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Coyote Number 31 and the Myth of CuJo

Curtis Joseph is the best number 31 in Coyote history. That's not a statement of great importance, because 31 has been a number of backup goalies and journeymen in this franchise's history. In addition, Joseph's 2 years in Phoenix weren't exactly eventful. The Coyotes finished last in the Pacific division during the 05-06 season even though Joseph was average in net going 32-21-3 in 60 games. The next season was a disaster however, for both the team and Cujo. The Coyotes would finish dead last in the Western Conference with 67 points and Joseph was a big reason why going 18-31-2 in 55 games putting up a ghoulish 3.19 GAA and a .893 SV%, both career worsts. In fact, 2006 was the last year that Joseph would be a starter in the NHL. All that being considered, this article isn't about CuJo's place in Coyote history as much as trying to properly figure out Cujo's place in NHL goalie history. More specifically, was Curtis Joseph a great goalie or merely a good one who played a long time.

On the surface, Joseph's numbers look impressive. He is currently 5th on the all-time games played list with 943 and 4th in wins with 454. Joseph is also tied for second for career losses with Gump Worsley at 352, trailing Marty Broduer. When you start to look at individual goaltender numbers, the picture becomes murkier. His peripherals aren't great with a lifetime goals against average of 2.79 (good for 72nd all-time at this moment) and a .906 save percentage (37th best currently). Playing in the fifth most games of any goalie ever, you would expect him to be in the top 20 for career shutouts if not the top 10, but Joseph only ranks 22nd with 51 in his career (he could be passed in the coming season by both Henrik Lundqvist and, ironically, Nikolai Khabibulin). Only once in Joseph's 13 year career as a qualified starter did he ever lead the league in a goaltending category, putting up a league best .911 SV% in the 92-93 season. Only nine times would he achieve even a top 5 finish in any category (wins, goals against, save percentage, and shutouts): 5 times for wins (finishing 2nd in '99 with 35, 3rd in '94 with 36, 4th in both '95 [20] and 2000 [36] and 5th in '03 in with 34), once for goals against (3.02 was good enough for 4th in '93), twice for save percentage (the aforementioned 1st place in '93 and a second place finish in '92 with .910), and once in shutouts posting 6 in '97 which was good enough for 4th best in the league. Joseph never won an individual award for goaltending but he did have three years where he was a Vezina Trophy finalist, finishing 3rd in both '93 and 2000 and earning a 2nd place finish in '99. CuJo was only an All-Star twice, in 1994 as a member of the St. Louis Blues and in 2000 as a Toronto Maple Leaf. He did earn a spot on the 2002 Canadian Olympic roster, taking his spot as the third stringer behind Marty Brodeur and Ed Belfour.

The interesting part of Curtis Joseph's legacy is his success, or lack thereof, in postseason play. CuJo would make appearances in 14 different postseasons, playing as the starter in all but his first (in 1990 with St. Louis) and his last (2008 with Calgary). In 133 playoff games, CuJo's record is 63-66. He would never take a team to the Stanley Cup Finals, only ever going as far as the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999 and 2002 with Toronto. An argument could be made that both of those Toronto teams were better than the clubs that beat them for the honor of playing in the Cup Finals, Buffalo and Carolina respectively. Five different times Joseph couldn't lead his team out of the first round, including two sweeps, one of which was with the defending Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in 2003. To put all of the playoff failings of a team upon the goalie isn't fair, but if there is any position in sports where one man can lead a team to a championship, it is as a NHL goalie. CuJo never rose to that level.

Was Curtis Joseph a great NHL goalie? There is no doubt he was a very good one. For a goalie to go from being undrafted to playing in the 5th most games all-time is an impressive feat. The numbers, however, point to a definitive outcome. CuJo was always a good goalie on talented teams, but he was never consistently one of the 5 best goalies in the league for 3 seasons in a row. His measurement numbers would fairly regularly fall in the median range of qualifying goalies on a year by year basis. He had a long, successful career (and an all time great nickname and goalie helmet design) but ultimately, Curtis Joseph was a good goalie in an era of great ones.

Author's Note:

I had this post written and prepared for day 31 of the preseason countdown, but internet issues caused it to not be able to be posted at that time. I hope you are all enjoying the countdown and we are now a month away from hockey. GAME ON!

Five for Howling is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Phoenix Coyotes and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor(s) of Five for Howling

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