A few hours before the Flyers announced the signing of
free-agent goalie John Vanbiesbrouck to a two-year, $7.25
million contract last week, Philadelphia general manager Bob
Clarke made a courtesy call to his Rangers counterpart, Neil
Smith, to fill him in. According to a source Smith told Clarke,
"That's the best news I've had in five years."
G.M.'s are divided over whether Richter (above)
or Joseph is more reliable.
(Ezra C. Shaw/Allsport)
Smith didn't have a No. 1 netminder at that moment, but he
finally had a hammer for negotiations with the two premier
free-agent goaltenders, Mike Richter and Curtis Joseph. When the
Flyers opted to sign the less-expensive Vanbiesbrouck, one of
the two high-priced chairs in a game of musical goalies had been
yanked. Though Smith faced a risk if he decided not to re-sign
nine-year New York veteran Richtersuch a move might rupture
Smith's relationship with cornerstone defenseman Brian Leetch,
Richter's friend and a free agent after next seasonthe
Rangers' G.M. could at least choose a goalie based more on
talent than on salary demands. At press time Smith was on the
verge of signing Joseph to a four-year deal worth more than $22
In the view of many general managers, the 32-year-old Richter
entered last season as the NHL's second-best goalie, behind the
Sabres' Dominik Hasek. But in 1997-98, Richter ranked just 22nd
in the league in goals-against average (2.66), had a middling
.903 save per centage and was subpar for the U.S. at the
Olympics. Joseph, 31, burnished his postseason reputation by
playing superbly for the Oilers for two rounds, although his
regular-season goals-against average (2.63, the league's 20th
best) and save percentage (.905) were only slightly better than
Richter's. So we asked some NHL insiders the question, Whom
would you rather have, Richter or Joseph?
"I'd take Richter, although I'm not a big Richter fan," one
Eastern Conference coach says. "He plays too far out of his
crease, and if you can get him moving east-west, you beat him.
The only time I've ever seen Joseph play well is on TV in the
playoffs. He's all arms and legs."
One Western Conference general manager says he prefers Joseph,
who has thrived on so-so teams "because he's more consistent.
When everything's right for Richter, he can be unbelievable. But
when everything isn't perfect, he doesn't adapt well."
Says another G.M., whose staff was split on the Richter-Joseph
question, "If you look over the past 10 or 12 seasons, other
than Hasek, the dominant goalie seems to change from year to
year. If you base [your choice] on one year, you're guessing."
Issue date: July 20, 1998