Commentary

Joseph, like many others, still in hockey limbo

Updated: September 4, 2007, 2:24 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

There is something in Curtis Joseph's voice. Not bitterness nor desperation nor weariness, but something else. Something like perspective.

He is calling from somewhere near his home north of Toronto. He is busy helping his four kids, two of them teenagers, get ready for school, minor hockey, after-school lessons and practices, the future.

What the 40-year-old is not doing for the first time since 1989, when he played the first of 913 NHL regular-season games, is getting ready for a professional hockey season. You have to retreat even further, into Joseph's childhood, to find a hockey season that began without Joseph standing between a team's goalposts, without the immediate future defined.

Curtis Joseph
AP Photo/Roy DabnerAfter spending the past two seasons in Phoenix, Curtis Joseph has yet to sign an NHL deal for the 2007-08 season.

"It's OK. You change your mind-set, and as long as you've got a good mind-set, you'll know everything is good," Joseph told ESPN.com in a recent interview.

Joseph is ready to continue his NHL career (let's be clear on that point) should circumstances change tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. But for the first time in a long time, Joseph's life isn't all about hockey, and in some ways, that means his life is richer.

"I've got a lot to look forward to," he said. "I'm trying to be the best father I can, and that's a pretty important role. Some would say it's more important than stopping pucks."

For the past couple of years, Joseph has had a mini rink at his farm north of Toronto in what was once a horse barn. The rink is 140 feet by 70 feet. There's a changing room and boards and an ice resurfacing machine. For the past two seasons, when he and his family were in Phoenix while he played with the Coyotes, the rink was put to use by local minor hockey teams, friends and neighbors. Now, Joseph is thinking about insulating the building to allow use beyond the six months, October through April, that weather currently allows it to be used.

The Josephs also did home-schooling in Phoenix, but that was not a long-term option, which is another reason the Joseph clan is back in Ontario. The kids need to be in a stable school environment, he said.

"They need to be around their friends. They need to be stimulated socially and at school," Joseph said.

Joseph's three boys, ages 13, 11 and 6, are all involved in minor hockey in the area and his daughter is heading into 11th grade. Still, if people expected Joseph to feel sorry for himself or feel he is somehow owed something, they'll be disappointed.

If a fit with an NHL club happens this season, "That's great, that's a bonus," he added. "But my life has to go on. That's the way it's going to be."

In the old NHL, Joseph would never have lasted this long on the open market. Neither would Ed Belfour, Mike Johnson, Bryan Berard, Darren McCarty, Anson Carter, Danny Markov or even Jason Allison and injury-plagued Eric Lindros.

All these players and a handful of others who were regular NHLers last season remain without a job as training camp looms for the NHL's 30 teams. There are a variety of factors at play here, but the chief is that the collision of the salary cap and players' salary expectations has led many GMs to choose to give jobs to cheaper, less-experienced players even if it means taking a pass on players with NHL experience.

• Berard, once upon a time a Calder Trophy winner, has accepted an invitation to the New York Islanders' training camp on a tryout basis, no guarantees, no nothing.

• Belfour, a future Hall of Famer who went 27-17-10 for the Panthers last season, is in Sweden playing for a second-division team.

• McCarty won three Stanley Cups in Detroit before signing in Calgary before the 2005-06 season. There's been no interest in the hard-nosed winger, who played just 32 games last season. That's not to say a team with Cup aspirations but questionable toughness (New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings, for instance) might not develop some interest as the season wears on.

• Lindros likely will retire, given that he's played just 121 games over the past three NHL seasons.

• One wonders whether Carter -- who had 33 goals two seasons ago in Vancouver but was a disaster first in Columbus, then in Carolina in 2006-07 -- might not end up back with the offense-starved Canucks.

• Markov is the best defenseman on the market and likely will find a home, but at a much lower price than he's asking. Boston, Detroit, Columbus and the Rangers all could use a man like Markov on the back end at the right price.

• As for goaltenders, with Belfour off to Sweden, Joseph remains the best option on the market. Mike Dunham and Sean Burke are technically available, but both figure to be done.

Joseph, like the rest of the Phoenix Coyotes, didn't enjoy a banner year last season. Still, Joseph was terrific in stretches, and he has played 115 games over the past two seasons. His 446 wins leave him fifth all-time and one win from tying legendary Terry Sawchuk.

"In my mind, I haven't slowed down at all," said Joseph, who returned again this summer to the Franco Canadian Goalie School in suburban Toronto. Joseph has helped younger goalies who turn up at the school, and instructors work with Joseph on fine-tuning his game. "It's been really good for me."

Should the call come, Joseph has been working out at home, where he has a gym, and with a personal trainer he has worked with the past couple of years to help keep in shape.

He's not looking for money, not at this stage of his career, having enjoyed the fruits of free agency a number of times in the past. He's looking for the right fit.

If the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to unload backup Andrew Raycroft, Joseph would be an obvious No. 2 option to Vesa Toskala. If Ottawa GM Bryan Murray could unload Martin Gerber and his $3.7 million contract, word is Murray would look seriously at Joseph as a backup to Ray Emery.

Until then, Joseph won't be pining by the phone. He'll be with his family, at the rink, shopping or hanging out.

"Time's ticking for [my kids] before they're ready to leave the nest," Joseph said. "I still have the passion to play. But for me, it has to be the right situation for my family. They're kind of crying out for stability."

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.