I’m from Toronto, so I know the enthusiasm of its sports fans is wishy-washy at the best of times.
The average Toronto fan is like a flimsy sprout of seaweed, being washed back-and-forth by the currents.
A Raptors fan will happily drag a player by the bumper of his car from one end of Young St. to the other for missing an inconsequential free-throw, and then name his first-born son after him for an above-average performance in a first-round playoff game.
It’s a city of band-wagon-jumpers and, conversely, of the first ones to abandon ship when a team falls off kilter.
I call it The Tide, which goes nicely with my seaweed simile.
However, despite first-hand knowledge of Toronto sports fans’ capricious nature, I was still surprised to see positive comments under a story on Toronto’s FAN590 AM website favouring the possible return of Maple Leafs’ former goaltender Curtis “Cujo” Joseph, 41. (Joseph became a free agent July 1 after a half-season stint with the Calgary Flames.)
It’s surprising for two reasons.
First, the circumstances surrounding Cujo’s 2002 departure from the team was a giant kick in the crotch for Toronto. I, as a die-hard Leafs fan, suffered from some weird psychosomatic reaction and walked funny for a week.
The real slap in the face, however, was that despite Toronto loving him like a messiah and offering him more money than Detroit, Cujo still decided to move to the Redwings.
“There’s no guarantee’s that I’ll go to Detroit and win a Stanley Cup. But I’d like to take that opportunity,” Joseph told the Associated Press at the time of the trade.
“It’s a great team that just won the Stanley Cup,” he added.
Second, I thought the Leafs were trying to rebuild the team with a young foundation. It seems illogical to think a 41-year-old back-up goalie with an inflated price tag, and few viable playing seasons left in his game, is the place to start.
For at least a decade Toronto fans have blamed short-term trade solutions for the Leafs’ inability to sculpt a team that will grow over the period of seasons and not shrivel up like over-ripe fruit in the sun.
After failing to make the playoffs three seasons in a row — a first for the Leafs — even the most impatient cup-hungry fan now admits that the team needs to bite the bullet and spend a few years tuning the lines.
And what about Justin Pogge? The 22-year-old goalie had a stellar season with the Toronto Marlies, going 26-10-0 with four shutouts and a 2.34 goals-against average.
Pogge, who was named MVP in the World Junior Champions gold medal game, is young and talented — which means the Leafs will probably trade him any day now for a used ice-machine and a third-round pick in the 2016 draft.
Maybe we should reconsider things. Perhaps Cujo is a changed man. He’s gone from turncoat in hopes of getting a Stanley Cup to potentially playing second fiddle on a rebuilding team in order to live closer to home. (His family stayed east during his time with the Flames.)
Besides, Cujo’s 2002 decision to move to the Motor City after four years with Toronto was punishment in itself.
After one season on the Redwings, which ended with a first-round loss in the playoffs, Joseph found himself pushed out of the goal crease by the return of Dominik Hasek, coming out of his second retirement.
With adept backup goalie Manny Legace, and his hefty $8-million price tag, Joseph, who only two years before had a series of Nike commercials while on the Leafs, found himself playing in the minors for the 2003-04 season.
With Andrew Raycroft having been bought out of his contract last week, and Toronto needing a number-two goalie, the recruitment of Joseph is a tempting proposition.
He is, after all, the greatest net minder that the Leafs have had in 40 years. Twice he led the Leafs to the conference finals during his time with the Buds. And just last season with the Flames, Cujo had a 0.79 goals against average in 79 minutes of playoff hockey.
But even if he’s willing to play for free hotdogs and ice time, the goalie simply has too much luggage.
Cujo’s betrayal of Toronto is forgivable, but since we Leafs fans can’t take pride in the performance of the players, we should at least be able to take pride in the players themselves.
Whatever happens, it can’t be as bad as what takes place in Stephen King’s book Cujo, about a family dog that turns on its masters after contracting rabies from a bat. In the end of the book the dog, Cujo, is beaten to death with a baseball bat.
But that probably wouldn’t happen in Toronto … they’d likely use a hockey stick instead.