25 January 2010

In Defense of the Wizzard: From "Pride of the Emerald City" to "Dude Behind a Curtain"

See what I did there? Clever, eh?

First, two quick apologies. 1) Sorry I've been silent for some time. It's been a helluva busy start to the semester. 2) Sorry for the length of this post. I think lots needed to be said, and I certainly was not sparing in saying it. So grab a Red Bull or six and settle in.

Lots of talk lately about the goal-tending controversy in Detroit. Though, here, the word controversy isn't applied in the way it is for most franchises. Usually, a controversy means that there is some debate open to whether or not the backup will unseat the starter. In Detroit, it's clear James Howard is your man. The Chicago game last Sunday (God the Hawks are easier to hate when they don't suck) was Jimmy's twelfth straight start. I cannot remember the last time a Red Wing goalie went 12 in a row. At least in recent history, there's almost always been a 2 or 3:1 starting ratio. Sometimes you'd get six or seven deep, but that's about it. Clearly, Jimmy Howard is the starter.

Here, controversy means something much different. Most of the controversy surrounds the comments that Mr. Osgood has made in the press. He sure as hell doesn't appear to be holding back. I'm confident that most of you have seen these comments by now, but just for the hell of it, lets recap:

Before the Caps Game on Tues:
  • "The Capitals are the highest-scoring team in the NHL. 'That’s quite a coincidence. Or maybe not,' Osgood said after the morning skate. 'We’ll see how it works out.'" Khan - Mlive
  • "'At the start of the year, Howie (Jimmy Howard) didn’t play for about a month and then I didn’t play for a month,' Osgood said before Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center. 'To me, that’s not a good way of doing things, to let one guy get stagnant'" Khan - Mlive
After the Caps Game:
  • "Asked if the loss is tougher to take because the team is desperate for points, Osgood said, 'I got him (Babcock) a lot of points. I got him to the (Stanley Cup) finals twice.'" Khan - Mlive
Hot dog. That right there is a controversy.

A few points before I continue:
  • I don't like the fact that Ozzie has said these things in the media. I don't think that the best policy for a struggling goaltender is to berate the coach in the press.
  • I don't know shit about hockey. I've clearly demonstrated that here on this blog. I certainly will never be as in-tune with the game as Babcock. Ever.
That being said. I understand it. I truly understand the frustration. In fact, if it were me, I'd probably be saying much harsher things. These would be things that Mr. Khan would have difficulty getting past his editor. That being said, I'd probably be doing so in another city. I'd get up and march my ass straight to Kenny Holland's home, tell him that I have no interest in playing for a team that doesn't respect me, and I'd jump ship. Is it the most honorable, sportsmanlike, or reasoned approach? Not at all. Is it reasonable? I think so. Allow me to elaborate.

Chris Osgood is an absolutely integral part of the Wing's success in Gary "piss-ant" Bettman's post-cap NHL.

Yeah, that's what his mother called him. Also, you know what? I'll do you one better. Ozzie is one of THE MOST integral parts of the Wings' success since the imposition of the cap. I know - he's not Martin Brodeur. He's not even the best player on the team. Hell, not by a long shot. However:

Chris Osgood is - without question - the absolute best playoff goaltender of the past 15 years.

Go ahead and refute that... I'll wait...

That's what I thought. Ozzie's got three cups and he was the starting goaltender for two of those. He's been to two Stanley Cup Finals since the lockout, and he played amazingly throughout the playoffs for both of those runs, sometimes putting the team on his back. He's one of the most experienced and successful goaltenders in the league. And what is he compensated for that kind of resume?
  • A cool $1.45 million.
Dude makes less than Draper, Holmstrom, Jason Williams, and Todd "get off the bandwagon guys, he's a streaky fuck player" Bertuzzi. Compared to other netminders? Here's a few that make close to Ozzie:
  • Scott "Backup-for-the-panthers" Clemmensen: $1.2m
  • Mathieu "Who?" Garon: $1.1m
  • Peter "not good" Budaj: $1.25m
That's right. Dude's pulling down Peter Budaj money. Now consider the amount of cash most franchises pay their goaltenders. Here's a quick illustration of some checks currently being cashed by goaltenders who's ring fingers are ridiculously light:

Yeah. Also on that list? Backstrom ($6m), DiPietro ($4.5m), and fuck - Vesa Fucking Toskala makes $4m. Pascal Leclaire? $3.8m. Ridiculous.

My point?

In a cap world, you need efficient salaries to compete. I'm willing to bet Ozzie's contract is likely the most efficient non-rookie paycheck in the league. The dude has done wonders, and his hardware does not lie. The Wings' dish out less money to Ozzie than they use to pay Todd Bertuzzi to take stupid penalties in the offensive zone. Beyond his outstanding play, that salary was integral in our regular and post-season success the last couple of years.

Think of it this way: If you get rid of Ozzie within the last couple of years and pick up a goaltender that will truly be amazing during the regular season, you HAVE to also ditch at least one of our cornerstone players. We simply could not afford them. Period.

  • You think the 08 cup or the 09 finals would have been reality without Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Rafalski, or Filppula?
Didn't think so.

Granted, none of this really excuses Ozzie's lackadaisical play over the last regular season and a half. Nor does it entitle the man to a starting job if he cannot perform to the levels that he needs to to keep it. But repeated slaps in the face? Starting a rookie for 12 games in a row? Starting him through back-to-backs and after poor performances? That's beyond a goaltending policy - it's a statement. It is a statement to Chris Osgood that he's not respected, nor his he trusted. At all. Not even a little bit. It is a public declaration by Mike Babcock:
"Chris, you are bad. You are not a good goaltender and you don't deserve an NHL job. You're lucky you have a contract, otherwise you'd be chain-smoking Parliament Lights in some Plymouth dive bar while literally anyone else more than capably filled your spot on the bench. Furthermore, your sister is a whore and your family is not respected in the community."
Something like that.

Ozzie's been publicly bitch-slapped. And by the organization he has contributed so much to, no less. As I alluded to earlier, if I were in that position I'd be a bit less than thrilled. Those quotes I included from Ozzie? Mine would resemble something like this:
  • "Yep. Going up against the Caps. Quite the potent offense there... good thing I'm limber and ready to go, what with all that strenuous game-time activity of keeping track of faceoff wins for the last 12 games. Boy, I sure do hope Brett Fucking Lebda is on the ice. He's really pulled my ass from the fire time and time again. Good to see his -8 is still getting ample ice time and not being benched in favor of a rookie. That'd be terrible..."
  • "Babcock? Yeah, great coach. Also a Class A fuck-bucket. Dude's gonna slap me in the dick and then throw me to the wolves? I hope he gets hit by a plane. Seriously. I hope he's walking down the sidewalk and a fucking plane just falls right out of the sky and murders him. Yeah, that sounds about right."
  • "Yeah, losses are hard. Hey, funny story. You guys remember in 2007 -08 when I played out of my motherfuck mind. Every time I took the ice I uncle-fucked the entire other team. Then come playoffs, Dom 'Meet You At The Faceoff Circles' Hasek got the start. After he decided he was no longer interested in preventing pucks from entering the goal, Professor Happypants reluctantly threw me in. I forget - could you remind me what I did next? What's that Helene? Oh yeah. I picked the team up and put them on my back. Me and the Mule decided we wanted to hang out in the finals together. Yeah, the finals where I got two consecutive shutouts. Those finals. So, uh, do I think that if we miss the playoffs this year it's my fault because I didn't save the defense's ass after filling out charts for 12 games? I'll answer that question with a question: would you like me to slap you in the face with my reproductive organs? Oh yeah... and you can write that."
Again, don't get me wrong: None of this is appropriate. And I don't think Babs is a Class-A fuck-bucket. The guy has demonstrated that he's one of, if not the, best in the game. But you really have to question why a guy would follow a policy like this. What happens when Jimmy Howard returns to form? You know how it's often said that a batter will usually hit his career average over the course of a season? Well, I have to think that a similar line of reasoning applies to atheletes across the board.
  • Todd Bertuzzi will always be streaky.
  • Brett Lebda will always be terrible.
  • James Howard will - most likely - always be inconsistent.
He's hot right now. No denying that. But that does not guarantee that he will be hot for the rest of the season. Or for the rest of the post-season. Or next year. So if - or when - our rookie goaltender cools down... what options to we have?

A disrespected, underpaid goaltender that has more rust than the average 1985 El Camino on cinder blocks in a Taylor front-lawn? When the playoffs come, and - Bear Jesus willing - we find our way in, and - Bear Jesus forbid - James just straight can't handle it... what's the option? Golf?

Are any of you Ozzie detractors seriously OK with that?

Finally, I have one last point. This is directed directly at the fans. As much as Ozzie has been disrespected by Babcock, he has been perennially unappreciated by the fans. When he's on, he's loved. Every time he touches the puck the Joe resounds with the chants of "Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie." And don't you even consider telling me that you've been to a game where Ozzie was playing hot and making the big saves, and you weren't on your feet, pumping your fist, and hailing the Great and Powerful Wizzard of Oz. Don't tell me that in 2008 you were not thanking the sweet dear baby Bear Jesus after #30 got the nod against he Preds. Because if you try, I will call you a liar. Either a liar, or the world's shittiest fan.

But what happens when Osgood doesn't play like a $6million/year goaltender? When perhaps he plays to his paycheck?

Everything is all his fault.

One of my biggest issues with Ozzie detractors this season is that when the Wings lose with Howard in net - no matter what happens - it's in spite of him, rather than because of him. When Ozzie takes a loss? Always completely his fault. He never gets the excuses that Howard does. He's not afforded the benefit of the doubt when the offense doesn't show up, or when the defense breaks down. Take the Capitals game for example.

  • Lebda fails to pick up his man, and watches the pass rather then backchecking. (SURPRISE!)
  • Ericsson fails to pick up his man, and haplessly hacks at him well after it is too late
  • Ozzie takes the blame.

  • Todd Bertuzzi takes a stupid penalty.
  • Brad Stuart decides to play golf, rather than defense.
  • The tying goal becomes Ozzie's fault.

  • Jon Ericsson lets an attacker right by him with no challenge.
  • Brett Lebda stands around wondering if anyone would actually be stupid enough to pick him up off waivers.
  • Ozzie shoulders the entire blame
Sure, they were weak goals. But for each one, it becomes an illustration on how terrible Ozzie is rather than how the defense has failed. And for a guy who has been sitting for an entire month? I'll call it excusable.

Inexcusible? Giving Howard a pass in a similar situation. Call yourself a Wings fan? Get off the Ozzie hate-train. Respect the man for what he's done, and hope that Babs gets him back in the rotation. Without that, we run a serious risk of being up shit's creek without a goalie. Not a real attractive option from where I'm sitting.


  1. I agree. i think it is inexcusable to sit ozzie for a month, the ride the rookie while he's hot strategy works for a time, but James is a rookie and shouldn't be asked to saddle the whole load.

    i cant wait to see the sophomore slump for Howard next year.

    at the same time, Chris has let his play fall the point where he was a liability. but this is a chicken/egg problem, was ozzie so bad because of the rust, or because he no longer has the edge that you need to be a goaltender in the NHL. there are other options but none as fiscally smart as Chris Osgood. i cant say, trade for Biron, or some other lifetime backup to warm a bench and play for an entirely streaky backup when our defense has largely been a bunch of pylons on the ice. our net is a no mans land.

    Who would have thought brett lebda's stellar performance would make detroit fans for the shot blocking sexual offending slab of meat Andreas Lilja.

    thats how bad our defense has been.

    but the real question is how bad our goal scorers have been. goals cure all ills. and we don't have them. Sure a 1-0 victory is the most entertaining, all i care about is the W. and if it comes from stellar goal tending, a stout stalwart defense, or a stunning spectacular offense, i could care less, as long as the wings are winning.

  2. this post was the worst in the history of this blog. i usually like your stuff, but i cannot agree with this one. like you said in your aaron ward post, its not 1997. yeah he plays better in the playoffs. yeah he's homegrown. yeah he's been successful.

    get the fuck over it.

    im all for drinking the koolaid, but this is just crazy.

    Fuck Peter Budaj. let it go.


  3. Nick, point me to the place in this post where I said Ozzie should be the starter...

    It's a long post, I know it might take some time to find it. Especially by someone who reads at a Todd Bertuzzi/2nd Grade Level.

    Give up? Yeah... it's not there.

    I never said Ozzie should be the starter. But Ozzie should not be raked over the coals. Period. It's not good for the team. Disrespecting him in the way that Babs has done achieves two things: 1) It pisses a guy who has given more to this franchise than just about any other player on the team right he hell off; and 2) It makes one goaltender rusty as the day is long - eliminating viable alternatives.

    I argue for a 2 or 3 to 1 starting ratio. That's the way the Wings have rolled for some time now. That's a proven system. Stop blaming Ozzie for the defenses' fuckups just becuase you've always had an irrational hardon for Jimmy Fuck howard. It's more likely than not that these numbers won't keep up. His technique really hasn't changed much; he's still got a tough time on the lateral movements, he can't control a rebound to save his damn life, and his usual playing position is about 2 feet in front of the blue ice.

    Trash Ozzie all you like, but allowing him to get that rusty is bad for the team. Further, it makes you a shitty fan. Swallow it because you wouldn't have been suckling your mamas teet in exhaultation in 2008 without the Great and Powerful Wizzard of Oz.

  4. Alright. I guess I was hasty. Being of the Ty Conklin/Jimmy Howard camp, I've had to be defensive. I overreacted and didn't really get your point. Yes he has been playing almost never. I get that it could contribute to his overall lack of play.

    Where we differ is that Ozzie shouldn't be disrespecting Mike Babcock like that. If Osgood played better, either at the start of the year or recently, he would be playing more. I feel that Babcock can't put Ozzie out there without conceding the game. The Red Wings are team first. No man is above the team. You don't speak out. You fall in line. I'm shocked to see someone who played with Steve Yzerman most of his career, be so very different than what The Captain was about. Honestly at this point I wouldn't be averse to buying him out and bringing up Laarson. At least Danny will be a team player.

    I don't think Jimmy gets anymore leeway than Ozzie. When Jimmy plays poorly (shoot outs, positioning, rebounding) people call him out. As well they should.

    And as far as Ozzie being responsible for winning us a cup in 08. He also lost the net in game 7 and cost us the game. Whether or not we would have gotten that far with Conklin is valid. But it's equally possible we would be reigning champs.

    I just think Chris Osgood doesn't give us the best chance to win any day. And with our defense playing bad, offense failing, and playoffs fading away, we can't afford to lose games between the pipes.

  5. You're blinded by your Howard love. You'd really be comfortable with a Howard/Larsson tandem? No thanks. I'll take the 1.5m veteran with three rings over the guy who struggles with the Griffins thank-you-very-much. And I see your point with the comments. Absolutely. I don't think Ozzie should have said anything, and I said as much in the post. However, I completely understand him doing so.

    And really... is Howard REALLY playing SO WELL that it's INCONCEIVABLE that we could not win with Ozzie in net? He's still crazy far out of the net more often than not. I haven't seen the defense have to bail out a goaltender this often in my life. And how about those rebounds? I remember in the last Dallas game a Star shot the puck from center ice without much heat, and Howard literally kicked it back to the blue line. His stats are great right now, and he's playing really well. But he has not solved the issues that have caused tremendous inconsistencies in his playing career. That indicates to me that those league leading stats aren't going to hold up.

    And why is it that losses become Ozzie's fault? Perhaps maybe if the offense played the Red Wings puck possession offense that has given them such success throughout the past 20 years, or if the defense bothered to not be Brett Fucking Lebda, he'd have the support to do just fine.

    Finally, don't post that garbage about how Game 7 was Osgood's fault ever again. Ever. I will hunt your ass down and shove a hot rod of glass up your dick and shatter it with a boot. Ozzie took us to game 7 - no way Conklin plays the way he did throughout the playoffs. The defense gave up HORRENDOUS turnovers leading to those shots. The offense couldn't bother lighting the lamp (Save for Jonny E) despite the fact that Crosby was injured for most of the game. The team didn't possess the puck, they didn't skate, they did not play like they wanted it. Fuck, we never should have even BEEN in a game 7. That shit should have been wrapped up in 5 or 6. For you to pin all of that on Chris Osgood because he let in two admittedly weak goals makes you, objectively, an idiot. Blame the offense, blame the D (I'm still not over it Brad Stuart), blame it on the Coach. Don't put all the blame on Osgood. That's just stupid.

    By the way... what do you think about your boy surrendering FIVE goals to the Phoenix Coyotes last night?

  6. I would be scared shitless with two guys with no NHL experience as our goalies, but the point I was trying to make was that it was better than hearing Osgood badmouth one of the better coaches we've ever had.

    And speaking of bad D I think most of the 5 (!!!!) goals were a 50-50 sharing of blame. I admit that I look at Jimmy like my little son. I believed in him before anybody else. I bought his sweater after we won the cup in 08. When I could have had any Wing on the jersey, I chose Jimmy. I've seen him play in GR. I just love him. Total mancrush. So when he started playing well I was completely enamoured. I love that I called it before anybody else. I love that I was right when everyone else hated him.

    But I digress, anyway, I do love Chris Osgood. I remember in 93 on the failed clear when the sharks scored to eliminate us. (the last sharks playoff win. Zing!) and when he cried. I loves when he lifted the cup after mike Vernon left. Or when he kicked the piss out of Roy. I don't want you to think I don't like Ozzie. And he needs to play. Not A 2 or 3:1. But I think a 5:1 is fair. He needs to keep playing. They both will play worse when Jimmy gets all the starts.

    And I didn't blame the loss on him. Just the one goal.

    And don't ever question my fandom. Just because we don't agree doesn't make me less of a fan.

    Hopefully Jimmy plays well and our defense remembers to clear the zone. But did you see that blocker save late in the third. One of the best I've seen.

    We both want the same thing. Just different ways of getting there.

  7. Fair enough. I just grow so tired of the Ozzie bashers. They've been around for so long, and truly we could not have the success we have without him. The blind love for players like Pavel when he's not scoring in the playoffs, or the irrational hard-ons people have for players like Bertuzzi who just happens to go on hot streaks here and there stands in stark contrast to the massively short leash Ozzie gets. I think the guy deserves more respect, and I totally understand him badmouthing the coach. Babs is a hell of a coach, but even I have to question that kind of a starting ratio. The guy's not infallible. (See, the Lebda - Ericsson tandem; putting Lebda on the ice with 1 minute left down by a goal; refusing to pair Dats and Z when we get shut out over and over; etc).

    Those same defensive lapses that you attribute 50% of the blame for those goals last night occur on most of Ozzie's fuckups as well. Just call it consistently. That makes it better.

    And as for questioning your fandom? It's just too fun to be really mean to you. I know you're a Wings fan through and through - but fuck you anyway douchebag. Ha, jokes.