Well, Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan upped the ante. That’s nine members of the Red Wings organization since 2008 to earn induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
That made me think of Chris Osgood, whose solid numbers and long stretches of inconsistency create a tug-of-war debate for his Hall of Fame prospects.
In any sport, the Hall is for the elite, the cream of the crop. Kurt Warner won a Super Bowl MVP, two regular-season MVP awards and passed for 32,344 yards – but critics said a five-year stretch in which he went 8-23 should have kept him out of Canton. Detroit Tigers’ greats Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Jack Morris had fabulous careers, too, but they never saw Cooperstown until the Modern Era Committee came along.
That brings us to Ozzie, who I believe hung on the coattails of great Red Wings teams and isn’t worthy of Toronto’s illustrious hockey walls.
In 2011, Osgood said, “I feel like I do deserve to be there.”
I feel like he’s fooling himself, just like his 401 wins are fooling Wings fans, because regular-season wins are overrated.
Consider Sean Burke, who recorded 324 wins over his 18-year NHL career. Hockey enthusiasts born post-1995 likely haven’t heard of Burke, an average goalie who never won an individual award. He posted 30-plus wins once in 18 seasons. His career postseason stats of save percentage (.888), goals against average (3.32) and record (12-23) suggest this: His 324 regular-season wins, which rank 22nd on the all-time list, simply say he was a mediocre goaltender who hung around a long, long time.
Osgood is a modern-day Burke: Misleadingly high on the all-time wins list. No individual awards of high esteem. A liability in most postseasons.
The difference is, Ozzie had Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov, Lidstrom, and Bowman (among others) to cover his glaring weaknesses and boost his win total. Burke wasn’t so fortunate.
Hall of Fame selection criteria is fuzzy, but know this: the element of playoff goaltending carries significant weight. And it should. Elite goaltenders make clutch saves amid high tensions and pressure-packed situations.
Look at Ken Dryden’s miraculous theatrics in 1971. Or Bernie Parent’s Conn Smythe performances in 1974 and ’75. Or Patrick Roy in 1993, when he was 10-1 in playoff overtime. Those were performances of epic proportions.
Ozzie, on the other hand, failed when needed most.
Witness 2001, when the Yzerman-and-Shanahan deprived Wings crumbled in six games to Los Angeles. Take a close look at 2009, when Osgood had two chances to eliminate Pittsburgh, but played just good enough to lose, all while vaulting Maxime Talbot into Pittsburgh’s postseason lore.
Osgood was 2-4 in Game 7s. He was 6-9 in playoff overtime contests. Perhaps the most telling of all his statistics is this: When facing elimination, he was 6-9 – and three of those wins came during the 1996 postseason.
SOMETIMES GREAT, BUT NOT ELITE
To be fair, Osgood’s performances in 2008 and 2009 – when Talbot wasn’t involved – were stellar. He posted a combined 1.80 goals against average and .928 save percentage. For the first time in his career, he displayed genuine Cup-winning goaltending.
But that was two years, and he played 17.
Throughout Ozzie’s 401-win career, he clearly benefited behind superstar rosters and a perennial winning franchise. Heck, Manny Legace won 62 percent (112 out of 180) of his games in Detroit – and we all know Legace was average.
Ozzie wasn’t much different.
Consider this: In his three years outside Detroit, he appeared in the postseason once with the New York Islanders, twice with St. Louis. Each postseason, he lost in the first round. The three-year stretch was his highest goals against average combined.
The Red Wings chose against Osgood for Mike Vernon in 1997, then again for Dominik Hasek in 2002. In between those years, he relinquished three long-range goals in ’98 (Jeremy Roenick, Al MacInnis, Jamie Langenbrunner), lost six of seven games to arch-rival Colorado during consecutive exits in ’99 and 2000, then helped Hollywood remember hockey existed without Gretzky in 2001.
And you know what’s maddening about Osgood? He was notorious for making the spectacular save, but then allowing the back-breaking softy.
Let’s flashback to the 1996 Western Conference finals.
It was overtime of Game 1 against Colorado. Joe Sakic fired a puck toward a gaping net, and here came Ozzie, sprawling with a post-to-post glove save that ranked among the postseason’s best. It was incredible, jaw-dropping beauty.
A few minutes later, it didn’t matter.
Mike Keane cut across the top of the right circle, floated a wrist shot for the game-winner, and the Avalanche bench emptied onto the ice.
Right then and there, vintage Osgood was born: Sometimes great, sometimes poor, certainly not elite.
And likely not Hall of Fame worthy.