Why Chris Osgood is Hall-worthy
Goodbye, Chris Osgood; hello, Hall of Fame debate.
The phone line hadn't gone dead on Tuesday's conference call announcing the veteran Detroit Red Wings netminder's retirement before the debate over whether Osgood is Hall of Fame material began in earnest.
What had been an interesting theoretical jousting match, most often played out in late-night hockey bars or during lulls in morning skates, is now very much in the here and now.
Three years from now, Osgood will be eligible to become an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In our books, it is a slam dunk. Osgood should be a Hall of Famer.
His numbers make it so: a 401-216-29 record in 744 career NHL games and three Stanley Cup rings. His accomplishments with Detroit, a team as close to dynastic as any other, should make it so. Of course, we're not sure that's how it will pan out given the wackiness that is the Hall of Fame selection process.
And we will acknowledge this: Osgood just might be one of the most complex potential Hall of Fame honorees in recent memory.
The funny thing about the Hall of Fame is, everyone has his eye on some sort of benchmark, some sort of criterion that defines who gets in and who doesn't. It is why Osgood will no doubt spark impassioned debate on both sides of the issue.
To be sure, the native of Peace River, Alberta, has never had the personality of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur or even Dominik Hasek. (Roy is already in the Hall, and the other two are shoo-ins.) Those goalies are dynamic characters whose personae were larger than life. They possessed that singular ability to drag their teammates to places perhaps not even they thought they could reach. Osgood wasn't that type of goalie, but should he be penalized because he was something else, simply the kind of goalie who won when it counted?
In 129 postseason appearances, Osgood won 79 games, a wins-to-games ratio that rivals that of many current Hall of Famers.
His .916 playoff save percentage is better than Roy's and Brodeur's.
His 15 playoff shutouts rank fourth all time.
His 401 regular-season wins are 10th all-time.
Critics will suggest Osgood's numbers are inflated because he played behind a terrific Detroit team. And Ken Dryden's numbers weren't buoyed by playing behind one of the greatest teams of all time in Montreal? Does anyone dispute Dryden's place in the Hall of Fame? No. Yet he won just six more playoff games than Osgood, while Osgood won 143 more regular-season games than Dryden.
It was interesting listening to Detroit GM Ken Holland talk about Osgood on Tuesday. Yes, Holland has known the netminder since the two played ball hockey in Medicine Hat, Alberta, before the Wings drafted Osgood in the third round of the 1991 NHL draft. (Osgood likens Holland to a second father.) Yet Holland was also pragmatic enough to put Osgood on waivers when he acquired Dominik Hasek and also had Curtis Joseph in the fold. He also brought Osgood back to the Winged Wheel, and the goalie helped Detroit win the Stanley Cup in 2008 and came within a game of winning another in 2009.
Holland said some goalies can't win with good teams, but Osgood thrived in the environment in Detroit. He learned to put bad goals and bad games behind him, something a netminder like Grant Fuhr became a master at doing.
"I think that he's been an incredible competitor with tremendous mental toughness," Holland said Tuesday.
Osgood grew from being a petulant understudy to Mike Vernon in 1997, to a chippy Cup winner in 1998, to a mature and likable veteran who reflected the calm demeanor of the Wings' star-laden, veteran team. People forget it was Osgood who came on in relief of Hasek, who faltered in the first round in 2008 against Nashville and was stellar in guiding the Wings to the Cup. He led all playoff netminders with a 1.55 goals-against average and three shutouts that postseason. A year later, he took the Wings to within a goal of another Cup win, but the Penguins avenged the 2008 loss with a dramatic 2-1 road victory in Game 7. Osgood turned in a 2.01 GAA and two more shutouts.
Are there nights that stick out for all time as there were for guys like Brodeur and Roy? Maybe not. We don't think the Red Wings worry about that every time they see the Cup rings on their fingers.
Hall of Famer?
"In my opinion, it's a Hall of Fame career," Holland said.
Osgood wasn't the prototypical "out on the edge and maybe beyond" netminder whom Ed Belfour or Terry Sawchuk represent. Belfour, who won a Stanley Cup in Dallas and is a member of the Hall's 2011 class, won 83 more regular-season games and had 26 more shutouts but turned in an almost identical GAA and save percentage compared to Osgood.
In our books, Belfour is a bona fide Hall of Famer. But if Belfour, why not Osgood? The Red Wings netminder makes no bones about the fact that he thinks he deserves to be there. Good for him. When you win 401 regular-season games and own three Cup rings, the time for false humility is long past.
"It means a lot to me," Osgood said of the prospect of being elected into the Hall. "I know what I've had to do. I do think I do deserve to be there."
In discussions with members of the selection committee, this theoretical question has always been asked: Has a certain player ever been considered the best in the game or best at his position for a period of time? It is the argument used to suggest that players like Pavel Bure or Eric Lindros deserve to be enshrined. From our perspective, it is an argument used to prop up a player who otherwise has serious shortcomings.
In the case of Bure and Lindros, both were briefly dynamic, top-of-the-world players who were never able to deliver the ultimate in team success. Neither, in our books, is a Hall of Famer. It was the same argument we used a year ago when Dino Ciccarelli was inducted -- impressive numbers but, for us, not a Hall of Famer.
But Osgood, in perhaps the most understated of ways, has managed to collect Hall of Fame-worthy numbers while establishing perhaps the most important quality of any honoree -- he was a winner.
In that sense, he has a place in our Hall of Fame any day.