December 29, 2010
Your answer to this question is likely influenced by your feelings about the Red Wings; about whether credit is shared between a goaltender and a stellar defense or if the defense makes the goalie; about statistic achievement vs. the abstract notion of elite status; about the weight of postseason success; about your personal standards for the Hockey Hall of Fame vs. the actual standards for enshrinement from the clandestine voters.
On Monday, Osgood became the 10th netminder in NHL history to win 400 regular-season games. Six goalies on that list are in the Hall of Fame; Martin Brodeur(notes) is a sure-thing; Ed Belfour, who has a Cup ring, is eligible in 2011; Curtis Joseph(notes), who does not, retired earlier this year and the Puck Daddy readership was split on his candidacy.
The case for Osgood is rather easy to make: 400 wins; three Stanley Cups (and a starter for two of them); a respectable 2.49 GAA and .905 save percentage for his career; two Jennings Trophies; two-time All-Star; led the league in wins during 1995-06 (39). But its his playoff stats that really solidify his chances, if you believe they're more vital than regular-season numbers: His GAA of 2.09 puts him ahead of Jacques Plante; his save percentage of .916 is No. 15 all-time; and he's eighth in playoff wins with 74.
Simply put: He's one of the best postseason goaltenders of the last two decades.
So that's the case for Osgood. Since he won No. 400, his critics have made the case against; is it compelling enough for you?
But Osgood's is a case where stats don't tell the whole story. He's been a solid player, there's no doubt about that, but he also happened to play for one of the few modern day sports dynasties. The Detroit Red Wings do well every year, and it may not matter much who's between the pipes. Osgood got to play with some all time greats with the Red Wings; Nicklas Lidstrom(notes), Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov(notes), Brendan Shanahan(notes), Chris Chelios(notes), Brett Hull, etc. all in their primes.
Whether the Red Wings would have been as successful without Osgood is debatable. But the talent they've had over the last 15 years is undeniable. And that is what Osgood's critics point to when they say that Osgood has had a wonderful career because of the Red Wings, rather than in spite of them.
Many argue that he is only a little better than average goalie who has benefited from playing with a good team for most of his career and who has allowed way too many soft goals, many on long-range shots, in his career to ever merit Hall of Fame consideration.
They can even point to the 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Osgood was in goal for the Red Wings as they won their second consecutive Cup.
He allowed a goal from outside the blue line in each of the first three rounds of the playoffs – Phoenix's Jeremy Roenick(notes) in the first round, St. Louis' Al McInnis in the second round and Dallas' Jamie Lagenbrunner OT winner in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
Rob Otto of MLive.com wrote a piece Wednesday that apologized to Red Wings fans for not buying Osgood as a HOFer:
I want you to honestly answer one question for me: Is Chris Osgood one of the best players to ever play the game?
It is a simple yes or no question without regard to his numbers or who else is in the Hall. Unless you're looking through Red Wing-colored glasses, you have to say no. That is where Osgood falls short. The eyeball test. If you've seen him play, it is hard to say he is one of the best ever.
How often was he considered one of the best players among his contemporaries in the NHL? How often was he even considered one of the best players on his team? Heck, how often was it a 100-percent lock that he was even the best goalie on his team?
Thing is, the "eyeball test" is a test for some other Hall of Fame that isn't the current incarnation of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Dino Ciccarelli wouldn't pass it. Glenn Anderson wouldn't pass it. Bernie Federko wouldn't pass it. It's the standard that should exist but never has.
No, this is a stats-based argument, and Scott Burnside of ESPN thinks that makes it a no-brainer:
Osgood now breathes rarified air when discussing the game's most successful goaltenders. From our vantage point, it is a no-brainer.
When you take a look at the other nine netminders who have hit the 400-win mark, six are already in the Hockey Hall of Fame (Patrick Roy, Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall and Grant Fuhr). Martin Brodeur, the winningest goaltender of all time, is a lock, while Ed Belfour is considered a good Hall bet next year in his first year of eligibility. Curtis Joseph is fourth all-time with 454 wins, but never won a Cup.
That leaves Osgood, who has 400 wins and owns three Stanley Cup rings. In the spring of 2009, he was also one win away from a fourth when the Pittsburgh Penguins edged the Wings 2-1 in Game 7 in Detroit.
If the Hall of Fame was about immortals, then Chris Osgood would not be a part of it. He isn't one. Anyone arguing that he's on that level is delusional.
What Osgood is, we think, is the Glenn Anderson of goaltenders. Tremendous postseason success, both as a driving force and as a passenger for Cup teams, and playoff stats that are among the best in NHL history. Their regular-season numbers are well above average and Osgood's win total puts him on another level among goaltenders. Both benefitted from playing with elite talent.
Was Glenn Anderson ever the best player in his team? No, and neither was Osgood.
Was Glenn Anderson ever one of the five best players in the NHL? No, and neither was Osgood.
Did Glenn Anderson ever win a major individual award? No, and neither did Chris Osgood.
They both fail the "eyeball" test, yet both have the numeric and championship-level impact that charms HOF voters.
Glenn Anderson is in the Hall of Fame. Claiming Osgood won't be is a harder case to make than claiming he will.