Joseph not eager to say goodbye

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. -- As the swank Maple Leafs charter was soaring through the night sky in the wee hours yesterday, thousands of feet above the murky waters of Lake Okeechobee, Curtis Joseph was munching on some mouth-watering delicacies when he was overcome by a revelation.

I don't want to retire, Joseph thought to himself. Not now. Not yet.

Joseph had just backstopped the Leafs to a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, a game in which he had allowed just one goal on six shootout attempts by the Lightning. Now, as the Leafs were winging their way across the Sunshine State for a date with the Florida Panthers tonight, the veteran goalie realized he was not ready to pack his pads away for good.

"I'm having too much fun," Joseph said yesterday after the Leafs had completed practice at the BankAtlantic Center yesterday. "I mean, we had P.F. Chang's on the plane. Eating lettuce wraps on a private plan. Nice."

He has a point. Who in their right mind would want to give all that up? Truth be told, any retirement plans Joseph harboured at the start of the season started to erode a number of weeks ago.

"No question, I still want to play," Joseph said.

"It's easier to retire when you don't feel good. That was the case earlier in the season. But I'm having fun now. I'm really enjoying the game."

Let's be realistic here for a moment. Joseph turns 42 next month. He no longer is the dominating goaltender that he was earlier in his career, as evidenced by his 3.47 goals-against average and .867 save percentage. Early in the season he admittedly was awful, resembling a guy with eroded skills who couldn't stop a beach ball.

Not very convincing selling points, are they?

"I'm good for salary cap purposes," countered Joseph, who is paid $700,000 US this season.

Chuckling, he added: "I know Donny won't like to hear that, but ..."

Joseph was referring to Don Meehan, his long-time friend and agent.

The Leafs appear to be leaning in a different direction in terms of a backup for Vesa Toskala in 2009-10. Whether any of the other 29 teams would take a chance on him remains to be seen, although it likely is a long shot at best.

"He can still be a backup somewhere," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "He was not what we expected but he's been good the past three or four games."

According to Joseph, there is a legitimate reason for his slow start in this, his second stint in a Toronto uniform.

Joseph admits pressing family issues made it difficult for him to concentrate early in the season. But he has managed to overcome his domestic matters and is excited about hockey again.

"There is no doubt I was scatterbrained at the time," he admitted. "Any time your family is involved, it is hard to keep your concentration. When you are not yourself, you are not yourself. Anyone that has been through it will tell you the same thing.

"When you have the mindset that this will be your last season, you don't play with a lot of confidence. That's what it was like for me coming out of training camp. No matter if you are a (hot-shot) rookie or a 15-year veteran, you are not going to succeed if you don't have confidence.

"Now I have it again. And I'm enjoying myself again. It's great."

Wilson said he would like to play Joseph once per week for the remainder of the season, which has less than a month remaining.

And who knows? Chances are, despite his desire to stick around, that a lack of interest from around the league means these could very well be the final days of his illustrious NHL career.

Joseph knows that. At the same time, he is a fighter.

If he has to do a second stint at the Spengler Cup in Switzerland next winter in order to show the hockey world he can still play, so be it.

In the end, Curtis Joseph won't give up, no matter how many throughout the league might want to give up on him.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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