By Stu Hackel
An outstanding performance in Denver brought Chris Osgood win No. 400 on Monday night, making him the 10th NHL goaltender to hit that plateau. It was his third try at reaching the milestone and it was not sealed until Niklas Kronwall scored in overtime. But winning 400 won't necessarily gain Osgood a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
First, a confession. I think Chris Osgood is a much better goalie than he's been given credit for. For years, fans in Detroit -- who are notoriously tough on their netminders, even when they love them -- shivered with fear when Ozzie stood in the crease for important games, convinced that he was always good for at least one bad goal a game. And they weren't far wrong.
Even in Monday night's excellent performance, when he stopped 46 shots -- 23 in the second period alone -- and was named the game's first star, he surrendered a bit of a clunker to T.J. Galiardi...
...and coach Mike Babcock said, "He would have liked to have that second one back, but obviously he made up his mind that he had enough of this and that he was going to find a way to win a game." In typical Osgood fashion, he showed the sort of determination that has made him a fan favorite despite his propensity for softies. This save on Matt Duchene, for example...
...was one of a number of second period beauties, and Duchene tweeted post-game, "Tough loss, hats off to Osgood for an amazing performance." That included stellar work during Colorado's 67-second 5-on-3 advantage. The Avs were 1-for-7 on the power play and, on a night Detroit didn't have Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary and Brian Rafalski in the lineup, Chris Osgood was their best penalty-killer, leading the unusually large contingent of Red Wings fans in this enemy building to chant "Ozzie! Ozzie!" a few times.
"We didn't play a good game whatsoever. But he stood on his head and it was all him," said Niklas Kronwall (quoted in The Detroit News), whose winning goal made up for the late game penalty he took that led to Duchene tying the game with under three minutes left in regulation. As has happened so often in his career, Osgood would not allow his team to lose. He cemented his place in Red Wings lore long ago, thanks to this...
...and that battling quality has earned him a few fans along the way...
....as well as the respect of his teammates for his big heart and the mental toughness that was clear when he was a young goalie. That quality has remained undiminished as a veteran. When Osgood had apparently lost his job in 2007-08 to the returning Dominik Hasek, he worked hard in practice and off the ice to stay ready. He never doubted himself and when Hasek faltered, Babcock quickly turned to Osgood who backstopped the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup.
Ozzie has won the Cup three times, but personal honors have eluded him. He's only been a postseason All-Star once, and he's played in but two All-Star Games. Twice he's shared the Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals-against, but that's considered more of a team award by some. Apart from 400 wins and the kind of consistency that total requires, when it comes to Hall of Fame credentials, the individual achievements that are usually considered the benchmarks of a dominant career are not there in abundance.
Does 400 wins mean Osgood will get in? Six of the previous nine 400-game winners are in the Hockey Hall of Fame -- Patrick Roy, Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall and Grant Fuhr. Two -- Curtis Joseph and Eddie Belfour -- haven't been retired long enough to be considered, and Belfour may be more likely to get in than Cujo. Marty Brodeur is still active, although no one doubts he'll be enshrined.
Being a Stanley Cup champion helps one's cause a great deal. Only two modern era goalies are in the Hall without winning the Cup: Esposito had 400 wins and a lot of individual honors; Ed Giacomin became a regular postseason All-Star and a Vezina Trophy winner, but won neither the Cup nor 400 games.
No one is ever certain how Hall of Fame selectors will vote or why, not to mention whether someone will even nominate Osgood. The Red Wings teams he played for have always been strong defensively-oriented squads; it's GM Ken Holland's organizational preference to concentrate on a strong blueline corps and not overspend on an elite goaltender, so Osgood's case may suffer because the teams in front of him have been so talented.
But the full season that Osgood played as an Islander (2001-02) has been forgotten, and shouldn't be, in assessing his talent. On a club that had missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons, he set a franchise record for most games played by a goalie (66) and tied its mark for most wins (32) while leading the Isles into the postseason before losing a seven-game series to Pat Burns' Maple Leafs, a series in which the home team won each game.
Colorado-based blogger Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild makes a compelling comparison when he writes that current Islander goalie Dwayne Roloson’s season "is actually very similar to Chris Osgood’s impact on the Islanders back in the 2001-02 season...Osgood's performance that season (compares) with Dwayne Roloson's for the Isles this year," noting that Osgood "finished with a spectacular (for that team) 2.50 goals-against average and .910 save percentage." Away from the powerhouse Wings, Osgood sparkled for an Islanders team that was mediocre at best.
(Goldman is an admitted devote of Osgood's and his post today on Osgood's 400th win passionately takes up the cause of his hero, who he considers "the epitome of mental toughness. And...mental toughness is the baseline and the foundation for a goaltender’s success.")
Taking the long view, if there are parallel Hall of Fame careers among goalies, three come to mind who also played behind talented teams. One might be Ozzie's hero, Fuhr, a 400 game-winner who was only a two-time postseason All-Star. He won the Vezina Trophy once and the Jennings once, but his Stanley Cup play for the Oilers truly earned his spot in the Hall.
The second might be another battling goalie, Billy Smith, considered one of the best money netminders of all time during the Islanders' dynasty years. The third would be Gerry Cheevers, the Bruins goalie during the Bobby Orr era. Fuhr, Cheevers and Smith didn't always have the best stats, but they usually came out on top when a big game was there to be won. You might score a few goals off them, but you wouldn't get the one to beat them.
That's Osgood's legacy, too. It's something for those who select Hall of Famers to think about.