Thursday, June 04, 2009

An Objective, Dispassionate and Totally Devastating Appraisal of Chris Osgood as Hall of Famer

Bill Hicks used to joke about the abortion debate thusly:

"I, ah...this abortion issue in the States is dividing the country right in half. You know, and even amongst my friends - we're all highly intelligent - they're totally divided on the issue of abortion. Totally divided. Some of my friends think these pro-life people are just annoying idiots. Other of my friends think these pro-life people are evil fucks. How are we gonna have a consensus? I'm torn. I try and take the broad view and think of them as evil, annoying fucks."

This bit reminds me of the debate surrounding Chris Osgood's Hall of Fame viability. Kevin Allen makes a pretty reasonable case for "Ozzie." On the other side, the sum of this guy's argument is that Osgood was great in that one game against Chicago so this other guy - who convincingly presents the "con" argument - can "suck it." People, how are we gonna reach a consensus?

The case for Osgood, it seems to me, revolves around three things: 1) He's a money goalie in the postseason, 2) he is popular among teammates and fans, and 3) durability and good fortune have helped him compile impressive counting stats.

Osgood's candidacy is the touchstone for another type of Hall of Fame debate: "peak" value vs. "career" value. Evaluating career value rewards good players with steady, unspectacular careers - someone like Curtis Joseph comes to mind.

Peak value looks at a player at his best: was this player ever considered one of the best at his position? Ken Dryden embodies peak value over career value - he is undoubtedly one of the greatest goaltenders ever, yet his 258 career wins (over 10 seasons) ranks only 35th in NHL history, behind such luminaries as Kelly Hrudey and Gilles Meloche.

Looked at in terms of career value, Chris Osgood presents a superficially strong case for the Hall of Fame: 389 career wins, 3 Stanley Cups, 2.47 career GAA, 49 shutouts. These credentials stack up well against some existing members (Billy Smith, Gerry Cheevers). So what's with the backlash?

Through no fault of his own, Chris Osgood's achievements are seen as the product of luck and opportunism: he plays for a modern dynasty in a low scoring era, distorting his statistics in multiple ways:

1. Historically and without adjusting for context, Osgood looks far better compared to goalies from higher scoring eras (like the '80s) than he really is;

2. Because he's played the bulk of his career for some truly great Red Wings teams, Osgood's numbers look inflated when compared to his lesser supported contemporaries.

Let's take a closer look:

Chris Osgood's peak value would represent one of the lowest of any Hall of Fame goalie:

Black Ink Test (led NHL) = 2: Wins (1996), GAA (2008)
Gray Ink Test (top 10 in NHL) = Wins (6x), GAA (4x), SV% (3x), SO (5x)

Major Awards:
  • Zero Vezina Trophies
  • Zero Conn Smythe Awards
  • Zero 1st Team NHL All-Stars
  • One 2nd Team NHL All-Star
We would expect a Hall of Fame caliber goalie to perform significantly better than league average in many key metrics, such as SV%. Over the course of Chris Osgood's career (1993-2009), the NHL SV% among all goalies (Osgood and empty net goals excepted) is .905%.

Chris Osgood's SV% over that span: .906%.

*(A concession: SV% is quantitative, not qualitative. I'm presuming for argument's sake that SV% is support-neutral and intrinsic to a goalie's skillset. This is unlikely but we have to hope it evens out in the long run. There is no real way to isolate or control for shot quality or defensive support based on team/environmental factors. So it's probably the best we can do for now. If anything, this presumption helps Osgood, because theoretically the Red Wings would limit the opposition's quality scoring chances.)

So we've established that Osgood's SV% is roughly league average, which should make it obvious why his other numbers are so dazzling: it's all about the support of his talented teammates. And that can be measured by how many shots on goal he's faced compared to league average.

For his career Chris Osgood has faced 26.2 shots on goal per 60 minutes (SOG/60). The NHL average over that same span is 28.6 SOG/60. The difference may seem minor but the impact is huge when stretched over his entire career. Osgood's teams have saved him approximately 1,622 shots on goal over the course of his career vs. the league average environment.

*(For the math-obsessed: Osgood has faced 17,770 shots in 40,683 minutes = 26.2 SOG/60. In those same minutes, the goalie in the league average environment of 28.6 SOG/60 would face approximately 19,392 shots = 1,622 more shots.)

Assuming his save percentage remained steady at .906%, this means he would stop about 1,470 of those extra shots - tacking another 152 goals onto his career record. So, his sterling 2.47 career GAA would balloon to 2.70 - which is exactly league average over that span (1993-2009). All things being equal, shouldn't we expect more than league average from a Hall of Fame goalie?


Osgood's adjusted GAA (2.77) ranks 38th in NHL history - behind such notables as Andy Moog, Rick Wamsley, and Pete Peeters. Again, does this sound like a Hall of Famer?

Chris Osgood owes the bulk of his Hall of Fame argument to the support of his Motor City teammates. The talent difference between him and keepers like Tom Barrasso, Rogie Vachon and Mike Vernon is whisker thin, but it is Osgood who is likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, not them. To some that makes him undeserving. But as William Munny famously remarked, "Deserve's got nuthin' to do with it."

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