Longtime Detroit Red Wings netminder and owner of three Stanley Cup rings Chris Osgood might be one of the great Hall of Fame bubble cases of all time. His statistics, were they taken in a vacuum, would guarantee him a spot in the Hall of Fame, as he ranks statistically with some of the game's greatest goaltenders, including a bevy of netminders already enshrined. Yet there is a perception in many circles that he was simply an average-to-good goaltender who won the hockey lottery backstopping a dynastic team coach by one of the greatest coaches of all time in Scotty Bowman. How perception will ultimately reflect or influence reality in the coming years when it comes to voting promises to be one of the most interesting Hall of Fame debates of all.
The Case For
Where to start? Well, as of this writing, Osgood ranks 10th all time in wins among goaltenders with 401 (Roberto Luongo will pass him shortly, and Luongo will no doubt become the subject of an interesting Hall of Fame debate in the coming years). Osgood won three Stanley Cups -- two as a starter -- and came within two wins in 2009 of winning a fourth as Detroit was defeated by Pittsburgh in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena. His 74 postseason wins are eighth all time, and his 15 shutouts in the playoffs are fourth all time. Was he flashy a la Dominik Hasek, who backed up Osgood during the Wings’ run to the Cup in 2008? No. But did he provide top-notch goaltending when his team needed it the most? The answer is, unequivocally, yes. In 1996, he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy while he and partner Mike Vernon shared the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league, and Osgood led the league in wins. In 2008, he led the league with a 2.09 goals-against average, although he split time with Hasek and appeared in only 43 games. That spring, he replaced Hasek early in the playoffs and was given significant Conn Smythe consideration as playoff MVP after turning in a 14-4 record with 1.55 GAA (the award ultimately went to Henrik Zetterberg). His playoff GAA was also tops among playoff netminders that spring. After enduring a miserable regular season the following year, Osgood rebounded to take his team to a second straight Stanley Cup finals with a 15-8 record, 2.01 GAA and .926 save percentage -- again putting him in the discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy, reinforcing his status as one of the game’s top money goaltenders. He was durable and dependable, and while he might not have had the profile of peers such as Ed Belfour, his numbers stack up favorably with those of Belfour, a Hall of Famer who won a single Cup in Dallas in 1999. I think Belfour deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but so does Osgood.
The Case Against
The case against Osgood is almost entirely subjective. One favorite benchmark question for discussing Hall of Famers: Was Osgood ever the best at his position? No. Not in the popular sense of the word, not like Belfour or Brodeur or Hasek or Roy. The argument is that he wasn’t necessarily an elite netminder, and that pretty much any average goaltender could have enjoyed the success that Osgood enjoyed with the Red Wings. But that’s a specious argument. No other goaltender did what Osgood did with the Red Wings. Not Curtis Joseph, not Tim Cheveldae, not Bob Essensa, not Manny Legace. But Osgood did. Do the Wings win those two Cups in 1998 and 2008 with someone else in goal? Maybe. All we know is what happened: that for a long period of time when the Wings were the best team in the NHL, Chris Osgood was the man they most often turned to to keep them in that lofty position. Another part of the case against Osgood is that he is perceived as never having "stolen" a playoff series for the Wings. Alternatively, people remember his gaffe in the first round of the 1994 playoffs during his rookie season, when he misplayed a puck into a series-winning goal for the Sharks in Game 7. He also has no international experience to pad his resume.
Heck, yes, Chris Osgood is a Hall of Famer in our books.
ESPN Panel: 55 percent voted into Hall.