The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

WHITHER CUJO?
fifth winged wheel
Certain things drive me crazy. Lazy reporting is one of them. Especially in sports, because it only reinforces the perception that sports doesn't constitute "real" news, and therefore it's okay to let things slide.

What's earned my venom recently is the news that Dominik Hasek has ended his one-year retirement, forcing the Red Wings to pick up his contract option lest he sign on with a rival, i.e. the Avs. This leaves Detroit with two starting goalies, each making $8 million next season, meaning that Curtis Joseph has to be moved.

So far, so good. But look at what everyone is saying as far as probably destinations for CuJo:

Expect the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers and, to a lesser degree the, Boston Bruins to pursue Joseph via a trade although the Wings may have to pay some of his salary.


It's amazing how the usual suspects of New York and St. Louis automatically get inserted in there, despite the lack of logic behind either of them going after a goalie. Let's review:

- Rangers: Anytime a high-priced player becomes available, the Rangers are viewed as the default pursuers. The assumption is that MSG just looks at the pricetag, salivates, and blindly picks a guy up, regardless of need. But look at the facts. Not only is up-and-coming Mike Dunham in the fold, but the blueshirts also just acquired former Oilers backup Jussi Markkanen. And everyone seems to have forgotten that Mike Richter is still around, due to get $4 million this year. That's three goaltending options for the Rangers, with Richter and Markkanen the likeliest tandem for the big club while Dunham develops in AHL Hartford (although with Richter's injury history, Dunham likely will see some action in Manhattan). Why on earth would New York bring in CuJo at this point? The only way they could do it would be if Detroit takes Richter back, and since the Wings are looking at a salary dump, they're not going to do that.

- Blues: The Blues are also seen as blind big-money spenders. Again, a pursuit of CuJo makes absolutely no sense here, not when they re-signed Chris Osgood at around $3 million for next year. Again, in order to take on CuJo, they'd have to trade away Osgood, which ain't gonna happen. Additionally, the Wings wouldn't be crazy about trading CuJo to a team in the same conference, let alone the same division, as them. So there's no way this happens.

So which teams are the best bets for landing CuJo? The third team mentioned frequently, Boston, is a possibility. The Bruins are notoriously cheap when it comes to things like this, and they've got Steve Shields committed for $2 million. Still, if Detroit eats half of Joseph's salary, it's certainly possible a deal could be reached. I'm betting the Bruins choke on this, though.

Where else? I can see three possibilities that no one else has identified; the one crucial thing they have in common, from Detroit's standpoint, is that they don't have a high-priced goalie that needs to be sent the other way in a trade:

- Pittsburgh: True, the team doesn't appear willing to pick up any high-price talent. And despite a glaring need in goal, their rotten defensive play makes it almost irrelevant as to who plays goal. But consider: They don't have a real No. 1 to rely on now; Hedberg and Aubin don't seem to be able to cut it, and No. 1 pick Fleury won't be helped by being thrust into a starter's role this year (assuming they even sign him this year). With Detroit picking up a big chunk of Joseph's salary, plus taking a couple of players from Pittsburgh, this deal could work. If the Pens' front office believe a top-flight goalie is enough to get the team back into the postseason, this can happen.

- Carolina: Another team that needs goaltending help. Irbe has been largely written off. Weekes is a warrior, but the fact remains that he cannot seem to handle the No. 1 duties for a winning team (the only times in his career when he's taken over the starter's role is when his team's season has already gone down the toilet). For a team only a year removed from a spectacular postseason, acquiring a goalie of Cujo's calibre could be a big step toward getting back to respectability.

- New York Islanders: This team has the strongest potential for getting Cujo, in my opinion. They don't have a No. 1 guy signed for next season; Garth Snow is an unrestricted free agent, and while they've talked about bringing him back, CuJo would be a huge upgrade. DiPietro probably still isn't ready, and he would benefit from playing behind Joseph for a couple of seasons. The Isles wouldn't have to give up much, probably a spare part like Kvasha.

So, that's my contribution to the speculation mill. As always, please please PLEASE, no wagering.