When Chris Osgood announced his retirement on Tuesday, hockey fans across North America began showering the veteran netminder with praise for his lengthy and successful career.
The long time Detroit Red Wings keeper walked away from the game with three Stanley Cup rings and over 400 wins.
Fans and hockey pundits immediately anointed the Alberta native as a future member of the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the calls for Osgood to be immortalized in hockey’s Hall are more indicative of today’s sub-par standards for greatness than a measure of his talents.
Osgood was a good goaltender for a very long time. This is without question. He sits among the top 10 in regular season wins, playoff wins, and playoff shutouts.
Although these statistics seem impressive, they can’t be attributed solely to his talents. Osgood benefited from playing most of his career on a star-studded Red Wings team that only needed an average goalie to be successful.
Simply put, he was in the right place, at the right time.
He had the luxury of playing behind multiple Norris Trophy winners Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios. He played behind some of the best defensive minded forwards of the modern era, such as Selke Trophy winners Sergei Federov, Steve Yzerman, and Pavel Datsyuk.
The Red Wings teams which Osgood played for were offensive juggernauts- only once over the past 13 years did the Wings finish outside the top 10 in scoring.
While his teammates were establishing their dominance over the rest of the league, Osgood never managed to shine as an individual.
He never captured the Vezina Trophy, the award for the league’s top goaltender. In the past 17 years, only twice did he finish among the top five in goals against average, playing only 43 and 50 games respectively in those two seasons. He was never among the top five in save percentage and was recognized as an all-star only once.
Perhaps even more detrimental to his Hall of Fame candidature however, is the success of the Red Wings in years which he wasn’t the team’s number one goaltender.
The Wings were able to capture hockey’s Holy Grail in 1997 while Osgood was playing backup to Mike Vernon. In 2002, while Osgood was playing in Long Island, the Wings won with Dominik Hasek as their starting goalie. The Wings had proven that they didn’t need Osgood to be successful, twice.
Osgood had a long career and never hurt his team. This doesn’t mean we should mistake his longevity for greatness.
If they had a Hall of Fame for above average players, Osgood would be a shoe-in. Unfortunately for him, pretty good isn’t nearly good enough.
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