In the summer of 2006, with future starter Jimmy Howard still needing a year or two in the minors, Holland had to find the team a Cup-contending starter that would accept a short term cap-friendly deal, and these guys do not grow on trees. So he reached…or better yet, gambled on a familiar face in Dominik Hasek. The gamble paid off, and Hasek’s third stint with the Wings was tremendous. He posted a solid regular season, and followed it with a strong post season, and the team played confidently in front of him. Hasek’s performance last season gave Holland no reason not to roll the dice on him again. As a matter of fact, it was an off-season priority.
As the Red Wings approach the postseason this year, its starting to look like this year’s gamble is not going to pay off. Hasek is 44, and has had little work in the last two months due to both injury and illness. When he has suited up, his play has been spotty at best, being pulled several times. The Wings have only two games left to get him playoff-ready, and it might not be enough. Even at a younger age, it took plenty of rubber to get this guy into gear, now at an older age, one has to question if that gear is still even there.
Meanwhile, Chris Osgood is enjoying an excellent season. His positioning is sound, his rebound control has improved with the additional work this season, and he is one of the better puck moving goaltenders. Game after game, he continues to make the saves he should make, and more than he has in recent years, he has been making a few that he shouldn’t. Overall, the team seams to be playing confident in front of him, because his play is not costing this team any games. Now, Osgood is not an all world-caliber net minder, he’s not a goalie that has won six Vezina Trophies, he’s not a goalie that has two consecutive Hart Trophies, and he’s not a goalie that makes a shooter pause about where they want to put the puck. But unfortunately neither is the guy he is competing with anymore, at least not at this point.
The Wings have had the West locked up for sometime and have obviously put the rest of the season on cruise control. Come the post season, they will be facing a desperate team that has been scraping to get into the playoffs for the past two months and has nothing to lose. They may need a great goaltending performance while the team in front gets themselves into gear, especially as players return from injury. Can the Red Wings afford to let Hasek play himself into form in playoff games? Can the Wings risk going 1-1 or even 0-2 heading into the opponent’s house, especially when they could be facing a goalie the caliber of Luongo?
Osgood has clearly outplayed Hasek for most of the season, and is the hot goalie going into the playoffs. Babcock will likely start Hasek these last two games, but if he does not stand on his head, it is time for him to hand over the keys, jump in the backseat and enjoy the ride. Mike Babcock himself has said this is one of the best teams he has ever coached, and likely his best chance yet to win the Cup, you have to wonder how long he will give Hasek to regain his form, before he finally puts in the rightful starter.