OZZIE’S HOPE: TO BE A RED WING AGAIN

Left out, pushed aside, discarded for the more expensive model, Chris Osgood had every reason to be angry. Who would have blamed him if he trashed Red Wings management? If he snuck into Joe Louis Arena and spilled ink all over the nice leather chairs?

No one. Not after the Wings effectively, suddenly and unceremoniously replaced Osgood, their starter and Stanley Cup-winning goalie, by trading for and spending twice the money on the Dominator, 36-year-old Dominik Hasek.

Who could blame Osgood if he sulked? Who could object if he told the Wings, in the parlance of a jilted lover, baby, just you wait, you won’t know how good you had it ’til I’m gone?

He did none of that. Instead, when I called Osgood in western Canada the other day, here is what he said:

“Surprised? Yeah. At first. But in the short term, I guess the Wings are upgrading by getting Hasek. I mean, right now, he’s a little better than me. You have to be truthful. He’s won the Vezina Trophy six times.

“Me, I’m just hitting my prime…. In a few years, I’ll have the advantage. But things happen in sports. I’m not leaving on a sour note or negative way because too many positive things have happened to me in Detroit….

“Who knows? Maybe one day, when I’m a free agent, I can come back.”

Wow.

Can we frame that?

Goalie holds no grudges

Ladies and gents, if you want to learn how to conduct yourself when a business dealing goes bad, take a page from Osgood these last two weeks. His decorum, in this Age of the Disgruntled Athlete, deserves a round of applause.

Here is a guy who did nothing but everything the Wings asked. Drafted a decade ago, he waited behind other goalies. He stepped in when needed. He became a terrific regular-season player who was inexplicably benched in the first game of the 1997 playoffs and had to silently watch while the Wings won the Cup.

Did he whine? No. He stayed strong, came back the next year, and claimed the net for his own, leading the Wings to another Cup, starting all 22 playoff games. He stood up for himself. Even swung a few punches at the hated Patrick Roy. When critics doubted him, despite his two rings, he kept silent. If fans booed him during a bad stretch, he would say, “They’re not any harder on me than I am on myself.”

When he was the best player on the ice — and he often was — and yet never got the credit, he held no signs over his head, no arrows pointing in his direction saying, “Give it up for ME!”

Now, at 28, he sits in the most awkward position, still technically a member of the Wings, but with a blinking “trade-bait” sign on his forehead, thanks in part to general manager Ken Holland. How will Osgood protest?

He plans to golf with Holland this week.

Golf?

“We’re talking. I understand what’s going on. I just said if he’s gonna trade me, I’d like to go to a team that’s in it, and I’d like to get it done soon, so there’s not any circus scenes at training camp….

“But my first option is still not to leave Detroit. That’s why I kind of laughed when I heard that (the Detroit News) put on the front of the paper that I asked to be traded. I never did.”

No ugly parting scenes

In fact, Osgood told me he could even imagine a scenario in which he’d stay with the Wings — although it’s a longshot.

“Maybe Hasek decides he’s gonna play only one year for sure. Then Kenny could come back to me, and maybe we could do something.

“It would be difficult playing (behind Hasek), I admit. But if it’s time for me to leave Detroit now, I’ll do it on a positive note. I don’t have one negative thing to say. I have two years left on this contract, and maybe, when that contract is up, I’ll come back there.

“I mean, I pretty much grew up in Detroit as a player and as a person. I went from living in an apartment with Kris Draper to meeting my wife to having a daughter.

“I have totally enjoyed my time here.”

How much better is this than baseball’s Gary Sheffield demanding the Dodgers trade him, or hockey’s Eric Lindros and Bobby Clarke sparring in the press?
(And with Wednesday’s report that Hasek is in a Czech hospital with a mystery virus, who knows — perhaps Osgood’s exit isn’t as certain as it once appeared.)

You know what you’re hearing with Osgood? A guy who really loves playing in his city, a guy too honest to manufacture hate to boost his ego.

You can only salute that rarity.

“Hey,” Osgood added before hanging up, “I saw how Marty (Lapointe) left and the next day they gave his number to Luc Robitaille. Like that!”

He laughed.

“Make sure nobody takes my number, OK?”

The number they can take.

His dignity is beyond anyone’s grasp.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.

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