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Joseph has something to prove -- Part II

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Elliotte Friedman

Elliotte Friedman is a reporter and commentator at The Score, Canada's 24-hour sports highlights and information network. He has covered the Leafs extensively for a number of years and has a birds-eye view of what's going on with the Leafs and the NHL.

Despite elevating his teams in St. Louis, Edmonton and Toronto, which have often been inferior to their playoff opposition, the average hockey fan focuses on the fact that Joseph has never made a Stanley Cup Final instead of the many upsets he has led. They focus on his lack of a Vezina Trophy, a Hart Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy, or some kind of bauble that needs to be shined.

Patrick Roy has something. So does Ed Belfour, Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek. Even Tommy Salo has an Olympic gold medal. And there is no doubt, none at all, he is well aware that even as the Olympics approach and the team has been named, some fans and media are calling for Wayne Gretzky to ask for Roy's participation one more time.

Joseph has elevated his play in the past few weeks.
He is well aware that the same people are saying that Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic all have better goaltending than Canada.

Like it or not, Curtis Joseph is Canada's best hope for gold. Belfour is probably the most talented of the three, but he is in his meltdown phase right now and completely untrustworthy. Brodeur will likely get a couple of games, but he was far from consistent even last year as the Devils went within one win of a second consecutive Stanley Cup.

Unlike those two, Joseph doesn't have a championship ring gathering dust in a safety deposit box somewhere. But that's also to his advantage. Professionally, he's got more to gain and, by extension, more to lose.

Heading into free agency, mired in a contract disagreement with the Maple Leafs, Joseph needs something tangible to show everyone that he deserves a huge raise. Mats Sundin will make $9 million per year starting next season, and Toronto doesn't want Joseph to leapfrog that figure, even if he deserves it.

The rest of the league watches with interest, not wanting to see the goaltender market get into that salary stratosphere, especially after both Brodeur and Olaf Kolzig signed lower deals.

So Curtis Joseph finds himself in the same position he was a decade ago. He must show that he is part of an elite club. He wants to prove the doubters wrong. With a gold medal around his neck, he'll be a national hero. There will be no more questions. And this summer, should the Maple Leafs ridiculously allow him to become a free agent, there will be plenty of suitors.

And never again will he have to hear the "Yeah, buts" any more.

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