Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Writing Is On the Wall, But Will Osgood Read It?

If Red Wings GM Kenny Holland were afforded the luxury of managing his roster strictly by heart and by emotion, there's no question that Chris Osgood would be the team's backup goaltender for 2011-12 until proven otherwise.

If the black-and-white characteristics of business weren't involved, Osgood would be welcomed to training camp in Traverse City in September, his no. 30 jersey hanging in his locker stall, freshly laundered and ready to go.

If Holland didn't have to operate with the inconvenience of a bottom line or the harsh realities of the toll that age takes on players, especially goalies, the GM's focus would be on acquiring another skater---forward or defenseman---and the likes of Joey MacDonald and Thomas McCollum would have to wait yet another year to get a crack at the no. 2 job behind Jimmy Howard.

But that is a fantasy land.

One thing you can say about old Red Wings---with apologies to General Douglas MacArthur---they don't die, they just fade away, albeit at times very, very slowly.

The old Red Wings don't make things easy for Holland. Their modus operandi hasn't been to voluntarily raise their hands and ask to be lopped off the roster in order to make room for the kids.

Rather, their tack has been to stick around until they're asked to leave.

You saw it with Chris Chelios, who was closer to 50 than he was 40 when the Red Wings finally cut ties with the defenseman in 2009. You saw it with Kirk Maltby, just last summer, who didn't exactly go kicking and screaming out of uniform, but Holland almost had to hit Kirk over the head to get him to retire.

Those are just two recent examples, and they keep coming.

No doubt that Kris Draper, 40, will have to be forced to read the writing on the proverbial wall, indicating that his role of defensive whiz and penalty killer with wheels has been assumed by Darren Helm.

So it will be with Osgood, 38, who is likely to be among the last to acknowledge that his days as Howard's backup are over with.

Osgood is coming off two less-than-stellar seasons that have been pocked with injury, most recently to the groin---a goalie's worst enemy.

Osgood is another who isn't making things easy for Holland. Ozzie hasn't offered to be jettisoned, nor will he make such an overture. At least, it's doubtful that he will.

But Osgood's reticence hasn't stopped Holland from carrying on with his duties as GM. The Red Wings have some money to spend on a new/old goalie. They told Osgood (and Draper) that a new contract wouldn't be offered until after July 1, the date that free agents can begin to be signed. That is, if a contract would be offered at all.

Last winter, as he was recuperating from his groin injury---an injury he never did return from---Osgood sat in with Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond during a telecast from Florida.

Osgood was asked if he felt like he had some hockey left in the tank.

Unsurprisingly, Ozzie said yes, he had.

"I'm not ready to join the Red Wings Old-Timers yet," Osgood cracked.

But he also spoke of life post-playing, and how he'd like to somehow assist the current and future Red Wings goalies, whether as an official coach or a training camp instructor.

The preference, of course, was to keep playing.

The Red Wings are unique in that I don't recall seeing, in my 41 years of following Detroit sports, so many longtime players stick with a franchise for so long, who were productive almost until the very end.

We're talking, in the cases of Draper and Osgood, ties to the 1997 Stanley Cup champs, for goodness sakes.

I remember Osgood as a 21-year-old, tearfully facing the media after his ill-timed giveaway to San Jose's Jamie Baker cost the Red Wings a goal and the series to the Sharks in a stunning seven-game upset.

I recall thinking at the time that it wouldn't be a surprise if we never heard of Chris Osgood again after that horrific blunder. That mistake was the kind that can ruin a kid's career.

Ozzie could have been a footnote---the answer to a garish trivia question.

Instead, he ended up as a three-time Cup winner in Detroit---two as the team's starting goalie in the playoffs, once as its savior after replacing the great Dominik Hasek midway through the first round in 2008. And Osgood damn near won another Cup a year later.

I've gone on record saying that the Red Wings ought to raise Osgood's no. 30 to the rafters---a discussion that I won't venture into now. Neither that nor the one about his belonging in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Both debates have been done to death.

Reports say that Holland's search for Howard's new backup might end with one-time Red Wing Ty Conklin, 35 years old.

Those same reports indicate that where the search is unlikely to drift is to Osgood, 38 and with a questionable groin.

Chris Osgood isn't likely going to make becoming an ex-Red Wing easy for Ken Holland.

But the old Winged Wheelers never do, do they?

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