CuJo turns it around in desert

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Curtis Joseph probably cares more about the protective sunscreen his kids wear in the sweltering Arizona desert than he does about any kind of goaltending controversy in Toronto.

Far removed from the slushy streets of Toronto, where questions about Andrew Raycroft and J-S Aubin are as common as squirts of windshield washer these days, Joseph's career has received a shot of adrenalin in sun-baked Phoenix.

A slow start to the 2006-07 season by Joseph and the Coyotes ignited criticism that it might be time for Cujo, 39, to close the book on his playing days.

But the additions of two former Maple Leafs, goalie Mikael Tellqvist and forward Yanic Perreault, has helped turn around the fortunes of Joseph and the Coyotes.

In his past 10 starts, Joseph has gone 6-4, posted a respectable 2.50 goals-against average with a pair of shutouts and a .912 save percentage.

By no coincidence, nine of those appearances came after Phoenix acquired Tellqvist, a friend Joseph feels has driven him to be better.

Joseph admits there was a time where retirement might have crept into his mind, but that no longer is the case.

"The thought briefly may have been there, but not that much," he said in a phone interview. "If I play at the level I expect, which I am doing again, and it's okay with my family, which it is, I will keep playing."

But where?

"In the big picture, there are only two places that make sense," he said, verifying that one would be Phoenix.

The other?

Take a wild guess.

He lives in King City. His kids grew up there. He plans on settling down in the area once his playing days are over.

If you surmised Toronto, you'd be right.

For the record, the Leafs have shown little indication in the past that they would want Joseph back.

Prior to Joseph's re-signing with the Coyotes last summer, his camp did some informal tire-kicking in order to gauge any interest the Leafs might have. There was, according to those close to the veteran goalie, no response.

To be fair, the Leafs understandably went in a different, younger direction, landing 2004 Calder Trophy winner Raycroft from the Boston Bruins and immediately signing him to a multi-year deal.

Now, with the vultures already circling over the Belleville native after just half a season, Raycroft keeps hearing the argument he's not stealing games for the Leafs like Joseph and Ed Belfour had done.

And unless Raycroft goes on a sizzling late-season run like a year ago, Aubin seems more disposable than Raycroft, with whom the Leafs are more financially committed.

So does general manager John Ferguson take the chance on Joseph this summer?

As a potential short-term Band-Aid, would he bring in Joseph, who would command no where near the huge asking price he once did, to push Raycroft while saviour-in-waiting Justin Pogge continues to develop?

The mere suggestion might spark howls of protest from those looking for a Evgeni Nabokov-type solution, but importing a big-ticket goalie seems unlikely for a team shackled by salary-cap issues.

At least it is fodder for the talk shows and chats around the water cooler.

In the meantime, the Coyotes are 8-2 in their past 10 after posting a 5-4 shootout victory over the St. Louis Blues yesterday -- with Tellqvist between the pipes.

"I think Mikael and I have both played really well since he got here and if he gets lots of ice time, that's understandable," Joseph said. "I know they are hoping he re-signs.

"If I have to take a seat more often, well, it would have been more difficult at a younger age. But don't get me wrong. I am still competitive and haven't even thought about being a backup yet."

Joseph, a pending unrestricted free agent, has a good relationship with Coyotes management and does not expect to be moved at the trade deadline next month.That's good news for a group of his friends planning to visit.

"My buddies keep asking me, 'We want to come down there in March. Will you still be there?' " Joseph said.

"I told them 'yes.' Like I said, 'I'd only want to play in two places.' "

Phoenix and Toronto.

Curtis Joseph wants to make that point very clear, if you hadn't already figured that out by now.


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