Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Osgood's HOF Worthiness to be One of Hockey's Greatest Debates

The sure-fire Hall of Fame goalie was beginning to show his age. At 43, the Red Wings' netminder was battling the puck something awful, and the puck was winning. Too often the vulcanized rubber disc was finding its way over the goal line and tickling the twine.

It was another playoff season in Detroit, aka "Hockeytown", that self-named moniker smacking with arrogance. The Red Wings were six years removed from their last Stanley Cup and in between were many post-season disappointments.

The 2003 first-round sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Mighty (then) Ducks. The 2004 second round upset levied on them by the Calgary Flames. The 2006 first round shocker suffered against the Edmonton Oilers. The heartbreaking 2007 Western Conference Finals loss to the just plain Ducks.

Now it was 2008 and after four games of the first round series with the inferior Nashville Predators, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made, in my book, one of the gutsiest moves authored by any coach in this city. Ever.

"The puck is going in the net," Babcock complained to the media after the Predators beat the Red Wings twice in Nashville to square the series at 2-2.

The puck went into the Red Wings' net in the first two games in Detroit, too, but Babcock's bunch was able to overcome that with its high-powered offense. Not so much in Nashville.

So, just like that, Babcock pressed the "eject" button and Dominik Hasek was vaulted out of the Red Wings cage and in went Chris Osgood for Game 5 in Detroit.

I'm still amazed by Babcock's moxie in making that move, because I'm convinced that he's one of few NHL coaches who would have pulled the trigger---maybe the only one at that time.

My belief was supported later in the playoffs, when Colorado coach Joel Quenneville failed to show the same guts and left bedraggled goalie Jose Theodore as his starter when a goalie change could have given the Avalanche a much-needed boost.

Osgood was magnificent in Game 5, despite surrendering a goal late in the third period that tied the game. The Red Wings won early in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. It gave me chills when Osgood was announced as the game's no. 1 star and he skated out and raised his goalie paddle while the Joe Louis Arena crowd chanted "OZZ-IE!! OZZ-IE!!"

The Red Wings won the series one game later and eventually captured their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years, thanks in no small part to Osgood's goaltending.

Babcock went with his gut in switching from the Hall of Famer Hasek to the hardened veteran Osgood and the reward was the greatest.

That moment is dripping with irony, because indefinitely we will debate whether Chris Osgood belongs in the Hall of Fame, despite his clutch work in 2008 in relief of a no-brainer HOFer in Hasek.

Who should or shouldn't be in any sport's HOF makes for the best arguments and liveliest debates. It's great bar talk, a wonderful complement to a cold one and some pretzels.

Osgood retired yesterday at age 38, unable to assure the Red Wings that his troublesome sports hernia injury and suspect groin won't go "pop" sometime next season.

Osgood leaves the playing ranks with 401 wins and 50 shutouts, and two Cups as a starter, a third as a backup. And one game away from a third and fourth, respectively, in those categories.

He leaves with 15 playoff shutouts and a 2.16 GAA and .916 save pct. in the post-season.

For comparison's sake, the great Martin Brodeur---another sure-fire Hall of Famer---has 23 career playoff shutouts, a 2.01 GAA, a .919 save pct, and three Stanley Cups.

Not all that different, is it?

But the HOF debate, when it comes to Chris Osgood, isn't just about numbers. If it was, then there would be little debate at all.

Fellow Bleacher Report Red Wings featured columnist Matt Hutter, on the sports podcast I co-host, "The Knee Jerks," addressed the Osgood/HOF talk earlier this year.

Osgood, Hutter fears, doesn't have that "wow" factor that other HOF goalies have.

Guys like Patrick Roy, or Brodeur, or Hasek.

Matt's right.

Osgood achieved his 401 wins and his 50 shutouts as quietly as one man can get them. The 400 wins were upon us before we knew it, or could squawk too much about them.

Osgood got his 400 wins and now he's retired, just like that. We're starting the debate flat-footed.

Osgood will be one of the most interesting players in recent years to discuss, post-retirement. His worthiness of HOF status can be expertly argued, both ways. Depending on the talking points of the plaintiff, you can walk away certain that he is or isn't a Hall of Fame goalie.

Maybe Chris Osgood is the Jim Thome of hockey.

Thome, the left-handed hitting slugger, is closing in on 600 home runs. In past years, such a milestone would earn the achiever a punched ticket into Cooperstown, no questions asked.

No more.

There are those---and I'm one of them---who aren't convinced that Thome is a Hall of Famer, despite the 600 dingers. Again, Thome supporters could wonder why there's even a question.

The Osgood topic is made even more volatile because Osgood himself has gone on record expressing his intense desire to be in the Hall of Fame. This isn't some guy who is taking a "que sera, sera" attitude about his worthiness. Osgood wants to be in the Hall---badly.

There's a three-year waiting period after retirement before a player is eligible for election into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Osgood is on the clock. That's great news for the beer and bar industries.

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