Cujo has Leaf backup plan

Former Maple Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph would accept a backup role behind Andrew Raycroft if it...

Former Maple Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph would accept a backup role behind Andrew Raycroft if it meant a return to Toronto. (Sun File/Craig Robertson)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:29 AM ET

For most of his illustrious career, the man known as Cujo has been the top dog between the pipes.

But the veteran goalie, who has been a starter for most of his playing days, admits that he would accept a supporting role if it meant donning the blue and white again.

"To be back here again? Ya, absolutely I would, for sure," former Maple Leaf Curtis Joseph revealed during a phone interview last night.

Leafs officials have publicly stated that they would like to find a backup to "push" incumbent Andrew Raycroft, who endured an inconsistent roller-coaster season en route to tying Ed Belfour's franchise mark for victories with 37.

With trade talk heating up leading into Friday's entry draft in Columbus, goaltending definitely is a topic of discussion among members of the Leafs hockey department. Names such as Minnesota's Manny Fernandez and San Jose's Vesa Toskala have been garnering plenty of chatter, especially in the media.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

Joseph will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and remains a legitimate short-term option. At age 40, he is in the twilight of his career and has made no secret of the fact that he would welcome a return to Toronto.

Living in King City, Joseph likely would take a hometown discount in order to have a second stint with the Leafs.

Joseph said he was aware of the trade talks between the Leafs and Phoenix Coyotes at the trade deadline in February. According to sources, the Leafs weren't willing to part with a high draft pick.

"Whatever happened, it was nice to know (the Leafs) were interested," he said.

Joseph was arguably the most popular athlete in Toronto during his previous run with the Leafs from 1998-2002. But bitter fans turned on him quickly when he opted to sign with the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings five years ago.

Now, according to Joseph, all appears to be forgiven.

"Wherever I go in the area, be it Canada's Wonderland, the store, people constantly tell me 'You know, you should come back.' People here are so friendly and positive. Sure, some of them might tell me that going to Detroit wasn't the best move, but, hey, it was my life and it seemed the right thing to do at the time."

Fernandez, 32, requested a trade from the Wild two weeks ago after Minnesota inked Nik Backstrom to a two-year, $6.2-million US deal, that included the first no-trade clause in franchise history.

Wild general manager Doug Risebrough tried to play down the issue by telling the St. Paul Pioneer Press that "Manny is one of our goalies." But he told to the paper that the ideal time to deal Fernandez, if need be, would be at the draft.

Fernandez is slated to earn $3 million in 2007-08 but his salary reportedly would chew up $4.3 million of cap space.

As for Toskala, 30, he enters the final year of a deal that will eat $1.375 million of cap space. He would be easier to move than fellow Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who has a no-trade clause.


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