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Chris Osgood And The Playoffs

The Detroit Red Wings have been a very successful team in the past several years.  They have won four Stanley Cups in the past twelve years.  Because of their success many of their individual role players have achieved legacies above the level that their talent level might have predicted.  There are no players who fit in this camp more than Chris Osgood. 

Osgood is a good goaltender who has had a pretty long career.  He has been able to win a lot of games (a team statistic).  He has 389 career regular season wins.  This ties him for tenth place overall with Dominik Hasek.  That coupled with his team’s Stanley Cup success is often used as an argument for Osgood one day making the Hall of Fame.

The gaping hole in the argument is that there is no point in Osgood’s career where it is possible to make an argument that he was the best goaltender in the NHL.  No point where you can make an argument that for an extended period of time he was number two or number three, stuck behind future Hall of Famers either.  The closest thing to such an argument is the 1995/96 season where Osgood finished on the Second Team All Star and was runner up to the Vezina Trophy.  He was a distant second to Vezina winner Jim Carey in the voting.  This was in a league with Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph, Martin Brodeur and others.  The Vezina voting that year was seen as a group of underdogs, who never again deserved that level of Vezina support.  Nevertheless, there is one season where it is possible to argue Osgood was the second best goalie in the league.  That clearly puts him among a good group of goalies (including Roman Turek and Bob Froese).

How important was he to the Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup wins?  He was not important at all to the 1997 win.  In the playoffs that year, he had 47 minutes played in two games.  It was Mike Vernon who was in net for the Detroit Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy.  The next season when Detroit returned to the Stanley Cup, since Vernon was traded, it was Osgood in goal.  Along the run Osgood played some good games and also some poor ones letting in bad goals.  The 1998 Stanley Cup run was often taken as a prime example that a team could win the Stanley Cup despite a lack of elite goaltending as long as the rest of the players were good enough.  When Detroit won the Stanley Cup in 2002, Osgood was a member of the New York Islanders.  Clearly he had no impact on that cup run.  Last season was Osgood’s best cup run.  He took over from Dominik Hasek early in the playoffs.  He played some good hockey.  When Osgood shut out the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals, a few people suggested him as a Conn Smythe winner.  Osgood stopped playing at that high level and the series went six games before Detroit won the cup.  All told, Osgood put up a .930 saves percentage in that cup run and a 1.55 GAA.  Those were his best playoff numbers ever. 

This season was a disaster for Chris Osgood.  His .887 saves percentage and 3.09 GAA were among the worst numbers put up in the league.  Goaltending was the number one concern for the Red Wings as they entered the playoffs.  Their first round was against the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Columbus was the lowest scoring playoff team in the West Conference.  Of all the possible playoff opponents for the Red Wings, this was the one that would least test their goaltending.  Osgood was very good against the Blue Jackets.  Through three games he had a 0.67 GAA and a .974 saves percentage.  These numbers are as good as anyone in the league was doing.  In game four he allowed five goals and those numbers ballooned a bit (to 1.75 and .936 - still good numbers) as Columbus was eliminated.  It is still early in the playoffs and any future Red Wings opponents will be stronger offensively than Columbus.  Likely Osgood’s numbers will continue to drop, but should Detroit manage to win the Stanley Cup they will not be able to drop too much. 

Osgood has established a reputation as a good playoff goalie.  This reputation comes from being on a team that has done well in the playoffs.  It comes from the fact that his numbers have improved in the playoffs (he has a .906 saves percentage and 2.47 GAA in the regular season and excluding tonight’s game .915 saves percentage and 2.10 GAA in the playoffs in his career).  It comes from the fact his team has been good enough to survive and still win in games when he makes gaffes.  Osgood is a good goalie.  He has never been a great goalie.  That is why, barring significant future achievement, he is not a deserving Hall of Famer.

It is true that Chris Osgood has helped Detroit do well in the playoffs.  It is also true that Kris Draper has helped Detroit do well in the playoffs or that Tomas Holmstrom has helped Detroit do well in the playoffs.  Every winning playoff team has a solid supporting cast.  When a member of that supporting cast is the goaltender he gets a larger degree of notice than he might deserve, but it doesn’t make him one of the best goalies in the league. 

If Chris Osgood can continue to play as well as he has against Columbus, there is no reason that Detroit cannot win the Stanley Cup.  Of course the playoffs get harder after the first round and there won’t be any more opponents that are as weak offensively as the Columbus Blue Jackets.  It is no guarantee that Osgood can continue to play this well and there is no guarantee that any team will win in the playoffs.  As well as Osgood has played in the first round, the Detroit Red Wings would be in better shape with a better goaltender in their nets.

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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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