If I saw Chris Osgood at a billiard hall, I’d high-tail it out of there. If I met him on the golf course, I’d head in the other direction. I wouldn’t even trust him at the local bowling alley.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s banned from the casinos in town, plus the one in Windsor.

Osgood, if he chose to, would take you for everything you have at the above establishments. The only better sandbagging is done on the Atlantic Coast just prior to a hurricane.

Once again, Osgood has us all suckered. He’s about to fleece us once more. This is hardly the first time.

Remember the beaten down and sheepish look he wore when he returned from exile in 2005? The Red Wings had gotten rid of Ozzie back in the summer of 2001, having traded for Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek so that he may tend goal for them.

Osgood trudged off to the New York Islanders—the Islanders!!— and then ended up with the St. Louis Blues. In neither locale did he thrill the masses. They all but ran him out of St. Looey.

The Red Wings brought him back to Detroit as a soon-to-be 33-year-old backup in 2005. More like they rescued him. He was the prodigal son, only in this instance, the son got kicked out—he didn’t leave of his own volition. But he was back, in the warm and cozy confines of the Red Wings organization, which he’d known since before he was old enough to legally consume alcohol.

The Red Wings had Manny Legace—Manny Legace!—as their No. 1 goaltender, so Osgood was brought on board as a nod to his loyalty to the organization and to function as the veteran mentor.

Oh, what Ozzie must have been thinking when, on the eve of the 2006 playoffs, Legace popped off to the papers and openly wondered about his own qualifications as being the No. 1 goalie for a long playoff run. It was like being led into battle by General Patton—if ole George would have stopped just before they fired the first shot, turned to his troops, and said, “I wonder if I can do this, after all?”

If there’s anything Osgood is short on, confidence is not one of them. He may be short in other things, like feet and inches—and hair—but he’s got them all beat in the confidence department.

So to have been relegated to backup goalie, then to watch the supposed No. 1 guy wring his hands and turn into Don Knotts just before the playoffs must have killed Osgood.

Legace blew up, as expected, and the Red Wings lost in the first round to an inferior Edmonton Oilers team. In Steve Yzerman’s final season. What a way to send The Captain off, eh?

Again the Red Wings turned to Hasek, instead of Osgood, in the offseason. They signed Hasek as a free agent. Osgood would be No. 2 again.

Hasek played OK, but the Red Wings lost in the conference championship to the Anaheim Ducks, who would win the Stanley Cup.

Fast forward one more year, to the 2008 playoffs. Osgood was doing more sandbagging; he conned us into thinking he would be no more than a backup once again, could be no more than a backup to the great Hasek.

Coach Mike Babcock, after four games of the first round series against Nashville, the proceedings tied at two wins apiece, took his chips off of Hasek, who had been shaky in Games Three and Four, and placed them on Osgood. It was one of the gutsiest decisions I’ve ever seen a coach make in Detroit.

Osgood, poker-faced, shrugged and said sure, I’ll go in.

He allowed one measly goal in a game that was tighter than size 38 pants on a 40 waist. The Red Wings won, in overtime. Osgood was named one of the three stars, and he skated onto the ice at Joe Louis Arena to a thunderous ovation after the game when it was announced.

The Red Wings took off from there. Chris Osgood, the sandbagging goalie, led them to their fourth Stanley Cup—and his third—in 11 years. The fact that they won all the marbles was largely due to Osgood’s play between the pipes.

Then, last season and more sandbagging. Osgood suckered us again.

The apple of everyone’s eye was the backup, Ty Conklin. Osgood played miserably coming out of the gate and Conklin…didn’t. So while Ozzie sat on the bench, Conklin played and played very well. It was around this time last year, in fact, when the hockey denizens around town dared to crow that Ty Conklin, not Chris Osgood, should be the Red Wings’ starting netminder when the playoffs roll around.

It’s easy to sucker the thick-headed. And Osgood, who must never have met a blackjack table he didn’t like, was doing it.

Osgood really poured it on, though. This was going to be a hustle of great proportions. Ozzie was going to be Minnesota Fats, the Cincinnati Kid, and Paul Newman, all rolled into one. He played extra awful in goal. He was so bad, in February his coach sent him away, to “get his head together.”

HA!

It was like taking candy from a baby; the fans took the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

“Ty Conklin should be the starting goalie in the playoffs!”

“Chris Osgood is finished!”

Oh yeah? Place your bets, gentlemen!

Osgood “recovered” and Babcock, who was on to Ozzie’s con, named him the starter for the playoffs, after all.

Osgood almost ran the table. The Red Wings lost Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, by one goal. You can’t get much closer than that. But they lost the Cup not because of anything bad Osgood did. Yet had they won it, it would largely have been because of all the good Osgood did.

So here we are, January 2010. And Osgood is suckering us again, or trying to. This year it’s Jimmy Howard, a rookie , who has some people thinking the Red Wings ought to leave Ozzie on the bench come playoff time—should the Wings qualify.

Why? Because Osgood is sandbagging it again in the regular season, while the kid Howard is doing things like stopping 51 of 52 shots, as he did in L.A. the other night.

I’m not much of a gambler. I can barely figure out how to work a slot machine. But if I saw Chris Osgood at a table, I’d beat it.

You want the rookie Howard in goal, instead of the proven Osgood, when the playoffs arrive—again, should the Red Wings qualify?

P.T. Barnum was right, and this is your minute.

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