Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Osgood Succeeds In New Role

"The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings."
-Okakura Kakuzo, author.

The art of winning lies in a constant readjustment to your surroundings. After all, being able to adjust to adversity and to new surroundings is what can make a team successful. It can also make an individual player successful for years. Fail to make the necessary adjustments, and you lose.

Chris Osgood, the Red Wings backup goaltender, is a perfect example of an athlete who has dealt with some adversity--the fluky injuries and diminished playing time--, has readjusted his game to better himself and the organization and, in the process, is winning.

The Red Wings have arguably one of the best backup goalies in the NHL in Osgood. It couldn't have been easy going from a starter--playing 50-65 games a year, averaging over 3,000 minutes of playing time per season--to a backup, playing 20-25 games a year, averaging about 1,500 minutes per season. Everything gets cut in half--your games played and your minutes. Demotion is never easy, no matter what your profession.

Yet, Osgood, 34, has found a way to make the transition seem relatively easy. The Red Wings have a tremendous luxury and insurance policy in net by having Osgood as their backup netminder. I still hear the complaints and criticism about Osgood from time to time, but I can't help but think he is vastly overlooked in this town as an important part of the Wings present and future.

Osgood's stats for the last two seasons as a backup in Detroit:
2005-06 Detroit 32gp, 20-6-5, 2so, 2.76 .897%
2006-07 Detroit 21gp, 11-3-6, 0so, 2.38 .907%

Those are not bad numbers for a guy who is used to averaging two to three times the amount of games played. You want your backup goalie to be able to step in and give your team a chance to win, no matter how tough the opponent is. Every game during the regular season can help determine if you make the playoffs, you're seeding, your place in the division, your place in the conference, etc. So getting points out of every game is a must. In this past season, when Osgood appeared between the pipes, the Red Wings gained 28 points out of a possible 42, that means in 66% of the games Osgood plays, the Wings got at least one point. Those 28 points were critical to the Wings success this season, not only in their division, but for their seeding in the playoffs.

Osgood has demonstrated that he can still be that goalie who is capable of stealing a game and the goalie that still gives his team confidence in his ability. Some teams do not have that luxury. When their backup starts a game, you can see the lack of confidence the team has in their goalie. It's displayed in the way they play the game on the ice. Not so with Detroit. This Red Wing team has confidence in their backup goalie and he showed them why in his games against Nashville.

Last season, Detroit engaged in a fierce battle with Nashville for the Central division title. Most of the season, Nashville lead Detroit. Clearly, Nashville was the Wings toughest divisional opponent and one of the best teams in the Western Conference. Osgood played 4 games against the Predators. In those four games, against the Wings only real divisional opponent, Osgood was 3-1 and allowed 10 goals, roughly 2.5 goals per game--enough to win in the "new" NHL. With the Wings win on March 29th against the Predators, with Osgood in net, they tied Nashville for the division lead. This was an important game for the Wings and Osgood performed well. To me, that shows tremendous confidence in the backup goalie from the head coach.

Osgood showed up big and demonstrated to his teammates, the organization and the fans that he still can play big in big games. Critics will dismiss Osgood's play or call his numbers "inflated" because of playing in games against much weaker teams (i.e. St. Louis, Columbus, Chicago, etc). You cannot fault Osgood for winning games against teams he's supposed to win against. Osgood didn't select the games he played in, but he showed up and gave his teammates a very good chance of winning each one of those games. The four games against Nashville were pressure-filled games and, as it is evident throughout his career, Osgood thrives on and performs well under pressure.

In Osgood's last two seasons as a backup, he is 31-9-11 with a very respectable 2.57 GAA. He brings something to the position that many backup goalies struggle with: consistency.

Despite making it look easy, the transition from starter to backup hasn't come without its fair share of adversity. After being signed by Detroit in July of 2006, Osgood missed the beginning of the season with a hand injury that would persist throughout the season and ultimately cause him to miss 15 games. This injury, combined with it being his first year as a backup, clearly affected Osgood's rhythm and timing in '06. In 2007, Osgood was hampered by a bout with the flu (2 games) and a broken finger that caused him to miss 8 games.

If Osgood can have a healthy season, he is capable of playing 30-35 games for the Red Wings and given his recent history as a backup, is capable of winning games and piling up points.

Someone has been watching the Wings goaltending tandem of Hasek and Osgood closely. That someone is Jimmy Howard, by all accounts the Red Wings future goalie. He is projected to join the Red Wings for the start of 2008-09 season. Osgood is signed through next season at $850,000--a very good value in the cap era.

In 1994-95, the Red Wings were a competitive team with a young, promising goalie. But they had yet to win the Stanley Cup. That offseason, the Red Wings brought in veteran goalie Mike Vernon from Calgary, a Stanley Cup champion goaltender. He worked with the talented young Osgood both on and off the ice. He became a mentor for the young goalie. Vernon's mentoring had a positive effect on Osgood's game and it had a positive effect in the locker room.

Now it's time for Osgood to return the favor and the Wings have an excellent opportunity to make this happen. If the Wings plan on tabbing Jimmy Howard as the starter in 08-09, I think re-signing Osgood would be a smart play. He is a veteran goalie who knows what it takes to win championships and should be signable for a very reasonable amount of money.

Who better to mentor the young promising Howard than the once young and promising Osgood? In Osgood, the Red Wings have a former all-star goalie with 2 Stanley Cups, a Jennings Trophy and over 600 games of NHL experience. Chris Osgood is the second winningest goalie in Red Wings history, behind Terry Sawchuck with 336 wins. He has a career goals against average of 2.45 and a career save percentage of .907: both very respectable numbers.

But there's another attribute that makes Osgood so valuable and it's something that may prove to be most beneficial to the impressionable young Howard--mental toughness. Nobody knows better than Osgood what it's like to play goalie in Detroit. Nobody knows better than Osgood what it takes to survive and to be successful in a town where the target is painted clearly on your chest, night in and night out. The only position with more pressure and scrutiny in this town is the Lions quarterback.

Bob MacNamara, the Griffins GM, said Howard needs to continue to work on the mental aspect of his game: "The mental side was coming around for him," McNamara said. "He was getting better and better and I think he’s close. He has a little ways to go, but I think he’s close. He recognizes it’s part of his development." The Wings have the perfect player to help Jimmy when he makes the jump, if they chose to resign him.

When Osgood replaced Vernon in 1997-98 and lead the Red Wings to their second of back-to-back championships, he endured his fair share of moments that might have crushed other goalies psyche's. The 50-60ft. goals he allowed throughout that playoff run would have been enough to make many goalies tuck their tail between their legs and hide. Look at Manny Legace: he told reporters he wanted to hang himself after the Edmonton series in 2005. Tim Cheveldae was chased out of town by a chorus of boo's. Curtis Joseph experienced first hand the pressures of trying to win here in Detroit when he drew the ire of fans for the Wings loss to Anaheim in 2003. Despite making the Western Conference Finals, Hasek is hearing criticism from fans. Simply put: it comes with the territory. The last three goalies to win the Stanley Cup for Detroit are Hasek, Osgood and Vernon. All three had tremendous mental toughness and awareness. They thrived under pressure, relished a challenge and exhibited an ability to rebound and recover mentally after allowing a bad goal. It didn't phase them. It didn't mess up the rest of their game. They didn't fold. Instead, they stood tall, or better yet--they stood on their heads and as a result, won the ultimate prize.

And that's what makes Osgood's stock rise here in Hockeytown. Osgood will be a free-agent after next season. I'm sure he feels in his mind he can still be a full-time starter. And for some teams, he probably could. But there is an opportunity here for Osgood to continue his readjustment and to continue making a transition that will help the organization that drafted him. Osgood was instrumental in his role last season and he is a goalie who can still help us next year and in the immediate future.

The Red Wings have Jimmy Howard waiting in the wings, fine-tuning his game. There's no doubt that when he's called up, he'll be looking for some guidance, for some veteran leadership. Osgood brings a wealth of experience and is well-liked in the dressing room. He is a teammate that will work with Jimmy, not ignore him. He is a goalie who will challenge Jimmy to be better, because after all, Osgood is a competitor and he still wants to play full time minutes. He is the backup goalie who is backing it up. He is the kind of mentor that Vernon was to him and I believe he will relish the opportunity to help mold and shape the Wings best goalie prospect to come along since, well....Chris Osgood.

Quote taken from Red Wings Central article, "Prospects Watch: Howard May Need More Time" by Matthew Wuest.


Baroque said...

First, awesome blog.

I suppose I'm in the minority, but I always liked Osgood. He keeps such a steady and even keel. Not only does he understand being a goaltender in Detroit, but he loves playing for the team and was thrilled when the Red Wings wanted him back. He is also the kind of person who will help a young goalie to become better, unlike some of the stories I've heard about Belfour. I like to see good guys stay where they are happy.

Pete said...

I have to agree that Osgood is underrated. I love having him as a backup. I would not mind to see him be the starter next year, though I know it won't happen.