Experience not the only reason for Cujo signing
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 | 05:00 PM ET
Last week the Calgary Flames made the first significant off-ice transaction of the 2008 calendar year when they signed Curtis Joseph to a one-year, pro-rated contract.
For Cujo, it was the culmination of a comeback that included an impressive win at the Spengler Cup over the holidays.
For the Flames, the move may prove to be an important one, as Calgary prepares itself for the stretch run in the tight Northwest Division. Not much will change on the ice, as we all know Miikka Kiprusoff will still be between the pipes on most nights, but in terms of the team’s ability to survive an injury to their No. 1 netminder, everything is different now.
At 40 years of age, his best years are long gone, but his experience, professionalism, attitude and competitiveness bring a lot to the table and for that Cujo is a great fit for a team that has little NHL experience in the role of backup.
After 49 games, Kiprusoff has played in 48, and the tandem of rookies Curtis McElhinney and Matt Keetley had accounted for just 159:15 of service, and had yet to earn a point in the standings for their team.
The concern for general manager Darryl Sutter was two fold.
First, if anything happened to his prized goaltender, any thought of playoff success - or maybe even a playoff berth - would be in jeopardy. Second, the wear and tear of a big workload on Kiprusoff may finally be showing its effect. From the start of the 2005-06 season, Kiprusoff has now played in 196 of a possible 213 games. That is a staggering 92 per cent of the Flames games.
Heavy workload taken its toll
In his first season in Calgary in 2004, Kiprusoff played in just 38 games after being acquired in a trade with San Jose. His goals-against average that year? An NHL best 1.69. In the playoffs, his 1.85 average helped propel his team to Game 7 of the Cup Final. In 2006, he played 74 games with a GAA of 2.07. Last year was another 74-game season, with an average slightly higher at 2.46. This season has seen his typical slow start in October linger on into the new year. His 2.80 average is over a goal a game higher than his Vezina winning season and his .899 save percentage is nowhere near elite status. Getting some help and relief from Joseph, should improve those numbers.
Cujo has a wealth of experience and like so many players near the end of their playing days; he can help play the role of mentor, confidant and coach for the 31-year-old Kipper. Joseph has 913 regular season games to his credit, and another 131 in the post-season. That is a wealth of experience to draw upon. His spectacular play in Europe at the Spengler Cup proved that he can still stop the puck, but I think it will be his relationship with the No.1 goalie that will be most important.
Joseph’s ability as a successful veteran player to talk with, to give advice to and to work on the ice in practice with Kiprusoff may end up being biggest value to the Flames. Being a goalie is a high pressure, lonely job, and one that not too many players or coaches can relate to.
As a forward or a defenceman when things go bad and your confidence fails, veteran teammates often are the ones to pick you up and help you get through the tough times. For a goalie, rarely are there teammates who can relate to the pressure of the position let alone the technical aspects that go with it, and most coaches don’t fully understand the psyche and the personality that is the makeup of the NHL’s most important position.
More support, more confidence
It is of great value to have an experienced, confident backup who isn’t a threat to take your job, but can rather be a source of help and support during tough times. Kiprusoff used to have that in veteran Jamie McLennan. Although McLennan didn’t play a lot, he was a good, veteran teammate who could talk and joke with Kiprusoff and give him confidence in his role. I can’t imagine McElhinney or Keetley having much self-assurance to help Kipper by critiquing or working on his game through tough times. No disrespect to them, but with less than six games of NHL experience it only stands to reason.
What matters most to Flames fans is that they now have a confident, experienced backup option to turn to if Kiprusoff gets hurt.
Curtis Joseph is the right man for the right job. With 34 games to go, he will probably only see six to eight games of action, but I think his real value will be felt in taking some of the pressure off Calgary’s No. 1 goalie. He can work with Kipper in practice and be a sounding board to talk to; something Kiprusoff has not had in his backups all year.
If Calgary is going to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, it will be Miikka Kiprusoff who will have to be at his best between the pipes. For the future Hall of Fame goalie, at this stage of his career, Curtis Joseph will be happy to be along for the ride and doing whatever he can to contribute along the way.
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About the Author
Former NHL player, coach and broadcaster Craig Simpson brings over 18 years of expertise to his analyst role on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. Craig played 10 years in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Edmonton, capturing two Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1988 and 1990. He continues to hold the distinction of being the last Oiler to score 50 goals in one season (56 goals in 1987-88).
Injuries cut his playing career short in 1995, but the native of London, Ont., didn’t stray far from the game. Simpson worked for eight seasons as a hockey commentator with TSN, FoxSportsNet and Rogers Sportsnet and was an assistant coach with the Oilers organization for the past four years (2003-07) before joining CBC.
Simpson lives in Edmonton with his wife and three children. Viewers can catch Craig on Saturday nights providing analysis and commentary during the second game on HNIC. His blog appears every Tuesday on CBCSports.ca.
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