Chris Osgood hangs up skates, looks to coaching, Hall of Fame
It was a lot harder than he ever imagined it would be, but after wrestling with the decision and lingering uncertainty about his surgically repaired groin all summer, long-time Detroit Red Wings’ goaltender Chris Osgood retired on Tuesday.
“I wrestled with it every day,” Osgood, who will remain with the Red Wings as a goaltending consultant, told a conference call. “It was on my mind and made it difficult for me to even operate some days because it was taking a toll. I thought it would be easier, but it’s been very difficult for the last few months here deciding what I should do.”
With three Stanley Cups and a spot near the top of the NHL’s all time career wins list with 401 regular season victories, Osgood isn’t worried about his legacy, leaving it to others to argue whether his accomplishments behind an often-loaded, usually dominant Red Wings team, warrant Hall of Fame consideration when he becomes eligible three years from now.
In his own eyes, Osgood belongs.
“It means a lot to me,” Osgood said of the Hall of Fame during a conference call to announce his retirement. “I feel like I do deserve to be there. It’s never easy playing goalie for any team in the National Hockey League.”
Often overshadowed by teammates that include several current and future no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Fame players like Steve Yzerman and Niklas Lidstrom, Osgood won his first Stanley Cup as a backup to Mike Vernon in 1997, then added a second as the starter in 1998 during a season that included a spirited scrap with Colorado’s Patrick Roy. But for all the hand-wringing over Osgood’s role in those Cup wins, there should be little argument about his third championship.
After returning to the Red Wings following a three-year exile with the New York Islanders — he led them to the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons his first year — and the St. Louis Blues, Osgood completely rebuilt his game during the lockout, a radical transformation detailed in-depth in a feature that ran in the inaugural InGoal Summer Camp edition. It was a big change for a guy who could have easily rested on his laurels, but paid off by extending his career six seasons and adding 96 wins to his impressive total. But it paid off most in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Showing off the more efficient mechanics he’d learned under the tutelage of Stan Matwijiw of Bandit’s Goalie Schools in Michigan, Osgood took over for a struggling Dominik Hasek in the first round and guided the Wings to the Cup. Osgood came within one win of a fourth Cup the next year, but lost in seven games to Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pittsburgh Penguins, and over the last two seasons began losing starts — first to Jimmy Howard and then to injuries.
Osgood only played 11 games last season, but still managed to win his 400th game in December, making 46 saves on one leg against the rival Avalanche, before undergoing sports hernia surgery in January. In May, after the Red Wings were knocked out of the playoffs by San Jose, Osgood told long time General Manager Ken Holland, who he regards as being like “a second father,” that he had another year in him. But the uncertainty of his injury eventually changed his mind.
“I could have told Kenny I was 100 percent ready to go,” Osgood said. “I have been working out since I came back from surgery, but I couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t get hurt again. Part of my decision is I didn’t want to put (the team) in a situation where come December I can’t play anymore. That wouldn’t look good for me or the team.”
“I definitely wouldn’t have (retired),” Osgood said when asked what 400 wins meant to him. “I was going to play until I got it regardless and do whatever it takes to get to 400. That sounds selfish, but that would have been my decision.”
Osgood’s retirement also ends the career of his old-school helmet-and-cage set up, which believe it or not had roots in Russia’s Red Army (though Rick Dipeitro did end last season with the Islanders wearing one of Osgood’s old masks), but the Red Wings will probably continue to ask their back-ups (and they signed Ty Conklin Wednesday to fill that role next season, something he’s done well in the past) to hold a clipboard like an NFL backup quarterback.
As for Osgood himself, the 38-year-old will stay with the Red Wings as a goalie consultant and will help mentor their young goaltending prospects, something he talked about pursuing during an Ask a Pro segment with InGoal earlier this season.
The debate about the Hall of Fame will undoubtedly focus on his win total — 401 is 10th on the all-time list — but should perhaps look more closely at Osgood’s ability to bounce back and clutch up when it counted most, with a 74-49 record, 2.09 goals-against average and 15 shutouts (fourth all time) in the playoffs, and remember, playing behind Detroit wasn’t always as easy as some made it out to be. Just ask Curtis Joseph, who went there to win a Cup but struggled seeing so few shots.
“He’s been an incredible competitor with tremendous mental toughness,” said General Manager Ken Holland, who Osgood described as a “second father” on Tuesday. “If it was so easy everybody would be doing it.”