Calmer, happier Osgood has Red Wings on verge of another Stanley Cup

DETROIT -- And so we come to the curious case of Chris Osgood.

Playoff MVP?

Hall of Famer?

Zen master?

Reformed curmudgeon?

Some of the above?


There is a tendency to put goaltenders into categories: moody, mental, jocular, cream of the crop, big-gamers or pretenders. Osgood may have strayed into each of those categories at one time or another.

And yet, here we are 10 years later, with the Stanley Cup in the house and Chris Osgood looking to deliver the goods for the Detroit Red Wings -- no matter what anyone thinks of him, no matter where people might be trying to pigeonhole him.

There is the game and there is little else.

"When you're young, you tend to take things too personal, and it's really not. You tend to exaggerate things," Osgood told ESPN.com on the eve of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, with Detroit holding a 3-1 series lead over Pittsburgh. "People write stuff, all people have different jobs when you're in the finals and in the playoffs.

"You just have to have fun with it. I enjoy talking to the media more and talking to people, getting to know more people. Just have more fun with it because it's not personal. Just everybody's doing their job. It's fun. ... It's when I get on the ice, it's just my time."

The 35-year-old native of Peace River, Alberta, is not the same goaltender he was 10 years ago, when he helped Detroit win a Stanley Cup but carried a rather sizable chip on his shoulder. But who among us can claim to be the same person now as a decade ago?

He is grounded and happy, and comfortable with his teammates as they are comfortable with him. Their comfort comes from his attitude, his work ethic and his talent, which this spring has brought to life all kinds of interesting discussions about Osgood's place in history.

For instance, is he worthy of playoff MVP consideration?

Well, is an MVP someone who comes off the bench in Game 4 of the first round and leads his team to a 13-3 record to put it on the brink of its fourth Stanley Cup since 1997? Is an MVP someone who records a 1.45 goals-against average and .936 save percentage and shuts out one of the most dynamic offenses in the league in the first two games of the Cup finals?

The answer is yes, of course, and so Osgood, as incongruous as it may seem to suggest, must be considered a Conn Smythe option.

"That's sick. Those are sick numbers," former teammate, Hall of Fame defenseman and current broadcast analyst Larry Murphy said of Osgood's performance this spring. "Because of that, do you come to the conclusion that he's playing better? I guess maybe you have no choice. I guess that's how I look at it -- you have no choice but to accept that fact.

"You're going to have to give in and say he's playing better."

And then there's the whole Hall of Fame thing.

Osgood is second in franchise history in wins, first in playoff victories and, at the end of the regular season, ranked 15th all-time with 363 victories. Given the Red Wings' penchant for success and the fact Osgood signed a three-year extension in January, it's likely he will finish in the top 10 for all-time wins.

But it is a testament to the wildly divergent views of Osgood the player that his selection or non-selection to the Hall will be the subject of terrific debate, whenever that time comes.

Was he ever a dominant player at his position? No.

But at the same time, he has displayed, later in his career, a mental toughness few would have believed possible, especially those who saw him a decade ago when he seemed ready to boil over at any moment, reacting to any slight.

"You always had the talent to play, but you need to have the mentality to play goalie in this league," Osgood said. "Everybody's talented. Every single guy that plays in this league can play, but you have to be able to control your emotions.

"After I play a game, I just try not to talk about hockey. I just try and blank my mind. Right after a game, right in the dressing room, I'll eat an orange or have a banana or do whatever I do to get stretched out, just try and breathe easy, just forget about hockey for a while, just to clear my mind so I'm not blowing my mind out anymore.

"I learned that from [Dominik Hasek]," he added. "He was relaxed off the ice. He was calm and jovial, then when the game started, it was 'Game on,' ready. I really noticed he saved his mind for the game. Sometimes, before, I was kind of blowing myself out even before I stopped the puck."

That Zen mind-set has impressed many.

"I think the difference is how he got to where he is this season and how he got to where he was that season," Murphy said. "This is a season where he definitely wasn't scheduled to start in the Stanley Cup finals. I think the process is different and you look at him differently because of it -- the journey."

Ah, yes, the journey.

Shouldn't some measure of greatness be in how that greatness is achieved? The evolution of that greatness? The dedication?

During the three years after Osgood and the Wings won the 1998 Cup, Osgood went 11-10 in the postseason as the Wings lost twice in the second round and once in the first round. They decided they couldn't win with Osgood in goal and waived him after signing Hasek.

Osgood ended up with the New York Islanders and helped turn around one of the worst teams in the NHL with a 32-win performance in 2001-02.

"Not very many people at all talk about when I went to Long Island. That was one of the best years of my career. People forget about that," Osgood said. "Some things just run its course. And that was my time. But I always knew I'd be back [here in Detroit]. I never had the feeling I wasn't going to be back. I just bided my time."

After a stop in St. Louis, Osgood did return to Detroit, where it was assumed he would move into semi-retirement playing behind Hasek. Yet, he never viewed it that way and here he is playing the best hockey of his career.

None of which comes as any surprise to longtime goaltending coach Jim Bedard.

"It's a credit to Chris. The biggest change was when the lockout ended. We wanted to try and work on our foot speed a lot more and get quicker," Bedard told ESPN.com this week. "Then, last year at training camp -- this was a year ago -- I said, 'I think you're going to be in the All-Star Game this year.' Well, he broke his wrist, hurt his groin and that was delayed, and this year he made it.

"You talk about full circle. When he broke his wrist, for six weeks all we did was foot-speed drills. And ever since we came back from that, we put it into our daily routine to a certain point and it's amazing how quick he is and he's strong and he competes. Since he came back, the last two years, I always say he's never taken a day off."

One of the interesting elements of the Stanley Cup finals has been Osgood's demeanor. He is more engaged, more willing to share what it does that makes him tick. He doesn't make it easy on questioners, nor should he. For instance, he is quick to debunk the myth that Detroit fans are hard on their goaltenders.

"It's funny how myths get started," he said at the outset of the finals. "To be honest with you, I've never felt that. I'm being pretty honest with you. They've always been behind me."

And he will not allow the notion -- that all of what has happened this season and through these playoffs is some big dream -- to go unchallenged. He has always believed he was a starter and always prepared as a starter, even if no one else around him expected him to be that.

"It's because I always know I can play. I'm 35. I don't think I'd be 15 years deep if I couldn't play," Osgood said. "I'm just a quiet guy. I don't like bragging about myself. Save that for another day."

It's quiet in the Red Wings' dressing room now. Tonight, the Stanley Cup will be in the building. So will Osgood. No big deal.

"I think when you get older, you learn to control your emotions," Osgood said Sunday. "It's trial and error when you're younger. I mean, you don't really know. ... I just live in the moment when I'm playing. I don't focus on what happened in the last game or what's going to happen ahead or what might happen ahead. The best feelings I have are when I'm on the ice. That's when I'm at my most relaxed.

"It's how I've kind of simplified and made it easier on my brain."

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.