Chris Osgood, currently injured, won his 400th career game in late December; only 10 goaltenders have ever done that. He's No. 8 all-time in playoff wins (74) and has won three Stanley Cups, including two as his team's primary goaltender.
If the current injury indicates Osgood is near the end of his run, the question arises: Is he good enough to make the Hockey Hall of Fame?
The problem, at first glance, is this: More than any other goaltender in recent history, Osgood's reputation has been burnished by playing on good teams. Osgood recorded 316 of his 400 wins with the Detroit Red Wings, the league's powerhouse team for the past 15 years.
If you were to play "what if" with Osgood's career, start with this: His teams have provided him with about 400 goals above average during his 744 games. A good rule of thumb is that six goals lead to one extra win, which means Osgood's teammates have padded his win totals by about 65 more wins than expected. On an average team, Osgood would have won 335 games. This is not too shabby, but suddenly he'd no longer be 10th in all-time wins but 17th, behind Dominik Hasek, Mike Vernon, John Vanbiesbrouck, Andy Moog, Tom Barrasso and Rogatien Vachon. Hasek will eventually be in the Hall of Fame, but none of the others is currently.
While Osgood has often been a good goaltender during his career, he was rarely considered a great one; consider the fact that he's finished in the top five in save percentage only once, and that was during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.
Some of Osgood's lack of recognition during his career has come from overlapping with a particularly dominant crop of goaltenders: Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Ed Belfour and Hasek all had their primes roughly at the same time as Osgood, making it different for other goaltenders to shine (just ask Curtis Joseph).
Osgood, though, is clearly not in the same league as those four. Roy won three Conn Smythe Trophies as playoff MVP and is considered by some the greatest playoff performer of all time. Brodeur is the NHL's all-time wins and shutouts leader. Hasek won six Vezina trophies from 1994 to 2001. Belfour won two Vezinas, led the NHL in save percentage twice, and is third in regular-season wins and fourth in playoff wins, ahead of Osgood in both categories. Roy is already in the Hall of Fame; the other three should get in before Osgood even gets a second glance.
Here's a graphic comparison:
All of this is not to take away from Osgood's laudable accomplishments during his career. Until 2009, he had recorded only one mediocre season out of 14, in 2002-03; every other season he was a solid if unspectacular No. 1 goaltender, good enough for the win.
His most impressive accomplishments, however, have come in the past three seasons, in the two playoff runs that have transformed public perception of him. In 2008, Osgood took over for a faltering Hasek and proceeded to erect a wall in front of the Detroit net, posting a 1.55 GAA and a .930 save percentage en route to the Stanley Cup. While it seemed nothing could stop the Red Wings that season, Osgood's play added to the aura of invincibility. Osgood was just as essential in 2009, as the Wings were battered and tired. With Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg not at full strength, Osgood kept his team in every game, allowing two goals or fewer in 16 of 23 games. Had the Red Wings managed a win in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, Osgood would have been the logical choice for the Conn Smythe, an award that would have strengthened his case for the Hall of Fame.
The best comparable to Osgood is not Brodeur or Belfour but Vernon, another good-but-not-great goaltender who won 385 regular-season games and two Stanley Cups. Like Osgood, Vernon was never considered the best goaltender in the NHL, but was good enough for an elite team like the 1989 Calgary Flames or the 1997 Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup. In fact, Vernon replaced Osgood as the Wings' playoff starter in 1997 and won the Conn Smythe.
The 400 wins, 74 playoff wins and three Cups are impressive, and Osgood is also fourth in playoff shutouts, with 15. His career totals will stick out too clearly to be ignored, much as Dino Ciccarelli's 608 goals eventually got him in this year. The Hall of Fame voters have shown in the past that they are more impressed with Stanley Cup rings than elite-level talent, most notably with the induction of Clark Gillies in 2002.
Ultimately, we do a disservice to our players by demanding of them that they be more than what they are. Osgood was a good goaltender for a very long time. He was the type of goaltender who fit in well with Detroit's system, a reliable guy who didn't let his ego get in the way of the team's success. Red Wings fans can celebrate the role Ozzie played in their team's success. Just don't ask him to be a Hall of Famer.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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