Cujo Gets his Chance

If 2008 has been the Year of the Backup then Curtis Joseph is probably looking forward to 2009!  It’s been a rough go this season for Cujo, his second stint as a Leaf, as he has put up some very un-Cujo like statistics (4.12 GAA, .843 SV% and .000 winning % vs. career numbers of 2.79 GAA, .906 SV% and .559 winning %)

Cujo is getting a chance to show he's not done yet.

Cujo is getting a chance to show he's not done yet.

Leaf coach Ron Wilson is giving Joseph back-to-back starts in an opportunity for Cujo to gain some confidence by getting some real playing time.  These games will be his first consecutive starts since backstopping Canada to the Spengler Cup last December.

Cujo makes a save in the first of consecutive starts.

Cujo makes a save in the first of consecutive starts.

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Justin Pogge to Make Leaf Debut Tonight

It’s not like the Toronto hockey press corps needed anything more to write about this season (new coach, new GM, Sundin-gate, another season of missing the playoffs) but now they finally get to cover Justin Pogge’s debut in the Leaft net tonight in Atlanta.

Pogge inherits 29 from Mike Palmateer and Felix Potvin

Pogge inherits 29 from Mike Palmateer and Felix Potvin

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“Always Leave with the One Who Brung ‘Ya”

This was my dad’s advice to me when I went to high school dances.  That is to say, if you take a girl to a dance then you stay with that girl to end of the evening and make sure she gets home happy and safe.  You don’t look for a new date at the end of the evening and leave her jilted and embarrassed.

Coaches have never been shy to pull a goalie if he’s playing poorly or the team needs a wake-up call.  Heck, Mike Keenan probably dreams about it in his sleep.  But they NEVER, EVER pull the goalie right before the start of a shootout.  At least they didn’t, until Leafs new coach Ron Wilson did it to Vesa Toskala last night in a game against the Ducks.  With the game tied 2-2 after OT Wilson removed Toskala, who was quite warm after playing 65 minutes of hockey, and replaced him with Curtis Joseph, who was probably quite cold after sitting on the bench for 65 minutes of hockey.  Cujo didn’t make any saves in the shootout and the Ducks won.  (The Leafs didn’t score any shootout goals either but that’s another story for someone else to cover)

Wilson defended the move afterwards by saying “we had nothing to lose”.  Toskala and Joseph said all the right things afterwards (more here as well) but how do you feel if you’re Toskala and the coach basically says “we’ve got no chance to win the shootout with you in net”.  The Leafs were in for a long season anyway but for Toskala it’s starting to look a bit longer with Keenan, I mean Wilson, looking over his shoulder.

Cujo’s Back! Literally

Great to see Curtis Joseph back in the blue and white of the Leafs.  Apparently “Fans” was easier to spell than “Cujo”.  Actually all the Leafs were wearing these jerseys (and the number 1) to show fans how much they appreciate the continued support of an organization that can’t make the playoffs, can’t get the number one draft pick and can’t sign one of their most popular captains in team history.  Leaf fans clearly are #1 in the Barnum and Bailey rank of suckers born every minute.

New Issue of Goalies World Sheds Light on Free Agent Signings

I’d like to say I’ve deliberately ignored the free agent goalie signings because I was coming up with brilliant analysis, but the truth is I was water skiing at a friend’s cottage on Go Home Lake.  Taking time away from internet connectivity was rewarded today when I received the newest issue of Goalies World magazine and its unique statistical review of all NHL goalies.

Goalies World is a technical goalie’s dream.  Each issue dedicates a dozen pages to in-depth analysis of a particular goalie’s style of play… I highly recommend it for any competitive goalie, or coach/parent thereof.  it also provides a very unique statistical ranking based on things like number of “hot” games and games “stolen” a victories.  It’s these comprehensive rankings that shed some interesting light on the free agency signing of the past two weeks.  I’ve listed the signings in order of ranking by Goalies World.

Cristobal Huet, signed by Chicago, Goalie World ranking 13th:  Based on GW’s rankings, Huet, and not Jose Theodore, was the top free unrestricted free agent goalie.  Was Huet greedy in his negotiations with the Capitals?  Was George McPhee stingy?  Is Nikolai Khabibulin on his way out in Chicago?  We probably won’t learn the truth on the first two questions but it may not be long before the last one is answered.  Huet was under-rated in Montreal so I was happy to see him make the most of his opportunity in Washington’s playoff run.  I wasn’t thrilled to see the writing on the wall for Ollie Kolzig but I was looking forward to seeing Huet’s performance next year on a team working its way into the top tier of the league.  The Black Hawks are also moving in the right direction but they’re a year or two behind the Caps, so Huet should see a lot of rubber.  FYI, Khabibulin ranked 27th and has been the subject of rumors that the Hawks want to move his hefty salary.

Jose Theodore, signed by Washington, GW ranking 25th:  Theodore has had his ups and downs since winning the Hart Trophy in 2002 but he appears to be on an upswing right now which will be good news for the Caps.  GM McPhee first tried to re-sign Huet (how hard he tried we’re not sure) and when that failed he went straight for Theodore.  2006-07 was not a good year for Theodore as he became a $6M backup to Peter Budaj.  But Avs’ GM Francois Guigere’s faith in Theodore was rewarded last season when Theodore bounced back with a strong season and even stronger stretch run that led the Avs to a first round win over the Wild.  The Caps also had a strong stretch run that has elevated expectations for next year in Washington.  My guess is Alexander Ovechkin’s outgoing personality and love of the game will be all it takes to keep Theodore focused and having fun on the ice.  If that happens the Capitals should not only repeat in the Southeast but should go further in the playoffs.

Ty Conklin, signed by Detroit, GW ranking 26th:  The outdoor game against Buffalo coincided with Conklin grabbing the starting position in Pittsburgh when Marc-Andre Fleury went down with his ankle injury.  Not only did Conklin keep the Pens from free-falling during Fleury’s absence but they actually climbed up in the standings as Conklin went on a nine-game winning streak.  Detroit should be a perfect fit for Conklin.  He can be a frequently-used backup to Chris Osgood, who probably is not the type to handle a Brodeur-like workload.

Marc-Andre Fleury, re-signed by Pittsburgh, GW ranking 29th:  Re-signing Evgeni Malkin was clearly priorty #1 for the Pens but securing Fleury for the foreseeable future had to be #1A.  Fleury’s ranking in Goalie World is lower than you’d expect given his playoff performance but that’s because he missed a good chunk of the season with his ankle injury.  Fleury’s progress over the past four seasons has more than validated his #1 overall selection in 2003 and his signature on a Penguin contract should result in his name engraved on the Cup in the next year or two. 

Olaf Kolzig, signed by Tampa, GW ranking 32nd:  Until he signed with the Lightning, this 1990 hockey card sums up almost everything you needed to know about ‘Ollie the Goalie’.  Kolzig has been the Capitals’ goalie since they were still wearing their original jerseys and NHLers were still wearing Cooper goalie equipment.  He was supposed to be a Cap for life but things ended poorly for Ollie after he had a sub-Kolzig season and the Caps handed the starters job to Huet for their playoff run.  According to the Goalies World ranking, Kolzig had 11 “bad” games.  But his signing is great news for the Bolts as they try to rebound from a last-place finish and their new owners try to win back their fans.  Mike Smith will be trying to prove he’s big-time starter after years in Marty Turco’s shadow and Kolzig will be trying to prove he can still carry a team.  George McPhee might want to call in sick the first time Tampa’s in town next season, or at least be prepared for an Ollie love-in from Caps fans.

Alex Auld, signed by Ottawa, GW ranking 35th:  Auld didn’t get off to a great start in Phoenix and was the odd man out when the Coyotes picked up Ilya Bryzgalov, but Auld certainly made the most of his chance in Boston.  He kept the Bruins in playoff contention when Tim Thomas went out with a mid-season injury.  The Senators offer Auld the chance for a bit of stability after bouncing from Vancouver to Florida before his stint in Phoenix.  Gerber should be able to handle about 60 games so Auld’s job will be to deliver a couple dozen solid starts as the Sens try to rebound from a disastrous season.  If Auld doesn’t skip practice or get in fights with Ottawa-area drivers I’m sure the Sens will consider his signing to be a success.

Patrick Lalime, signed by Buffalo, GW ranking 43rd:  Lalime has always had what I considered to be the best mask in the league, even going back to his days in Pittsburgh.  Actually, I liked it so much I copied it for my own mask.  Lalime kind of disappeared after he was chased out of Ottawa, but to be fair, injuries took their tole on him.  His play with the Hawks was decent and while that’s not a resounding endorsement it’s a lot better than his reviews in St. Louis.  In Buffalo he will be replacing Jocelyn Thibault, (ranked 59th in GW) and giving Ryan Miller a break about a dozen nights per year.

Andrew Raycroft, signed by Colorado, GW ranking 57th:  Raycroft may be one of the nicest guys in the league so I hope Denver works out for him.  After setting the Leafs record for wins in ’06-07 he was the target of vicious Leafs fans and media right from day one of last season.

Curtis Joseph, signed by Toronto, GW ranking 68th:  Cujo only appeared in 9 games with the Flames, almost half of which were in relief, but he played well given his inactivity for the first two thirds of the season.  The truth is the Leafs could have used just about anyone to play the dozen or so games that Vesa Toskala will grudingly sit out, but I’m excited to see Cujo back in a Leafs jersey to finish his career because (and I think he’ll be the first to agree) he never should have left in the first place.  Cujo practiced in his barn through most of last winter until getting the call from the Flames and played well enough in a handful of games to generate speculation he might start the playoffs.  So my analysis of this signing is that of a fan… welcome home Cujo!

Marc Denis, signed by Montreal, GW ranking 75th:  Things can only get better for Denis.  After years of being an under rated workhorse in Columbus, Denis was supposed to carry the Lightning back to the Cup after Khabibulin left for Chicago.  Instead he encountered Dr. Hook, in the form of coach Tortorella and never lived up to expectations.  Denis basically is going to a “can’t lose” situation in Montreal… either he plays in the AHL where he was going to be buried with the Bolts organization, or he pushes Halak

By the way, Ray Emery and Wade Dubielewicz, who both signed with Russian teams and were featured in a separate post, had GW rankings 46th and 50th respectively.  When you look at the rankings and how they compare to who signed where and for how much you have to give a lot of credit to Goalies World publisher Gilles Moffet for his unique ranking system.

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