I watched bits and pieces of Game 5 of the 2002 Finals between the Wings and Canes, and I was reminded by just how stacked that team was. The talent on the first 3 lines was enough to score almost at will, and the 4th line had a ton of speed and grit that could shut down anyone. Crazy. I honestly believe that the 2002 Red Wings are probably one of the greatest one-season teams of all time, and certainly the best I have ever seen.
We return to our series, and if you've been paying attention, then you realize that there have been certain players not mentioned so far. I don't think anyone is going to be surprised by 6 of the next 7 players, but I'm curious to see how this next guy is received. Here's #7:
Pertinent Stats: 554 GP, W-L-T-OTL/SOL 312-146-46-27, 39 SO, 2.48 GAA, .905 SV%
Awards: William Jennings Award (lowest GAA) - 1996, 2008
Stanley Cups: 3 - 1997, 1998, 2008
Has there ever been a player more derided and unappreciated than Chris Osgood? I swear, the number of non-Red Wing fans that believe that he is one of the luckiest players ever born never ceases to amaze me. Even some Red Wing fans have long maintained that the Wings would be better off without him. But what these fans fail to realize is just how good Ozzie is, and how the Red Wings are lucky to have him.
Osgood was drafted by the Wings in '91 (I still have a hockey card set with all the draft picks from the first few rounds that year, including Lindros and Osgood). If you weren't a fan of the Red Wings back in the late '80s/early '90s, then it's hard to understand just how long the Wings searched for the goalie that would lead them to success. It seemed like Tim Cheveldae was going to be that guy, but....well, it just didn't work out. Osgood came in as a rookie in 1993-94 and played ok. However, when the playoffs started, he was given the starter's job. I guess Scotty figured that no one else was going to get the job done, so why not give the rookie some much-needed experience. Plus, the Wings were playing the Sharks, who were going to get destroyed, right? Boy were they wrong. The Sharks upset the Wings, and the series winning goal was scored after a giveaway by Osgood behind the net. I can still remember him crying in the lockerroom after the game, knowing that his mistake was a big reason why the Wings were not able to get past an overmatched opponent. It wasn't all his fault, though.
The Wings picked up Mike Vernon the next year, and he and Osgood formed a nice 1-2 duo in the nets for the Detroit. In 1996 they combined to post the lowest GAA in the NHL, earning them a split of the Jennings Trophy. Osgood also led the league in wins that year with 39 and was a Vezina finalist, but once again neither he nor Vernon was enough to get the Wings to the Finals. In 1997 he was the backup for the playoffs as Vernon's Conn Smythe-winning goaltending helped carry the Wings to the Cup they had been sorely trying to win. Vernon departed after that season, and Osgood became the #1 guy. He didn't disappoint, leading the Wings to a second straight Stanley Cup.
The Wings were unable to advance past the second round for the next couple of seasons, and the Wings acquired Dominik Hasek in the summer of 2001. Osgood was left unprotected in the waiver draft and was picked up by the Islanders. He split the next 3 seasons between the Islanders and Blues, and helped both secure playoff spots during his stints there, a feat that should be considered Godly considering how garbage both of those teams have been since. In 2005, after the lockout was over, Ozzie came back home to Detroit and served as the backup to Manny Legace. When the Wings re-signed Hasek, Osgood stayed on as backup, but when Hasek was unable to beat the Predators in 2008, Ozzie stepped in as the starter and proceeded to only lose 4 of the next 18 games he played, posting a ridiculous 1.55 GAA and .930 SV%. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to recapture that level of play consistently, although he was one of the main reasons why the Wings were able to get back to the Finals in 2009, and certainly could not be blamed for the loss to the Penguins.
I picked Osgood for the list because I had to have a goalie, and he's the one who has made the biggest impact on the franchise in my lifetime. I don't think he's the "best" goalie the Wings have had: that honour would likely go to Hasek. But Osgood has been more important to the team given his tenure and the fact that he has backstopped (as the starter) 2 Cup winners. I picked him this high because I feel that he deserves the recognition for his contributions to the team.
Ah yes, the recognition. I would dare someone to show me a player that is universally disrespected by NHL fans as a whole like Osgood has been throughout his career. The argument has always been the same: he's not that good, it's the team in front of him. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that phrase or some variation of it, I would have enough money to buy an Osgood jersey. I have 2 counterarguments to this line of thinking:
First, no goalie in NHL history has not benefitted from having a good team in front of him, specifically a good defense corps. The 3 best goalies I have seen in my lifetime are Brodeur, Roy and Hasek; for anyone to suggest that they won Cups in spite of their teammates instead of because of them is patently absurd. If a goalie could do it on their own, then Hasek would have had 2 Cups with the Sabres long before he became a Red Wing; Brodeur would have more than the 3 he's got, and Roy would have more than 4. While I have no doubts that those guys made their teams better, the reverse is also true: they won Cups because they had good players in front of them. Second, and more specific to the Red Wings, if the team was so good, why haven't more goalies won Cups while they were a Wing? Guys like Curtis Joseph and Manny Legace were good goalies, but neither one of them even got close to winning. Was it their fault? In Legace's case, absolutely it was. But it wasn't Joseph's; he simply ran into a scorching hot opponent in Giguere.
I won't dispute that Osgood has had his fair share of "oops" moments; in 1998, he gave up a long goal in each of the first 3 rounds (Roenick's shot against Phoenix, Macinnis' shot against St Louis and Langenbruner's shot against Dallas). But what non-Wing fans fail to remember is that he followed up those bad goals with stellar games (he pitched a shutout the game after giving up the long OT goal against the Stars). While I don't believe that Osgood has ever been the type of guy that can steal a series, he hasn't had to be on the Wings; he just has to be as good as the other goalie. This is where having a good team in front of him can be a great benefit. However, what Osgood has always done is make the big save at the right time; when the Wings needed a big stop to slow the other team's momentum or keep the Wings in the game, more often than not he was able to make the stop and give the Wings a chance. Not many goalies in the last 20 years for the Wings have been able to do that *cough*Legace*cough*. Yet no one seems to understand this. I just don't think it's fair to heap all the blame for the Wings' failures on Osgood, but then turn around and not give him any credit when they succeed. 2008 is a perfect example of this. Were it not for Ozzie coming in to rescue arguably the best goalie of the last 10 years, the Wings might not survive the first round. Instead, he takes over and the Wings win yet another Cup. Hell, in 2009, had the Wings won Game 7, I believe he'd have a Conn Smythe on his mantle.
Out of all of the goalies I have seen wearing the Red and White, I can't think of a better one the Wings have had than Ozzie. While he struggled last year and in the regular season of 2008-09, his role has now changed. No longer is he the go-to guy the team relies on to get them through a playoff run; he's now the wily veteran who serves as mentor and friend to the goalie of the future, a Mr Jimmy Howard. More than once last year Howard commented on how good Osgood was to have as someone to teach and watch over him during his rookie season. It's clear that Osgood has embraced his role with open arms, as he has done anytime the Wings have asked him to do something. While he spent time with the Islanders and Blues, it's clear that Osgood will always be remembered as a Wing, and a good one at that. I look forward to the day when I can watch his Hall of Fame induction speech and see him drop the puck at the Leaf game that weekend.
I leave you with my favourite Chris Osgood memory. Keep in mind only 2 other goalies in NHL history has done this. A thing of beauty (sorry for the poor quality):
Simply amazing. Let's see Roy do that.