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Cujo Comes Home... Hagman Signed

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Say what you want about the 2008-2009 version of the Toronto Maple Leafs: they will have entertaining goaltending.

The Leafs announced the signing of 41-year-old goalie Curtis Joseph today.

It was not an unexpected move and it made sense on several fronts.

Joseph is a bridge back to happier times. During his last term in Toronto from 1998-99 to 2001-2002, he played in 60 playoff games and twice led the Leafs to the Eastern Conference Finals. Joseph never reached those heights again, but well neither did the Leafs and a string of three years out of the playoffs has lowered expectations for everyone.

Joseph no doubt wants another year playing at home and the chance for his kids to see him wear the Blue and White. He is long since financially set so his motives are pure enough and he flashed enough in Calgary last year to lead anyone to think that there is enough left for him  to play every 10 days or two weeks.

Joseph is an amiable teammate who worked nicely with Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. He went 3-2 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA. He should make a nice fit with imperturbable starter Vesa Toskala.

Ron Wilson’s teams play defence so even with the makeover of the blueline over the summer, neither goalie should face as much heavy fire as they endured last season. And presumably after his one season, Joseph heads back to his farm north of the city, clearing the way for Justin Pogge to move over from the Ricoh Coliseum after a triumphant year with the Marlies. At least, that sounds like a workable plan.

One more thing. The closer you got to Joseph, the tougher it became to score. No goalie I’ve ever watched fought so fiercely when the puck was in his crease. On his rare nights off, Toskala could do a lot worse than watch Joseph.

All in all, a nice move, unless Toskala’s fickle groin and hamstring muscles rebel in midseason as they did last year. The Leafs would find themselves with little choice than to reach for Pogge, who Marlies coach Greg Gilbert benched in favour of Scott Clemmensen in the playoffs.
Niklas Hagman.

Why didn’t anyone think of Niklas Hagman?

Cliff Fletcher did, and the Leafs have help in three of the areas in which they were most in need: the penalty kill, the forecheck and team speed.

Hagman scored 27 goals last season for the Dallas Stars and his signature on a four-year contract proffered by the Leafs helps mightily on those fronts.

Hagman is a six-foot-Finn with exceptional speed. He is terrifically hard-working player who loves to pressure on the forecheck. He was a third and second-line player for the powerful Stars and he earned those 27 goals. Only four arrived on the power play and another four were struck on the penalty kill.

 He had eight game winning goals and like so many, delivered a career season just as he came in to free agency.

Still there is little question that Hagman will fit in as a valuable second-line winger. Hagman may never repeat his 27 goals, he readily admits his hand-skills are inferior to those of his Dad, Matti, but he is an honest player who is solid in his own end and versatile enough to shift from left to right wing as well as help out on the penalty kill. He is just 28 and good for some highlight reel goals because of his speed.

Good player. Good addition. Who knew?

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