Picking between Mike Richter and Curtis Joseph is a close call
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."
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 Richter—such a move might rupture Smith's relationship with cornerstone defenseman Brian Leetch, Richter's friend and a free agent after next season—the 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 million.
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 percentage 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."
Fishing for A Coaching Job
While Marc Crawford has been snaring perch and rock bass with his two children from a dock at a rented cottage in upstate New York, the former Avalanche coach has had his eye on a bigger and far more elusive catch: the Mighty Ducks' coaching job.
Crawford quit as Colorado's coach in May after the team performed poorly in the playoffs for the second straight year. As a plethora of coaching positions opened around the NHL, the leaguewide expectation was that Crawford would quickly land one of them. But a month ago, in resolving a dispute between Colorado and Crawford, commissioner Gary Bettman ruled that any team hiring Crawford before the end of the 1998-99 season would be forced to compensate the Avalanche with as much as $600,000 and a first-round draft choice, depending on how well that team fared with Crawford at the helm. By last week every NHL coaching vacancy except Anaheim's had been filled, and Crawford was still fishing. "This is like any other vacation," he said last Thursday from his cottage, "except this time I'm unemployed."