Thursday, June 5, 2008

No to HHOF for Chris Osaverage

The Detroit Red Wings are the 2008 Stanley Cup champions, providing yet more evidence that you do not need an elite goaltender or elite goaltending to win the Stanley Cup. The Wings followed in the long tradition of great teams winning Lord Stanley's mug. In NHL history, only 2 teams that finished the regular season outside of the top 6 in the league have won the championship, and both of those teams (the '91 Penguins and '95 Devils) won another Cup within the next 5 years with a similar cast of players, indicating that they were not flukes.

I've already addressed Chris Osgood's play in these playoffs - he was as good as he needed to be, given the huge advantage of playing on the Red Wings. But there were several players on the Wings who had a lot more to do with their victory than Osgood, led by Conn Smythe Trophy winner Henrik Zetterberg and captain Nik Lidstrom.

But in the course of the Wings' playoff run, a strange idea has been floated around among broadcasters, bloggers and message boarders, the notion that Chris Osgood is a Hall of Fame goalie. See here or here for examples. Some of it is just Red Wings fans being homers, of course, but evaluating Osgood once again gets into the basic question of the importance of team success for a goalie.

I particularly like this Barry Melrose quote from the second link above:

'"Marty Brodeur (of New Jersey) probably saw less shots than Ozzie's seen, with the Devils in their prime, and yet everyone thought he's such a great goaltender,'' Melrose said. "So I don't think Ozzie gets enough respect. He doesn't have to be great. He has to make key saves at key times. He always does that.'''

There are of course two ways to look at that comparison: either Osgood doesn't get enough respect, or the other guy gets too much of it, and I don't have to tell you which side I would take in that debate. And I would love to know when the "non-key times" of the game are when goalies can allow goals against without it having any impact on his team. Osgood "always" makes the key save at the key time in the game? Did Melrose miss game 5 of this series? Does anyone actually believe these ridiculous cliches?

I could write a big long summary of Osgood's save percentages and performance statistics and try to evaluate his team contexts in a quantitative fashion, but instead I'm just going to simply compare what his team did with Osgood in net compared to when he was on the bench:

Winning percentage, Chris Osgood (career): .631

Winning percentage, Chris Osgood's teammates: .639

Osgood has been rotating between the starter and backup roles for most of his career, so the teammates he played with range from outright backup types to future Hall of Famers. Sometimes he was the starter playing against the top opponents, and sometimes he was being sheltered as the backup for somebody else. Because of this, I don't think quality of teammates or opponents is an excuse for Osgood vs. his teammates. Osgood "won" a lot of games, as his fans love to point out, but so did everyone else who played goal for Detroit in the '90s and '00s. At the end of the day, through his long career, his team won slightly more often without him than with him, and that defines him as what he is - an average goalie who played on mostly great teams.

Chris Osgood and his teammates have accomplished a lot during his career, something is becoming apparent to many now that Osgood has spent some time in the spotlight of the Stanley Cup Final. But there could be 10-15 guys of his generation who are as good as or better than he was. That is why team success is mostly meaningless, since the main difference between Chris Osgood and someone like Arturs Irbe is not talent or actual performance, but merely Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman.

Esa Tikkanen, John Tonelli, Jean-Guy Talbot, Ross Lonsberry, and Rejean Houle aren't in the Hall of Fame, and you would probably get laughed at for even mentioning them as candidates. I doubt there will be many people championing Jamie Langenbrunner, Adam Foote, or Slava Kozlov either when they become eligible. But the Cheevers/Osgood-type goalie keeps not only getting mentioned, but sometimes even ends up getting voted in. Role players on dynasties or great teams should not be Hall of Famers, whether they are scorers, checkers, or goalies. In an ideal world, only truly dominant individuals should receive the honour, with team success far down the list of factors that determines who gets in and who is left out.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

"And I would love to know when the "non-key times" of the game are when goalies can allow goals against without it having any impact on his team."

Example: Allowing a goal with 2 minutes left in the game when your teams up 5-1 or allowing a goal with 2 minutes left when your team is up 2-1. Obviously giving up a goal in the first situation is a "Non-Key Time". Where as making the save in the second situation is a "Key Time".

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Right, and in the playoffs how much of the game can be considered a "non-key" time? Almost none of it, right, especially between two evenly matched teams? Look at the Detroit-Pittsburgh series, the score was close almost the entire way except for the third periods of games 1 and 2. In those two periods combined, Osgood made a total of 13 saves and let in 0 goals. So it looks like he made the non-key saves as well.

The vast majority of hockey is played with the score close, yet people still often claim that goalies "make the key saves at key times in the game" even if their stats aren't great. If they really did make all the so-called key saves, it would definitely show up in the numbers. Furthermore I've never seen evidence of goalies significantly improving or worsening in the clutch.

Actually, if you compare Osgood's third-period performance in those two games to later in the series, he did a lot better at "non-key" times. He let in 3 goals on just 21 shots in the third periods of games 3-6. He also allowed the OT winner in game 5.

So yes, some saves can turn out to be more "key" than others, but I don't think goalies do any better or worse in "key" vs. "non-key" times, broadcaster cliches notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

"That is why team success is mostly meaningless, since the main difference between Chris Osgood and someone like Arturs Irbe is not talent or actual performance, but merely Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman."

I guess my biggest beef with many of your posts is that you give the impression that to be a truly great goalie, a goalie has to carry the team on his back night in and night out. I don't think any GM would say "hey I got Dominik Hasek (in his prime) now all I have to do is fill the rest of the team with Tier C forwards and D-men because he can carry us every night". You get the best talent you can across the board. If Zetterberg and Lindstrom make Osgood better (Note: They were not able to make Hasek look better apparently) then it's mission accomplished.

Just my view, but I feel you unfaily weight the role of a goalie in what is a team sport. Many teams build around thier goalie and (try to) put the support in place to protect him. Whether it's good shot blockers, big guys to clear the crease or offensive D-men to help put a few pucks in the net at the other end, etc. A goalie (any goalie) will benefit from this to whatever extent the GM can assemble these players.

You know who should go to the hof because of this years cup win by Detriot, Ken Holland for being able to put it all together.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I guess my biggest beef with many of your posts is that you give the impression that to be a truly great goalie, a goalie has to carry the team on his back night in and night out. I don't think any GM would say "hey I got Dominik Hasek (in his prime) now all I have to do is fill the rest of the team with Tier C forwards and D-men because he can carry us every night".

I don't think a goalie can carry a team on his back night in and night out - as I have repeatedly argued the goalie is just a member of the team and can't do it all by himself. The best goalie of all-time on an awful team will not make the playoffs.

My philosophy is that there are simply a lot fewer truly great goalies than most people think, because often what is easily seen as greatness is really the effect of a great team situation. That is why I tend to be very strict in my standards in terms of which goalies I consider to be truly great.

You get the best talent you can across the board. If Zetterberg and Lindstrom make Osgood better (Note: They were not able to make Hasek look better apparently) then it's mission accomplished.

You are looking at it from a roster construction perspective, I am looking at it from a goalie evaluation perspective. Yes it is mission accomplished if you put a great defence in front of a goalie, for the team as a whole. But that doesn't mean the goalie is any better because his team wins. Not if the numbers indicate that he could be easily replaced and someone else could do just as good a job. My view is that if a goalie is only as good as the team in front of him and the other goalies that he plays with, then he is not great, and someone like Osgood definitely fits that description.

You know who should go to the hof because of this years cup win by Detriot, Ken Holland for being able to put it all together.

I'll second that.

sunnymehta.com said...

"At the end of the day, through his long career, his team won slightly more often without him than with him, and that defines him as what he is - an average goalie who played on mostly great teams."


That statement is blatantly false. The former part of the sentence does NOT prove the latter.

Also, you didn't mention that Osgood posted a .930 save percentage throughout these playoffs - pretty damn outstanding.

Having said that, I certainly agree with your point that voters for the HOF probably mistakenly overrate average players.

As I've said before though, I think you might underrate a CONSISTENTLY above average (even if only slightly above average) goalie. By definition there are only, what, 15 goalies in the world who are above average NHL goalies.

But more to the point, since so many of the margins are insignificant between an average and slightly above or below average goalie, what a great team really wants to avoid is having a goalie that's outside of the "pack". I.e. - a goalie significantly worse than average. See Tampa Bay.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

That statement is blatantly false. The former part of the sentence does NOT prove the latter.

The statement was based on the assumptions outlined earlier in the post, that Osgood did not play stronger or weaker opponents than his fellow goalies did, and that the range of abilities of the goalies he played with meant that they were on the whole probably roughly average.

Given those assumptions (he played against average opponents with average level goalie teammates), then yes it does follow that he is roughly average if he doesn't win any more games than his teammates do.

If you want numbers, I can give you numbers. One of my recent projects has been working on comparing stats for backup goalies playing with a specific goalie and then comparing that to what they did when they didn't play with that goalie. That allows us to see the team effect. Here are the numbers for Osgood:

Osgood's teammates:
.635 win %, 2.44 GAA, .903
Osgood's teammates on other teams:
.511 win %, 2.77 GAA, .904

Voila, evidence of the team effect at work. Osgood's teammates had almost identical stats as him when they played on the same team, yet were basically .500 goalies everywhere else. Hence, evidence seems to suggest Osgood is pretty average. Yes, there is some value to someone who is repeatedly average or slightly above-average. But that is still not even remotely close to greatness or Hall of Fame territory, and I still think there are probably a dozen contemporaries who match or exceed Osgood's level of play.

Anonymous said...

But... but... Osgood has won a few Cups! He MUST be great!! haha (good website)

Anonymous said...

The minute you quoted Barry Melrose, your point was moot.

If Osgood is overrated, why have the Red Wings (whom I'm a fan of) needed him as a part of the equation to win two Cups? I've been watching them since I was about five years old, around 1990, and they've been favored to win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of nearly every season since then. They play in a traditionally far-superior Western Conference for some odd reason, and are forced to endure a much tougher road to the Finals on average, but that's beside the point. There were literally scores of other goaltenders that tried to tend net with the immense talent the Red Wings boast literally every year, but were unsuccessful in their quest for a championship. Since their epic run of 20+ years straight making the NHL playoffs, only Mike Vernon, Osgood, and Dominick Hasek were able to win championships.

Osgood is only as good as teammates? What the hell does that even prove? This isn't the Ryder Cup, where such a stat would actually be relevant. Hockey is a team game. If Patrick Roy hadn't played on two very good teams throughout his career, there is no way in the world he'd be at the top of the all-time wins ladder. If Ozzie and him started their careers in the same year, I'd have to all but guarantee they'd be neck and neck as far as wins, and they'll probably be tied in Cups wins soon as well.

Your points seem to contradict each other at every turn and their associations seem to be very loose. You fail to consider the rule changes the NHL has undergone that todays goaltenders have had to endure. Someone like Roy played largely under the same rules their entire career, where as players like Osgood and Brodeur have had to adjust to several rule changes. You fail to consider the role of other players in the grand scheme of things. If a Lidstrom or Zetterberg or even short-time wing Bertuzzi doesn't deliver in the playoffs, folks are quick to write them off, basing their decision to do so on the mood and effectiveness of the team. If the goalie shoulders such a large part of the responsibility in that model, then you're literally saying every time Bertuzzi took a shift off or cold cocked someone in front of the net so he could get some much needed rest in the box, that it directly effects Osgood's stature? Please.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Anonymous, I'm not quite sure you understood my post. I quoted Melrose to rip him apart in the subsequent paragraph, because he very much disagrees with me regarding both Chris Osgood and Martin Brodeur.

The Wings have never "needed" Osgood, at least not in the sense they needed Lidstrom or Yzerman. All they needed was a goalie who was average or better to stop whatever pucks got through, because they were dominant enough to control the rest of the game. Osgood met that criterion, since you can't get much more average than Chris Osgood.

You fail to consider the role of other players in the grand scheme of things.

I think this is probably the first time anyone has ever accused me of that. This whole blog is dedicated to arguing that the rest of the team is more important than the goaltender. I don't understand how you would get that impression from anything I wrote in this post, either. Direct quote from above: "Team success is mostly meaningless".

Anonymous said...

I notice that you don't factor in Osgood's play for the Blues or the Isles. He was good for both teams. Neither team were as good as the Wings yet he was still pretty good.