Ex-Wing Chris Osgood cheers for Hall-bound Hasek
Detroit — From afar, it might seem a little odd that Chris Osgood is heading to Toronto this weekend to celebrate Dominik Hasek's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
After all, Hasek's arrival in 2001 hastened Osgood's four-year exile from the Red Wings family and cost him a Stanley Cup ring in that 2001-2002 season. And it was Hasek who five years later relegated Osgood to back-up status in 2006-2007 and for the first part of the 2007-2008 season.
So if Osgood were to just send Hasek a congratulatory text, no jury would convict, right? Except that Osgood and Hasek became fast friends as well as fierce competitors in their time together in Detroit and Osgood wouldn't miss the induction ceremony Monday for anything.
"The truth is there was never any animosity between us," Osgood said. "In the end, we probably met at the perfect time in our career. We really enjoyed playing together and we probably pushed each other."
Hasek, the six-time Vezina Trophy winner and two-time Hart Trophy winner, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday along with Westland native and former Red Wing Mike Modano, Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg, the late Pat Burns, referee Bill McCreary and USA Today hockey writer and Eastern Michigan grad Kevin Allen.
"I had heard so many stories about Dominik before I knew him," Osgood said. "But I tried to go into it with nothing preconceived. I wanted it to be like I never met him before, and as I got to know him we got along really well."
The fact that he and Hasek clicked so well has caused Osgood to second-guess himself about leaving the Wings before the 2001-2002 season.
Here's what happened: On July 1, the Wings traded Slava Kozlov and their first round pick (turned out to be Jim Slater) to Buffalo for Hasek. Hasek's salary was going to be $8 million. Osgood, who had been the team's starting goaltender the previous four seasons and helped the team win Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998, was set to make $4.5 million.
He didn't need help reading the writing on the wall.
"Like everybody else, you're expendable to certain guys in the league," he said.
With Manny Legace ready to step in as much more inexpensive back-up, general manager Ken Holland put Osgood on waivers and he was quickly signed by the New York Islanders.
"That's the one real regret I have," Osgood said. "And it's not a slight to anyone because I loved playing in New York and I loved playing in St. Louis. It's just the fact that, now that I look back on it, I wish I would've stayed when Dom did come. Looking at it now, there was really no reason not to.
"I had some great years in New York, yeah, and (staying in Detroit with Hasek) would have cost me some games played. But in the end, I probably would've been better for it and I probably would've played more than I might've expected at the time."
Two star goalies, never a problem
He's right about that. Hasek is seven years older than Osgood. Hasek was 36 in 2001. He sat out the 2002-2003 season, came back in 2003-2004, but went to Ottawa for 2005-2006. By the time he came back to Detroit in 2006, he was 41 years old.
"Dom and I got along well before I left in training camp (of 2001) so when we came back to play together (in 2006), there was no animosity at all," Osgood said. "We never even really talked about it."
Their bond stayed strong even after Osgood replaced Hasek as the starter late in the 2007-2008 season and went 14-4 in the Wings' run to the Stanley Cup.
"The thing about Dom and I, we were the same off the ice and at practice," Osgood said. "Regardless if I was playing or if he was playing, there really was never any difference. We did the same things all the time."
Coach Mike Babcock was asked if there was any added stress during that season trying to juggle and placate two strong-willed, competitive and accomplished goalies.
"I like battles," he said. "I like good players. The more good players, the better it is for a coach. Dom is a great guy and Ozzie is a great guy. It was never a problem."
Jimmy Howard, the team's top goalie now, was a member of the Black Aces (a group of young players selected to practice with the team during the playoffs) in 2008. He talked about how Hasek handled the demotion.
"When he was taken out in '08, the things he did to keep himself sharp in practice, it was mind-blowing to watch," he said. "Especially at the age of 41. He'd spend an hour out there after practice taking shots. His work ethic was second to none."
Howard laughed when he was asked if he ever tried to play goalie like the acrobatic Hasek.
"No, because, unfortunately I have a spine," he said. "He just bends. He's able to put his body in positions normal human beings can't."
A couple Hasek tales
Both Howard and Osgood did take one lesson from Hasek; they learned how to keep the game separate from their actual life.
"He never thought about hockey until he was going out there to play," Howard said. "He constantly had other things on his mind. But he'd strap on his pads it he'd be like, 'All right, I am going out there to play,' and then he'd go out get a shutout."
Osgood used the 2007 playoffs as an example. Tied 2-2 in the conference semifinals at San Jose, Hasek dragged Osgood, goalie coach Jim Bedard and some others out to a San Francisco Giants game the night before Game 5.
"Dom likes to do stuff, he's not the type to sit in his hotel room before a game, no matter what the situation in the game is," Osgood said. "That's something guys can learn from. Instead of being cooped up and stressing yourself out for no reason, he took us out to a Giants game."
Hasek didn't just go to the game. He absorbed himself in the full fan experience. He bought souvenirs. He stuffed himself with every type of food that was sold inside Candlestick Park that night.
"And the next night at the game he was unbelievable," Osgood said of Hasek's 2-0 shutout over the Sharks in Game 5. "I think he was the No. 1 star."
Hasek did the same thing before Game 3 of the conference finals in Anaheim. He took Osgood and a crew to a Dodgers game. Next night, he pitched another shutout.
"I think for him, he puts so much into playing that he needed a release," Osgood said. "Just to get away from it. I've never seen a guy more competitive, more focused on the ice.
"I was always trying to figure him out. I was like, maybe this is his way of not thinking about hockey. People don't realize this but Dom is a really smart guy, really smart. So maybe if he sits around, he thinks too much. I could be completely wrong but he always wanted to do something other than just sit around the hotel thinking about the game."
He saw the game differently
Osgood called Hasek "the Wayne Gretzky of goalies," because he played that position like nobody else had before him or has since.
"We'd be doing a drill in practice and I'd be in the corner (watching) and I'd say to Jim (Bedard), 'I could never get away with that,'" Osgood said. "I always wondered how he could do some of the stuff he did and I realized, he saw the game differently than anybody else."
Case in point, his famous sliding save against Marian Gaborik in 2007 when he skated out to the top of the circles, met Gaborik who was on a full-fledged breakaway, and not only did he stop the puck, but he flipped Gaborik head over heels.
"If any other goalie does that," Osgood said, "you are completely missing the guy, you are sliding into the neutral zone, he's scoring into the open net and you look like an idiot. Not Dom. As unorthodox as he was, he knew what he was doing."
So, yes, Osgood will be there Monday to celebrate Hasek's induction in the Hall of Fame. And who knows, maybe in a few years, Hasek will be able to return the favor.
There is much debate in hockey circles about Osgood's candidacy, but should he get in, people will wonder how two Hall of Fame goalies could happily co-exist on the same team for those two magical seasons.
"If we would have been in the parts of our careers where we were still fighting to establish ourselves, I'm not sure it would have worked," Osgood said. "He was a superstar goalie. I am not trying to compare myself to Dominik Hasek. But at that time, we were both older and in the later stages of our careers. So for us, it was just about winning again. We just wanted to win another Cup before we were done. That's all there was to it. Neither of us knew if we'd have another year, another two years or if that was going to be our last chance.
"We had one goal — to win another Cup — and it didn't matter who was playing."
Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky