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Osgood’s Hall Of Fame Case

One disagreement between me and much of the Detroit biased Abel to Yzerman readership who frequent Kukla’s Korner is the value of Chris Osgood.  I argue that the 2009 version of Chris Osgood is far from being an elite goalie (a goalie who one could reasonably argue is among the top five or so goalies in the NHL).  As a result I argue Detroit is not an elite team on a historical scale.  They don’t have good enough goaltending to be one.  There are no elite teams in the NHL today.  Detroit may come closest to the level but their goaltending is too much of a weakness.  Were Osgood to win the Stanley Cup this year, he would likely be the weakest goalie to win a cup in the NHL’s ownership of the Stanley Cup.  A truly elite team on any historic level would not have such a glaring weakness.

The Abel to Yzerman people are happily getting behind articles like the Detroit Free Press’ Osgood is MVP of the Cap Era.  Osgood is a very cheap goalie who is playing well enough in the playoffs that it looks likely that Detroit could win the Stanley Cup.  The fact Detroit has been able to get away with cheap goaltending is one of their reasons for success in the salary capped era and one reason that I am upset by the salary cap.  I would like to see the elite Detroit Red Wings with a first class goalie.  I feel cheated that the NHL’s rules prevent it.  A Detroit team with a top goalie would be something special.  It would be a team that one could place with the greatest teams of all time.  Right now we have a Detroit team that is a bit below that elite level that is hoping that Osgood does not return to his regular season performances at an important time in the playoffs.  Chris Osgood (and Ty Conklin as well) are competent enough goalies that they could win the Stanley Cup if they play well behind the Detroit team.  There are probably forty other goalies in the NHL who have that potential as well, but we will never likely be able to test them in that situation to see how they would do.  The fact Osgood has held up in the playoffs is a credit to him.

The claim made in the article that Detroit Free Press article that I most disagree with is that Chris Osgood is a Hall of Famer.  That claim is wrong.  I want to address that today.  The best way to do that is by answering the fifteen questions Bill James asks to assess future Hall of Famers in baseball.  There is minor baseball specificity to these questions and they can be easily adapted to other sports

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

No.  Absolutely not.  Nobody would claim Chris Osgood is the best player in hockey.  In fact, the Hockey News publishes a top 50 list of the best players in hockey each summer and Osgood does not make that list.  One could argue based upon that fact that people don’t consider Osgood among the best 50 players in the NHL.  If Osgood is not one of the best 50 players in the game then he isn’t a Hall of Famer. 

2. Was he the best player on his team?

No.  Certainly not in his Detroit years.  There have been at least a dozen players in his Detroit years who were better players, though many are future Hall of Famers themselves.  In his short time as a New York Islander, he was likely ranked behind teammates Alexei Yashin, Mike Peca and Adrian Aucoin.  In his short time in St Louis I would rank him behind Chris Pronger, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and Pavol Demitra (Al MacInnis was injured most of the time he was there).  Detroit was a very good team during Osgood’s tenures there, so it is possible to be a Hall of Famer without being their best player, but he was the fourth or fifth best player on the other teams he played with.  That is not good enough for the Hall.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

No.  There is no reasonable claim that Osgood was the best goalie in the league or his conference.  The closest thing he might have to that is the 1995/96 season where he was runner up to the Vezina Trophy.  That season had a strange group of Vezina nominees (Jim Carey won and Darren Puppa was the third nominee).  In a league that contained Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph who were all near their career primes it is an amazing result.  It is hard to argue that anyone seriously thought he was the best goalie in the league that season, though some would have ranked him in the top five of the league.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Yes.  This is the first question that provides any support for Osgood as a Hall of Famer.  Osgood won two Stanley Cups as a starter and a third as a backup who played only 47 minutes in the playoffs.  His first cup win as a starter was widely looked at as an example of a team that won in spite of its goaltending.  Osgood let in some famously bad goals from centre during the run.  While it is unfair to dismiss the run due to a couple bad goals, it is hard to claim that Osgood was the reason his team won the cup.  Last year, Osgood was a better contributor to a cup winning team.  He took over from an aging Dominik Hasek in the playoffs and was able to backstop the Wings to the cup.  While he wasn’t an MVP in the run, he was a reasonable choice for third or fourth in an MVP race and with a couple early shutouts; he looked like he might do even better than that.  This year he is the Detroit goalie again and playing a solid game.  Should Detroit win the cup again, he would be their goalie.  Likely he isn’t a Conn Smythe favorite, but as goalie of the potential cup winner he does get some notice.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes.  He is passed his prime at age 36 and playing regularly.  He is playing regularly in the playoffs as well as the regular season (though his regular season was a poor one this year).  Last year is a better example of him playing well past his prime.  He played well enough to be in the NHL All Star Game.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

Definitely not.  Even if we limit his comparison to only players who have been eligible for induction and passed over, he isn’t close to the best player available.  Several Hall of Fame eligible goalies exist who were better than Osgood.

7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

This question is hard to answer because it is hard to compare goaltending stats between eras.  There is too much change in GAA and saves percentage from one era to the next to make direct comparisons.  If you try you often run into some ridiculousness i.e. Niklas Backstrom has the best saves percentage ever.  The easiest stats to compare across different eras are wins and shutouts.  This is problematic because these are not the best stats to evaluate goaltending.  If we do compare wins across eras, Osgood comes out quite well.  He is tied for tenth overall in career wins.  While that is not the best way to compare goalies statistically, Osgood comes out looking very good.  Most goalies with as many wins as Osgood are in the Hall of Fame, though there is one glaring exception.  Curtis Joseph is in fourth place overall, with 65 more wins than Osgood and I would argue that he does not deserve a Hall of Fame spot.  There are several goalies just below Osgood who are not Hall of Famers either.  The next five in all time wins after Osgood are Mike Vernon, John Vanbiesbrouck, Andy Moog, Tom Barrasso and Rogatien Vachon.  There certainly is a precedent for goalies to have high win totals and not make the Hall of Fame; which shows that it is a poor stat to judge goalies.  Osgood will likely add more wins to his total before he retires and it is an impressive total. 

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Again we have the question of comparing goalie numbers across different eras.  It is hard to do.  Osgood’s win totals probably make Hall of Fame standards and you might argue the same with shutouts, but they are not the best way to evaluate a goalie.  If by numbers we mean the number of years he had a Vezina Trophy worthy season, then his numbers fall far below Hall of Fame standards.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Osgood’s win total is definitely higher than it should be due to the circumstance of where and when he played.  This comes from playing on a very good team that won a lot.  It also comes from the era he played in.  Expansion led to more teams, more goalie jobs and hence a better chance to accumulate stats.  He plays in an era with more games per season and more playoff rounds than ever before.  This gives him more games to accumulate wins that goalies in previous generations.  The advent of regular season overtime and shootouts also increase the number of wins available.  The biggest effect is of course playing on a top level team that had Stanley Cup talent for most of his career.  Osgood is worse than his wins total would suggest.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

No.  In the comments of one thread I once listed ten goalies better than Osgood who are Hall of Fame eligible.  There are other goalies that could have made the list as well.  Players like Vachon, Barrasso, Moog and Mike Richter are definitely better goalies who are Hall of Fame eligible and are not there.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Osgood never had an MVP-type season.  Unfortunately, I don’t have final MVP votes available for every season of his career to check, but I don’t think Osgood has ever appeared on any ballot in any position for a Hart Trophy vote.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?

Osgood has played in four NHL All Star Games.  He played in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2008.  That total seems about right for him.  It is hard to look at another season in his career and make a strong case that he was snubbed.  Most Hall of Famers play in more than four All Star Games, but four is not an unreasonably low number.  If a player has a strong enough case a player four All Star Games could make the Hall.  Ron Francis is an example of one.

  13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Osgood was at best the third or fourth best player on his team in his year with the New York Islanders and that is the closest he ever got to being the best player on his team.  If he had been the best player on his team, that team would have been a very weak one.  Likely they would have missed the playoffs and probably by a significant margin.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

The biggest impact I can think of for Osgood is being the goalie for much of the Detroit Red Wings recent run and as an example of an underpriced player in the salary capped era.  Neither of those rises to the level expected by this question.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Yes.  There is no reason to question Osgood here.  He has been a likeable guy and a good teammate.

There are far too many questions where the answer for Osgood is a definite no for him to belong in the Hall of Fame.  Osgood is not done yet, so he might be able to improve his case, though at age 36 we imagine we have probably seen his best.  A Conn Smythe season where he was the clearly deserving winner (as opposed to the winner because voters often pick goalies when in doubt) would go a long way toward making a case, but likely would not be enough by itself.  Chris Osgood is not a Hall of Fame goalie now and likely never will be.

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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