Osgood unworthy…of disrespect.

A look at what I consider baseless reasons to exclude Chris Osgood from possible consideration for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Chris Osgood’s recent retirement announcement has sparked debate over his worthiness as a future candidate for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Hockey scribes like ESPN’s Scott Burnside and “Puck Daddy” Greg Wyshynski have made convincing cases why Osgood could be an inductee one day, while the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle and Justin Bourne of THN.com and USA Today have made compelling arguments against Osgood’s inclusion.

I side with Burnside and Wyshynski, but while I disagree with Mirtle and Bourne, I also respect their opinions. I feel he’s deserving of induction, though he probably will have to wait several years, as there will be others more deserving of the honour.

My opinion isn’t based on being a fan of Osgood or of the Red Wings, as I’m neither, but simply because I feel his accomplishments will eventually merit his inclusion.

The case for and against Osgood entering the Hockey Hall of Fame makes for a good debate amongst hockey pundits, bloggers and fans.

It’s also, unfortunately, generated some disrespectful comments toward Osgood’s achievements.

For example, it’s been suggested Osgood isn’t worthy because he benefited from playing for great teams with the Detroit Red Wings over most of his career.

Following that skewed logic, Ken Dryden, Billy Smith and Grant Fuhr shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.

Critics of those goalies have claimed they weren’t as great as they seemed because of the teams they were on. Dryden played for the Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the late 1970s, Smith for the Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s, and Fuhr for the great Oilers teams of the mid-to-late 1980s.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to compare Osgood to those greats, let alone dismiss their performances as the result of playing for great teams. It’s equally ridiculous to use the same argument to belittle their careers, including Osgood’s.

Ah, but those three all won individual awards, plus their stats put them amongst the elite netminders of their day. Osgood’s critics point out he never won an individual award, and for most of his career, his regular season stats weren’t amongst the elite.

Following that “logic”, Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. After all, he played on a great Bruins team, never won an individual award, and his stats often weren’t amongst the elite of his day.

Of course, no one is knocking Cheevers’ accomplishment, nor should they, but if we’re going to judge Osgood by the yardstick of awards and statistical placement, then “Cheesy” is no more deserving than “Ozzie”.

Osgood’s critics also point out he wasn’t capable of winning championships outside of Detroit. If so, that’s yet another reason why Fuhr shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame since, after all, he didn’t win anything after he left a great team.

The same would go for Jacques Plante, Glenn Hall, Gump Worsley and Ed Belfour.

Sure, some were goaltending innovators as well as multiple award-winners, but again, if we’re going to make the case Osgood doesn’t belong in the Hall because he couldn’t win championships after he left a great team, then the aforementioned should also be judged accordingly, regardless of their awards or innovations.

That’s a stupid suggestion, of course, and is no less stupid using it as an arguing point against Osgood’s possible Hall of Fame eligibility.

Interestingly, Osgood’s playoff statistics, which Scott Burnside noted ranked “Ozzie” among the best playoff goalies in NHL history, have also been called into question. One comment I recently read wondered what all the fuss was about his Osgood’s playoff record, pointing out how many times he failed to carry teams beyond the first or second round.

Never mind the fact he backstopped the Red Wings to three Cup Finals and two championships, while posting a solid playoff record (74-49, 2.09 GAA, .919 SP, 15 shutouts). No, he’s is supposedly lousy because, over the course of his 17-year NHL career, he didn’t carry his teams to more Finals appearances and championships.

By that standard, Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur must be horrible playoff netminders. After all, in his 19 NHL seasons, Roy “only” carried five teams to the Cup Finals, resulting in four championships, while Brodeur, in his 18 seasons, “only” backstopped the Devils to four Finals appearances and three Cups.

Winning the Stanley Cup is perhaps the most difficult achievement in team sports, especially for a goaltender. It takes superb talent and cool nerves to play the most important, pressure-filled position in the game (which inexplicably at times gets taken for granted by people in the sport who should know better), let alone backstop a team to a championship.

To suggest any plug could have been in goal for the Red Wings in ’98 and ’08 and they still would’ve won the Cup is not only disrespectful to Osgood, it’s also a very stupid opinion.

Osgood’s 401 career victories are also dismissed by some critics, who claim goaltending victories are more of a team stat and therefore shouldn’t be taken into consideration for Hall of Fame induction.

That of course runs counter to the NHL maintaining won-loss records for goalie, and using those records as a factor in determining selection of a goaltender into the Hall of Fame.

If we go by that opinion, the regular season and single season wins records for future HHOF inductee Brodeur shouldn’t count as an achievement.

For that matter, neither should his shutout record, as it could also be considered a “team stat”.

That of course demeans the achievements of Brodeur, as well as those of greats like Terry Sawchuk , Bernie Parent, and Roy, whose respective records for career shutouts, single season wins and career regular season wins were broken by him.

Of course, Brodeur is no stranger to having his accomplishments belittled, but that’s a topic for another day.

As for Roy, his record for career playoff victories also shouldn’t count, and therefore shouldn’t have been cited as part of his induction into the HHOF.

It could also be suggested Roy’s first two Cup championship runs, as well as his first two Conn Smythe trophies, came against inferior playoff opposition, since all of the “true” Cup contenders in 1986 and 1993 had been eliminated earlier in the playoff rounds by other clubs. Therefore, Roy wasn’t “great” in those years, just lucky.

The “beneficiary of a great team” theory could also apply to Roy, as he won his last two Stanley Cups, and his record-setting third Smythe trophy, playing for the Colorado Avalanche from 1995-96 to 2002-03.

Such claims however are absurd, and only belittle Roy’s achievements, just like those which dismiss Osgood’s 401 career victories.

Osgood’s critics also point to that long Al MacInnis slapshot he missed against the St. Louis Blues in the 1998 playoffs as substantiation he wasn’t a particularly good goalie.

Of course Osgood bounced back and the Wings won the series, marching on to their ’98 Cup championship, but his critics just won’t let that one go.

If giving up a bad goal is reason to ban Osgood from the Hall, then what about Roy’s “statue of liberty” blunder in Game Six of the 2002 Western Conference Final? The Avs held a 3-2 series lead up until that moment, which became a series turning point, as the Wings won the next two games to clinch the series, driving Roy from the net in the crucial Game 7 with a crushing 7-0 victory.

Or how about Brodeur’s stick blunder in Game Three of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final against the Anaheim then-Mighty Ducks?

Heck, I’ve heard some of Fuhr’s critics blaming him for Steve Smith’s own-goal blunder in 1986, claiming if Fuhr had paid more attention and “hugged the post”, Smith’s errant pass would’ve have hit him, or if it did, it would’ve deflected off his pad harmlessly away.

Elite goalies aren’t immune from mistakes. If one mistake in a playoff game, which ultimately didn’t derail Detroit’s march to the 1998 Stanley Cup Final, is to be a factor in Osgood’s unworthiness for the Hall of Game, then Roy, Fuhr, and every other great goaltender enshrined in the Hall now, and in the future, don’t deserve to be there.

A dumb suggestion? Of course! No dumber however than citing the MacInnis goal as a reason for denying Osgood’s possible induction into the Hall.

Then there are those who believe Osgood shouldn’t be inducted because the HHOF should be only for the game’s true elite players, claiming there are far too many lesser candidates already enshrined, and Osgood’s induction would serve merely to further cheapen the Hall.

It’s a fair point. There are some players in the Hockey Hall of Fame whose accomplishments pale in comparison to others, and the induction committee has in recent years been questioned for the selection of some lesser lights (Dick Duff, Bob Pulford, Clark Gillies, Bernie Federko) as well as their puzzling, long-standing omission of deserving candidates (Rogatien Vachon, Butch Goring).

Despite the criticism heaped upon the HHOF induction committee, they’re never going to please everyone with their decisions. While I might question the inclusion of Duff, Pulford, Gillies and Federko, there are undoubtedly others who’ll defend their worthiness.

It is, after all, a selective process, and for every obvious first ballot candidate (Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr, Howe, Richard), there will be some whose selection will be questioned. It wouldn’t be fair to exclude Osgood, who won over 400 career games, two Stanley Cups and has impressive playoff statistics, merely to try to prove a point.

It’s fine to debate the merits of a player for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but it isn’t fair, or right, to diminish their career achievements.

In Osgood’s case, there also appears to be an element of malice which is usually absent in debates about other players.

I’m not sure why that is. Osgood was never brash, overbearing, or cocky. He never demeaned opponents, and wasn’t a braggart or a jerk. By most accounts, he was a quiet, hard-working player who was well-liked by teammates, and so highly thought of by Red Wings management that he’s stepping into a front office job with the club.

Whatever the reason, it’s an element which is disturbing and has no place in the debate over Osgood’s qualifications for the Hall of Fame.

Comparing Chris Osgood’s career to those of greater goalies to argue against his eligibility for the Hall of Fame is one thing. Pissing on his accomplishments however doesn’t validate the point.

11 Comments

  1. What a great read that was. Agree 100%.

  2. Red Wings had higher win percentage without Ozzie in net. ‘Nuff said.

  3. Great comments and I agree that Osgood will someday be inducted in the hall of fame, but well in the future. I do however, wonder as to why Claude Provost was never inducted to the HHOF. If nine stanley cups, one Bill Masterton Trophy ( inaugural ) and the nightly nemesis to the the best players in the game of the day. I believe he was the first team all star once as a right winger over Gordie Howe.Leadind goal getter in 1961/62. Played in 11 all star games. Now I realize that the cup champions played the league in those days but it still remains that he was chosen in the years he didn’t win cups.I guess he just happen to play on good teams like Clarke Gillies,Bob Pulford and Dick Duff , however, that was overlooked in their case?

  4. A undead monkey could have manned the Red Wings net with the team they had. Put him on a team that doesn’t have the Russian 5, Stevie Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsuyk and Hendrik Zetterberg, then we’ll see how good his numbers really are.

  5. My angry little inner demon of a Ranger fan still hates him because he was an Islander once.

    Osgood was a very good goalie between 98 and 08, but there’s another factor that nobody seems to talk about. During that decade, his peers were among the goaltending elite. Roy and Brodeur, both obvious first-ballot choices for the HHOF, played during that time. It’s very hard not to draw comparisons to his peers. Fair or not, it’s still going to happen. But like you said, that doesn’t really change his worthiness.

  6. Sean: so you’re buying into the “beneficiary of a great team” theory? I address that above.

  7. HallPlante,

    During Osgood’s career the Wings won 4 Stanley Cups, half with Osgood in net. He was also the primary starter in the ’95-’96 and ’96-’97 regular seasons, sharing the Jennings trophy with Vernon in the former, and taking over as the starter against St. Louis in the second round as well. In the later Bowman went with the veteran on a gut decision that the fans screamed against. I wonder if you were also one of them (I was).

    My understanding regarding Osgood being replaced by Hasek in the summer of ’01 was that Roenick would not sign with Detroit because he did not feel confident in the goaltending (and thus followed the money to Philly). Robitaille signed because of Hasek, but Hull likely would have signed no matter the goaltender as he lost to Osgood in both the ’96 and ’97 playoffs with the Blues and was waiting to find the best fit. All things considered, I believe the Wings could have won in ’02 with Osgood in place of Hasek, Kozlov for Robitaille, and the addition of Hull up front along with then rookie Datyuk, not to take anything away from Hasek, but Hasek did look like he was slipping that season. However the Dominator did have a record setting playoff performance, so it was the right move by Holland.

    As for Osgood being waived, why trade for a goalie when the team will have to let him go for free? I don’t remember which team(s) regretted not pulling the trigger when they had the chance, but the Islanders were fortunate to get him as the Wizard had yet another 30 win season and was a leader in their return to the playoffs after ten years of golf. The team fell apart the next season, so St. Louis pulled the trigger and Osgood gave them a chance in the playoffs both of his years there. He also had another 30 win season in his only full season with St. Louis.

    I don’t understand why Osgood’s notable consistency of 30 wins in about 50 games per season is not a point made regularly in speaking to his ability as goaltender. Especially considering his time in Detroit often consisted of having to face long periods without seeing the puck in between flurries of shots on goal. Hasek took all season to get used to it. Cujo could not perform in those circumstances.

    Sean L,

    I’d like to see how you would have fared in Osgood’s place. Talk about horse hockey. ‘Nuff said.

  8. I am a little late to this article but it is a reasonable plea that people, and especially the online community, try to conduct themselves with a little respect. The relative anonymity of posting online continues to allow some of the more strident and reactionary members of this community to blow much hotter than they otherwise might feel comfortable should they have to face up to their statements.

    That being said, and while Osgoode may very well find himself in the HHoF one day, Lyle sums up the issue with Osgoode’s candidacy with this line: “I feel he’s deserving of induction, though he probably will have to wait several years, as there will be others more deserving of the honour.”

    Exactly. Osgoode has the stats but not the reputation. This is why trying to apply the team argument to Dryden et al. above is fallacious. Dryden, Fuhr, Roy and the other goalies cited were not only capable of carrying their team to victory on their back, they did it. And they did it when it mattered. The were abuzz in the popular press and heralded throughout their careers.

    None of this sounds familiar in connection to Osgoode, though I must admit to only knowing him from a distance. So I will stick with what I do know which is that it is widely thought that the last two cups the Habs won were delivered by Patrick Roy, and given the iconic status of his wink at #7 on making a save in the playoffs, and other notable feats of goaltending, a comparison to Osgoode is an untenable reach. Sorry.

    Moving on to comparing Osgooded to Smith, Fuhr and Dryden, all of whom did play on powerhouse teams, is still specious because, once again, these goaltenders all created their own legends which is something Osgoode just did not do.

    That is why this discussion has caught the imagination of so many people. I think this article should have stuck to the good and valid point that a debate need never become disrespectful or ad hominen. And, to go one step farther, the journalist who first threw this question into cyberspace is more of a mud slinger than anything else.

  9. If a player’s only requirement for HOF induction is his stats, then Ozzi certainly deserves to be in.
    If his stats were put up against some big name players, he would be in without a doubt, but because he is Ozzie, everyone will question his talent.
    Maybe because he wasnt brash and loud like Roy or Fuhr but Osgood never seems to get the respect he deserves, and that is sad, because he truly was a good player and a better teammate, who would do whatever it took to make the team better.

  10. I respect your opinion, but your logic is lacking somewhat. Being a long-time Bruins fan, I am very familiar with Cheevers’ career, and although a big fan, he is a marginal HOFer. Not undeserving, but right on the edge certainly, and Cheevers was a great goalie of that era. I saw him play many great games. Osgood would be a better comparison for the other Bruin goalie of that era, Ed Johnston, who was a very good and underrated goalie, but not a HOFer.

    When you compare Osgood with Fuhr, Roy, Billy Smith, Parent, and Dryden, as well as Cheevers, you miss one huge point. How games did the goalies “steal” for those championship teams? Having seen most of those games, the answer is “many times.” Dryden stole the 71 Cup, Parent stole the 74 Cup, and Roy’s 2 Montreal Cup teams were not that good, frankly; the 93 Montreal team was only 3rd in it’s division, and had no business winning the Cup without Roy’s heroics in goal. Can you honestly say that Osgood stole one of the Detroit Cups? Of course not.

    Fuhr and Cheevers often were left alone while their teams played all out offense, knowing that they would be there for the big save on the odd-man rush.

    No disrepect to Osgood or you, but Osgood was only a very good goalie, not in the same class as these other goalies, and to maintain that Osgood deserves the HOF as much as the others because they played on great teams, ignores what actually happened in those playoff games.

  11. There was some talk during the Pittsburgh Stanley Cup a few years ago that if Detroit won Game 7, that Osgood might be the MVP, for what it’s worth. Also consider the feat of getting to consecutive Stanley Cup finals at 35 and 36, let alone winning one, should at least make one pause, given I don’t see any goalies listed above that won Stanley Cup Finals at that age (not Fuhr, Roy, Smith Parent, Dryden, Cheever). The other way to ask the question is: was he too quiet to get respect (e.g., Detroit TIger baseball players Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, who some say were also too quiet and in too small of a market for their own worthy statistics)? I’m not saying he should be in the Hall, but consistent winning (including Stanley Cups) should mean at least some consideration–after all, look at the goaltenders that played when Osgood wasn’t there–why didn’t they win Cups then? It’s not solely because Osgood wasn’t there, but wasn’t it at least part of the reason?