PITTSBURGH – There’s been debate during this Stanley Cup final about Chris Osgood’s merits as a possible Hall of Famer once his career is over. The arguments are strong on each side.
There is absolutely no debate about the guy sitting at the end of the bench backing up Osgood right now. Dominik Hasek will enter the Hall in his very first year of eligibility. But right now, he’s been reduced to Hall of Fame backup.
“That’s the way it is,” Hasek said. “It’s definitely disappointing, especially because I feel well. Like I’ve said many times, I’m ready to go any time. But the team is playing very well, we’re winning. Ozzie is doing a great job for us. So I understand the situation.
“I wish to be there but the coaches feel they better go with Ozzie.”
And that’s a pure, honest sentiment from the 43-year-old Czech star. It’s eating him up inside not to be in goal right now. But he also has tremendous respect for his goalie partner and has been nothing but the good teammate since losing his starting job 26 minutes into Game 4 of the opening round in Nashville.
“I think it helps that his relationship with Ozzie is pretty special,” said veteran Wings forward Darren McCarty. “If you ask Dom, he’ll tell you out of all the goalies he’s played with, he’s closest to Ozzie. They really support each other no matter who is in there.
“Obviously the competitor in Dom, it’s killing him not to play. But he goes out and works hard. He knows him working hard in practice is important for us getting prepared. And he supports Ozzie 100 per cent.”
Given Hasek’s legendary competitiveness, how he hates giving up goals even in practice, it’s a story in itself that this hasn’t been a story. There has been no controversy since the switch. Hasek has gone about his business despite what he’s feeling inside.
“I don’t know if that was the Dominik Hasek five years ago or 10 years ago,” said McCarty. “I think that goes to show you maybe his maturation but also what the team means here. The chemistry on this team is huge and he’s a part of it.”
It’s about winning, and no one with the Wings stands above that.
“Well, we have a number of people who are going to be first-ballot Hall-of-Famers and they deserve your respect,” said Wings head coach Mike Babock. “I’ve said this before, the night that we were in St. Louis and Brett Hull got retired, that night was kind of an eye opener for me, because it was like how big are these guys.
“And then you see Steve Yzerman get retired and then obviously (Brendan) Shanahan is going to be the same and (Chris) Chelios is going to be the same and (Nicklas) Lidstrom is going to be the same and Hasek is going to be the same. They’re very, very special. They deserve your respect.”
“But a big part about the Red Wings is we’re about winning,” continued Babcock. “(GM) Ken Holland says that all the time. And we do whatever we can to win. And so when you make hard decisions, personally sometimes, as much as it is personal for them, it’s not about them. It’s not about me, it’s about winning and that’s just what we do.”
Hasek smiled when asked whether the Dominik Hasek of 10 years ago would have handled this so well.
“It’s a good question,” he said with a laugh. “I mean, 10 years ago I was playing every game so I never had to think about this. Really 1993 was the last time I was a backup, behind Fuhrsy (Grant Fuhr) my first year in Buffalo. That’s a long time ago. This hasn’t happened to me in 15 years. But yes, definitely, with experience you know what a team needs and you better understand the situation.
“It doesn’t mean you like it, it doesn’t mean you feel like a backup goalie,” added Hasek. “I don’t feel that way. But this the most important time of the year, so you have to understand the situation. So I will just continue to practice hard and stay ready and that’s the best thing I can do for the team. It’s playoff time and it’s no time for complaints.”
The coach knows where Hasek stands.
“We’ve had a few conversations,” said Hasek. “Not much was said. I told him what I’m telling you, that I’m ready any time he feels like going with me. But it hasn’t happen since the beginning of the playoffs.”
In the meantime, he believes Osgood has earned his role.
“Especially this year, I thought he had a great regular season, his numbers were great,” said Hasek. “He deserves to play. Of course I wish to be there and be more involved but on the other hand I have to admit he had a great season, played well all year, and now he’s doing a great job in the playoffs also.”
This would be a tough way to go out for Hasek. At 43, many assume he will retire. Maybe not.
“A decision will be made after the season,” he said, not wanting to tip his hand. “Of course, there’s something in my mind but during the playoffs you don’t want to talk about it at all.”