The story goes that Leafs President and then-General Manager Ken Dryden went out for ice cream one summer evening in 1998 when he ran into Don Meehan, the agent for Curtis Joseph, an unrestricted free agent at the time. That chance encounter led to negotiations which brought Joseph to Toronto.
Now with his contract set to expire at the end of the 2001-02 season, talks have begun on a contract extension that would possibly see the All-Star netminder end his career as a Leaf.
Both parties have offered an initial proposal and while an agreement is hardly in clear view it does indicate that the Leafs and Joseph see the mutual benefits to continue this successful relationship.
The Leafs have reportedly offered Cujo an annual salary that would rank him as the third-highest paid goalie in the NHL, behind Colorado's Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek of Detroit.
Given the career accomplishments of these future Hall-of-Famers, this ranking seems to make sense. Roy, the all-time winningest goalie in league history, has led his team to four Stanley Cup triumphs, has won the Vezina trophy three times and was a first- or second-team All-Star five times. Hasek has led his team to the Stanley Cup finals once, has been named the league MVP twice, won the Vezina trophy six times and been named a first- or second-team All-Star six times. Joseph, meanwhile, as great as he is, has yet to reach any of those specific accomplishments .
Further, it has become standard in the NHL that the top goalie is paid less than the top position players on their own teams. With the Avalanche, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Rob Blake all get paid more than Roy. Lindros gets more than Richter in New York, Jagr gets more than Kolzig in Washington. In fact, in an examination of reported figures, the difference between the salary for recently re-signed Leaf captain Mats Sundin
and the salary offered to Joseph is far smaller than the discrepancy in the case with other teams.
Of course, there is another perspective to any salary negotiation. As suggested by Meehan, Joseph is the most valuable player on the team and should be paid in accordance with that lofty stature. That would mean a salary in the range of Sundin's $8.5 million a year. There is no doubt that Joseph is a top-tier goalie - he was one of four goalies invited to Canada's Olympic training session in September - and he is a true gentleman in the game with his community and charitable efforts highly regarded, including his Cujo Kids
There are two sides to every argument and both sides in this on-going negotiation can make a compelling case.
Most importantly however, is that despite harsh words from Meehan recently, Leaf fans shouldn't be too concerned since these are very normal positions to be taken in the preliminary stages of contract talks for any professional athlete. The best course of action should be to wait a bit and see what unfolds.
Or better yet, head out for some ice cream. You never know who you'll run into.