fourth in franchise history with 133 wins in 249 games played, and who knows what would have happened if he did not leave for Detroit? While not everyone would agree with Joseph being their favourite Leafs goalie or among the best in franchise history, I am sure that Leafs fans can appreciate what he did.