I was speaking with Mike Ilitch this week, and the subject of goaltending came up. I asked what free-agent goalie he might like for his Red Wings.
He answered with a story.
“After we won our first Stanley Cup,” he said, “a little blond-haired guy walked up to me as we were celebrating at my home. And he goes, Mr. Ilitch, can I ask you a question?’ And I said, Sure.’
“And he says, Will you promise me I won’t get traded? I wanna win a Stanley Cup.’
“And I said, Mr. Osgood, I’m not gonna trade you.’
“You know what? I’ll be darned if he didn’t come back and win a Stanley Cup for us. So I have a lot of confidence in Chris Osgood, and I told Kenny Holland that. I said, Dominik Hasek makes the spectacular saves. Chris is not a Dominik Hasek. But he can play real good if he’s got a good team. He played a good, solid playoffs for us, and we won a Cup with him.
“As far as I’m concerned, he proved it to me. I have confidence in Chris Osgood.”
Well, now. A non-hockey fan might say, “Hey, if Mr. Ilitch likes this guy so much, why don’t they go out and sign him?”
Um, because he’s already on the team.
The invisible goaltender
Few active athletes have been as ignored as Osgood over the past few months. Although he has a Stanley Cup ring, years of experience AND a contract for next year, in the public discourse, he might as well be a name above an empty locker.
When the Wings parted company with Manny Legace earlier this summer, few spoke of Osgood.
When the Wings were rumored to be interested in free agents like Roberto Luongo, few spoke of Osgood.
When the Wings lost out on Ed Belfour to Florida this week – causing fans to groan, Come on, sign somebody!’- few spoke of Osgood.
So I called him at home in western Canada. And I told him what his owner said.
And I think I heard him smile, if you can hear a smile over the telephone.
“It’s flattering,” he said. “It gives you a lot of confidence coming into camp.
“I’ve always wanted to be in Detroit. I know it can be a rough place to play goalie, but, I can’t explain it, there’s something about it. They signed me for two years, but I would have signed for four. I know what it’s like when you win there, I think that’s what it is.
“There’s nothing like taking the Cup down Woodward.”
And then Legace got hot
Of course, it has been four years since the last parade. And, for whatever reason, Detroit fans seem to believe that in order to host another one, somebody new – and hot – must be tending the net.
But as Osgood, 33, points out, hot today is cold tomorrow. He did win 20 of his 32 games last season. “I think I’m just as good as any of the guys that are being mentioned. I’ve played more games and playoff games than the majority of them.
“If you look at goalies today, they’ve all had their bad years, all had their flash-in-the-pan times, all had their good runs.
“Sometimes guys play better than they are, sometimes they don’t play as good as they are. Everybody is so good now, they’re all capable of having that big playoff run.”
Osgood never got the chance last year. He got hurt early in the season. Legace caught fire. All of a sudden, a competition was not a competition. “I was brought in to share responsibilities,” Osgood said, “but Manny got going so good, you just have to support him.”
Now, Manny is gone, Osgood remains. And at least one guy is in his corner. A pretty important guy.
“I think Chris is a lot more mature now,” Mr. Ilitch said. “And I think he’s just as good a goalie if not a better goalie. I really do.”
He said Holland is free to continue the search, but if your boss already likes a guy, how hard do you look? Besides, wouldn’t it be something if, after all the searching and hand-wringing, the Wings’ best goalie turned out to be the one on nobody’s lips, but right under their noses?
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).