If there will be endless debate about Chris Osgood’s status as a Hall of Famer, fellow goalie Curtis Joseph likely is on the flip side of the coin. While Joseph is generally accepted to have been a "better" goaltender -- more agile, more athletic, certainly possessing a higher profile -- he did not have the personal or team success of many of his peers, including Osgood, which makes the debate over his case for Hall of Fame worthiness among the more difficult to reconcile.
The case for
Sure, you can make numbers say pretty much whatever you want, but Joseph's numbers don’t lie, regardless of the prism through which they’re viewed. He won 454 games in the NHL -- fourth on the all-time list -- with only the incomparable Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour before him. It is almost a given that he should be in the Hall of Fame; six of the next seven goaltenders on the all-time list are in the Hall, and Osgood is the other.
Joseph was crucial to a number of playoff runs by the St. Louis Blues, the team with which he broke into the NHL and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 1993, and he was stellar in the playoffs that season as the Blues upset Chicago and then took Toronto to Game 7 in the second round. Moving on to the Edmonton Oilers, Joseph was the key to first-round playoff upsets of Colorado and Dallas in 1997 and 1998. Signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent, he recorded three straight 30-win seasons and was twice the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy. In 1999, Joseph was a finalist for the Lester B. Pearson Award as the players’ MVP (the award is now named for Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay). Joseph also won an Olympic gold medal with Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
The case against
What will always dog Joseph is that he could never seem to deliver the goods when it mattered most. Yes, he was sensational at various points in the playoffs and helped underachieving teams to successes that otherwise might not have been possible. But in Toronto, for instance, he was part of teams that went to the Eastern Conference final in 1999 and 2002, but could not help the Leafs get over the final hump against beatable teams from Buffalo and Carolina. He was the starter for Canada in Salt Lake City, but was relieved of his duties after an opening-game loss to Sweden. After Joseph signed in Detroit, hoping for a long-awaited Stanley Cup, the Red Wings were upset in the first round in 2003 by Anaheim and then advanced only to the second round the next season. In all, Joseph was just 63-66 in the postseason with a 2.45 GAA and .917 save percentage.
Let’s ask ourselves if Joseph was at any point in his career one of the top five goaltenders in the world? We can answer with relative certainty "yes." His lack of international and playoff success is troubling, but we look at the win totals and the Vezina nominations and will save Joseph a seat right beside Osgood in our Hall.
ESPN Panel: 73 percent voted into Hockey Hall of Fame.