Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Making The Case For Chris Osgood in the Hockey Hall of Fame

Hello all. It's been a long time since I wrote anything on this blog due to being busy with other things, but finally I have found a reason to write. I fully concede that as a Detroit Red Wings fan I have a fairly large bias in favor of goaltender Chris Osgood. "Ozzy" as he is affectionately known to Red Wings faithful has given the organization fifteen years of service full of dignity and class. Today, Detroit's most popular goaltender since Terry Sawchuk announced his retirement from professional hockey.

Social media is rapidly discussing the retirement of (arguably) one of the best goaltenders of the last twenty years of the NHL and the result is a mix of extreme opinions. I fully admit to taking to the proverbial turrets and firing away retorts at the likes of hockey blog tycoon Greg Wyshinski to defend Osgood as an eventual Hockey Hall of Famer. The topic of Ozzy for the Hall is probably one of the few subjects I take an absolute stance. Chris Osgood is undeniably a Hall of Fame caliber goaltender who deserves more credit than he has received during his nineteen year professional career (eighteen in the NHL).

Today, I dig in to my trench and begin the defense of Chris Osgood. I prepare my defenses, organize my case, and remind myself why I love this game and why I love the passion of hockey fans. The onus is on me today to prove why I'm right, not why others are wrong.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a simple and digestible argument of why Chris Osgood will be a Hockey Hall of Famer.

The Statistics

This is the easiest argument to be made and thus I begin with pointing out Chris Osgood's statistical prowess. As Wikipedia will verify, Osgood retires with 401 wins, placing him 10th all time among goaltenders. Impressive, considering the volume of goaltenders who have played the game since the Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1893. Nonetheless here is your cheat sheet for understanding Osgood's place among all time statistical leaders:

  • 10th all time in wins (401)
  • T-24th all time in shutouts (50)
  • 24th all time in GAA (minimum 250 games played, 2.492)
  • 8th all time in playoff wins (74)
  • 4th all time in playoff shutouts (15)
  • Led the league in GAA in 2008, including playoffs (Won Stanley Cup)
  • Scored a goal (March 6, 1996 vs. Hartford Whalers) (your quirky stat for the day)
  • Led the league in fewest goals against twice twelve years apart
  • Osgood has the second highest winning percentage. Ever.
I fully acknowledge that the chink in Osgood's armor is that his save percentage is dramatically lower than should be expected for a goaltender with impressive statistics. Without beginning a smear campaign against other goaltenders, Osgood's save percentage is .001 lower than Ed Belfour, who just entered the Hockey Hall of Fame with significantly more losses and significantly less playoff success. Is save percentage the difference between Osgood getting into the Hall of Fame?


Few professional hockey players play more than a decade at the elite level of the NHL; even fewer play more than fifteen seasons with one organization. Chris Osgood did both. Since beginning his career in the NHL in the 1993-1994 season at age 21, Osgood has logged 744 games worth of experience in the regular season and 129 playoff games spread over eighteen NHL seasons.

More impressive than either of those statistics is this: Chris Osgood is one of two goaltenders in NHL history to win two Stanley Cups more than a decade apart. The other is Detroit Red Wings legend Terry Sawchuk. The immediate caveat that Ozzy detractors want to give this nugget of knowledge is that he did so on outstanding Detroit teams that could have won with anyone in net. The problem with this argument is that in 2008 Detroit began their playoff hunt with a certain Dominik Hasek in nets and began the first round with a disappointing 2-2 start. Enter Chris Osgood. Following the replacement Detroit went 14-4, winning the Stanley Cup with Osgood in nets, cashing in on his three shutouts, 1.55 GAA and .930 save percentage. Call upon the prowess of Nicklas Lidstrom if you must, but even Nick Norris can't play nets for Osgood.

The Hardware/Accolades

Perhaps another "easy" argument to be made is that Chris Osgood boasts a more impressive list of accolades than expected. Here they are:

  • 2-time winner of the William Jennings Award for fewest goals against (minimum 25 games) in 1996 (with Mike Vernon) and 2008 (with Dominik Hasek)
  • Named to the NHL All Star Game three times (1996, 1997 (did not play), 2008 (starter)
  • 3-time Stanley Cup Champion (1997, 1998 (starter) and 2008 (starter)
  • Named to the Second NHL All-Star Team for the 1995-1996 season.
A short list but it highlights my previous point about Osgood's longevity: any time he was acknowledged or awarded for his brilliance, it was over a decade apart. Osgood detractors will immediately point to the fact that Chris Osgood never won Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender for a single season nor did he win the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for top save percentage. A fair point. To counter this, didn't Jim Carrey and Olaf Kolzig win the Vezina during their careers? Is a lack of a Vezina truly a scar on Osgood record? To be fair to Osgood, he played during the apex of Dominik Hasek's career,which accounts for six Vezinas; Martin Brodeur accounts for four. One shot anomalies like Jim Carey, Olaf Kolzig, Jose Theodore, and Ryan Miller account for the lion's share of other seasons. Let's face it though: Ozzy was not going to win the Vezina playing backup in four of the last six seasons. By the way, that guy, Patrick Roy...never won the Vezina during Chris Osgood's entire NHL career.

I do believe that the lack of a Vezina is a very fair point against Ozzy. It's also fair to say that if you are to be considered one of the all time greats, you should have that big trophy for your position. Right? Wrong. Here's why.

The Oversight Factor/A Cog in the Machine

This is going to be a controversial, if foolhardy, argument. The knock on Chris Osgood has always been that he was never a difference maker on the ice for Detroit. He never made the big saves, never won the big awards, never dominated at his position. I beg to differ in the context that as a goaltender, he was at worst consistent and at best an incredibly underrated component of the Detroit Red Wings machine of the 1990s and 2000s.

Yes, he has no Vezina. But Scottie Pippen never won the NBA MVP. Nolan Ryan never won the Cy Young Award. Troy Aikman never won the regular season MVP. All four of these players will eventually be Hall of Famers in their respective sports. Nolan notwithstanding, All four of these men represent a kind of player a team needs to be successful, a cog in the machine that allows to to maintain an elite level of competition.

These men never won the top award because their ability was not properly respected in the right context and furthermore is overshadowed by their place in a larger dynasty. Pippen had the Bulls and Michael Jordan. Nolan Ryan was a strikeout champion and was not very good at the plate. Troy Aikman had arguably the best arsenal of offensive weapons in NFL history in Emmitt Smith and Michael Irving. Chris Osgood had Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Chris Osgood performed at a level that the Detroit Red Wings needed. When there was significant pressure for him to perform and lead the team (1998 and 2008) he was there. He didn't come without his shortcomings (Red Wings fans remember 1999, 2000, and 2001) but show me a Hall of Fame goaltender who didn't come up short at least once or twice in their careers. (Ken Dryden's holiness notwithstanding)

Speaking of dramatic oversight, Chris Osgood should have won the Conn Smythe in 2008. All due respect to Henrik Zetterberg.

The Glenn Anderson Comparison

To sum up the venerable Greg Wyshinski's argument about Chris Osgood being "The Glenn Anderson of goaltenders" Puck Daddy himself explains that Anderson and Osgood have incredible postseason success and above average statistics, but benefited from playing on elite teams. We won't begin to discuss how little credit Detroit receives for their continuous success on the ice (still waiting for Ken Holland and Mike Babcock to win some awards) but instead I'd like to take Wyshinski's point and turn it on him. Osgood belonged to elite teams. Osgood was a cog in the machine that made it run. It's hard to say where Ozzy peaked since his highest levels of success are a decade apart, but at what point do we focus on the individual merit behind those two outstanding seasons? Nobody will remember that Martin Brodeur only won two playoff series since 2003. Nobody will remember Patrick Roy shovelling the puck into his own net in Game 6 of the 2002 Conference Finals (I will.):

Nobody SHOULD remember Osgood's follies post-1998. Unfortunately they will, more so than the decline of the careers of other goaltenders who, unlike Osgood, were able to rebound in the most spectacular of fashions. Apologies for the tangent.

To further refute the Anderson comparison, off ice reputation, whether we like it or not, does account for placement in the Hall of Fame. Chris Osgood has always graciously accepted the position the Red Wings organization has afforded him, be it as the starting goaltender or as a backup. When he was waived, it looked as though he would finish his career playing for a team of less elite talent. In those seasons Osgood sucked it up and took his team to the playoffs all three years he was not a Red Wing. When he returned to Detroit he was aware of his status and never griped about the situation. He relished the opportunity to train the up-and-coming goaltenders like Jimmy Howard. He will stay on post-retirement as a goaltending adviser. The press conference today was a reminder that he is above all else a classy guy who put his team first and never caused off ice problems with questionable transgressions. I'll take that player 10 out of 10 times.

Concluding Thoughts

Chris Osgood is a polarizing figure in NHL discussion. In a way, the debate over his Hockey Hall of Fame status is reflective of the passion hockey fans in North America bring to the table. I'm more than proud to include myself in that collective. Furthermore, the questions Osgood's career bring forth are, in a way, a microcosm for the bigger discussion about Hall of Famers in general. Some questions:

  • What constitutes a Hall of Famer?
  • Does hardware matter?
  • Should credit go to "cog" players for being part of dynasties?
  • How do we define "an impact on the game" when discussing "cog" players who are great in their own merit but are overshadowed by the dynasty?
Congratulations to Chris Osgood for an outstanding NHL career. You will be forever beloved at the very least by Detroit Red Wings faithful and someday you will earn the accolades you deserve.

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