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.