Coyotes' fortunes hinge on performance of Joseph - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Coyotes' fortunes hinge on performance of Joseph

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Posted: Wednesday, October 5, 2005 12:08 am | Updated: 8:11 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

An aging athlete with a recent history of injuries comes to the Valley to try to revive his career and lead a sad-sack franchise to the playoffs.

Kurt Warner?


Curtis Joseph.

“I remember following Kurt when he was in St. Louis,” said Joseph, who will start in goal tonight as the Coyotes open their season against the Vancouver Canucks. “What a great story. If you draw the similarity, I would be very happy.”

The Warner experiment hasn't worked out too well for the Cardinals. He's already been forced to the sidelines with a groin injury, and his stay there might be extended if Josh McCown continues to play well.

The Coyotes expect more from Joseph. But are they, like the Cardinals, fooling themselves?

Joseph is 38 years old. He missed 28 games for Detroit in 2003-04 with ankle and groin injuries. He has been a superb goalie — his 396 wins rank third among active goaltenders (only Ed Belfour and Martin Brodeur have more) — but time plays tricks on athletes, and injuries multiply like rabbits.

Just ask Warner.

“We really felt although he was 38 his commitment to work and attention to detail was pretty solid,” Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. “This day and age, a guy who's 38 and taken good care of himself, and has committed himself, is going to be very strong. We weren't concerned about his age.”

There never was much doubt that Joseph would be the Coyotes' No. 1 goalie. Gretzky's pronouncement that he would battle Brian Boucher for the starting job was about as honest as Dennis Green saying Warner and McCown would compete for playing time.

Gretzky long has been enamored of Joseph, to the point that he picked Cujo instead of then-Coyotes stalwart Sean Burke to play goalie for Team Canada in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The groin injury Boucher suffered in training camp only saved Gretzky from stating the obvious.

Joseph is confident he'll validate Gretzky's trust in him. While he acknowledges he can't be considered the sure thing he once was — “maybe with some age you have a little bit more to prove” — he believes concern about his health is unwarranted.

The ’03-04 season was the first time since 1996 Joseph didn't play in at least 50 games. The ankle injury that cost him 28 games has since healed; Joseph said it's given him no problems in the preseason.

Joseph also points out — in his modest manner — that when he did play that year, he played well. His 1.39 goals-against average and .939 save percentage led all NHL goalies in the postseason.

“I was relatively satisfied,” he said.

Joseph will have to have a stellar year for the Coyotes to not only make the postseason but win a playoff series for the first time since the Winnipeg Jets did so in 1987.

Phoenix isn't the deepest or most talented team in the Western Conference. And with rules changes designed to open up the game and increase scoring, the goalie has become more important than ever.

If Cujo has lost his bite, the Coyotes won't have any bark.

“I expect the team to be better in front of him and I expect him to be strong,” Gretzky said. “We hope that come January we have to rip up his contract and re-sign him.”

That's what the Cardinals said about Warner, too.

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