The puck stops here

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

At home, outside the city where the starters are named Vesa and Andrew, the most beloved goaltender in recent Maple Leafs history waits for a telephone call that may never come.

Curtis Joseph has not retired, only most of the National Hockey League teams have already quit on him.

The teams that may want him -- the Leafs being one -- have neither a place nor the cap space for him.

The teams that have money or need in net have looked elsewhere to locate younger, less accomplished goalies.

This is no way for a legendary and remarkable career to end.

The waiting game should be played by those desperate enough to be forced to do so and not by those hoping to hang on for one last hurrah.

Ed Belfour, the most accomplished goaltender the Leafs have had since Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk shared the position, stopped waiting.

He looked around, saw that no one in the NHL was looking seriously at a 42-year-old with back troubles who could still stop the puck last season and stay out late at night -- and he chose to be proactive.

That meant walking away from an NHL lifetime for a job in the Swedish second division of all places. Ever the stubborn man, Belfour will quit on only one person's terms -- his own.

Funny how their careers have been intertwined, Joseph and Belfour. Two people, two goalies, who couldn't have been more different in both style and substance.

One was technical, the other athletic. One was grumpy, the other friendly. One was a workout freak, the other, not so much.

And neither was considered a prospect when they were young. Both went undrafted more than once. Both spent one year playing U.S. college hockey. Both went from college to the now defunct International Hockey League. Both arrived as backups in the NHL.

Both have earned more than $50 million in what for Belfour is a certain Hall of Fame career and for Joseph one that is certainly worthy of consideration.

Joseph was the great accidental signing for the Leafs in 1998. It was probably the first and last great gift former goalie Ken Dryden provided for the franchise.

In four seasons -- and doesn't it seem longer than that? -- Joseph started 60 playoff games for the Leafs. That's 47 more than the team has played in the John Ferguson era as general manager (and those first 13 were played ostensibly with Pat Quinn's team).

HEARTBREAK

Joseph left in heartbreaking fashion, because he stopped believing in the Leafs and wanted to win a Stanley Cup in Detroit. The stop believing part proved to be somewhat prophetic over time: The Red Wings experience, however, didn't work out.

Joseph always was at his best playing behind a challenged defence, facing more shots than other teams, more scoring opportunities than his opponents. When he left for Detroit, it opened the door for Belfour in Toronto, although at the time many thought the Leafs were picking up an athlete sadly in decline.

How wrong just about everybody but Ken Hitchcock and Quinn were with the signing of Belfour. His first two seasons in Toronto -- great as Joseph was -- surpassed anything Cujo had accomplished here.

In fact, you could factually argue that with 17 shutouts, (20 if you count playoffs) with 32 more wins than losses, with a high save percentage and a low goals-against average, these were the two best seasons the Leafs have ever had in goal.

Belfour's third and final year in Toronto -- after the NHL lockout -- wasn't the same. His health wasn't sharp and neither was his play. Ferguson, having signed Belfour to a very odd contract, wound up doing the only thing plausible. He bought his way out of his own mistake, buying out Belfour's contract.

And he has been trying to replace him ever since.

Curtis Joseph is 40 years old and has lasted 17 years as an NHL goalie, 10 of them playing more than 60 games. Ed Belfour is 42, also a 17-year-veteran, and like Joseph, a gold-medal winner from the 2002 Winter Olympics. Joseph played in 1,044 games, regular season and playoffs, 80 fewer than bad-back Belfour.

They arrived in the NHL one year apart and maybe, unless a phone call or an offer changes everything, they leave at precisely the same time. Not by choice. And still, leaving wonderful memories behind.


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