Perhaps the most important acquisition made by Ken Holland has flown largely under the radar. The popular slogan “Goaltending wins championships” (at least until the Wings got a goaltender, at which point it changed to “A good farm system wins championships”) has been largely supported in the past, with such big names as Roy, Belfour, Broduer, and Vernon capturing Stanley Cups, and two of the last five and three of the past eight (not entirely sure on that figure) Conn Smythe winners being goaltenders.

Indeed, the only Cup Champion in the past several years who has won despite their goalie instead of because of him (and even that is not entirely true) were the Red Wings with Osgood.

However, Chris Osgood’s recent performance has not been nearly so good. Though he is the third winningest goaltender in NHL history, that number has largely been because of the team in front of him rather than any actual performance of his own. This was made painfully clear when Chris Osgood struggled earlier this year…perhaps no so coincidentally when Selke winner Steve Yzerman and former Norris winner Chris Chelios were struggling with injuries. Indeed, Osgood’s play has been overall less than stellar since he suffered a broken hand via Al MacInnis in the 99-00 season. The Wings, having an affection for the goaltender, decided to give him a second chance last season, pretty much sacrificing games so he could try to get his game back under him, and it succeeded. Osgood took over the reins from sensation Manny Legace and helped the Wings to a 13 game unbeaten streak in the midst of 19 consecutive starts. However, he was unable to make the difference in the series against LA, where a depleted roster and tired defensive corp was battered mercilessly by a faster and better team. Though he played well in the series, keeping the games close, he let in constant bad goals that could have been the difference in three OT and a one goal regulation loss. In fact, he let in three questionable goals in the last six minutes of Game Four’s regulation (and if you tie games together, five goals in about nine minutes) that ultimately turned the series to LA’s favor. It was clear he had to go.

Enter Hasek, coming off a Vezina and a Jennings trophy the previous season. It is disputable whether he deserved the Vezina, but he certainly deserved the nomination and remains among the top three goalies in the league. He has been critized for losing to rookie goalies the past two years, but what critics fail to mention is that Pittsburg last year had four players well over a point per game average, while Buffalo’s leading goal scorer was Chris Gratton (who as you all know strikes fear in the hearts of all opposing goalies). Against Philly, Hasek was facing the likes of LeClair and Recchi, while Buffalo’s only serious threat was Satan. Against Pittsburg, he held a very potent offense to 17 goals in seven games AND he didn’t let any of those very gifted players score more than 2 goals.

I’ve also heard he doesn’t perform in the playoffs. I suppose that would be why he was 4th last year in GAA, 5th in Save %, and tied for 5th in wins (among starters). Those look like pretty good stats to me, especially considering the only goalies higher in every catagory were Roy and Turek, who play behind two of the best (if not THE best) defenses in the league (and raise your hand if you honestly believe Turek is better than Hasek).

His regular season rank is slightly better, though his stats are about the same. There’s also the big intangibles he brings to the team; he gets in the heads of enemy shooters; unlike on Ozzie, they generally aren’t going to fire shots from the blue line and hope they go in, which means they’ll have to actually try to get a decent shot on goal, which gives our defense a better chance to play them. Also, he will give the Wings a lot more trust in their goaltending than last year, which means they can open it up a bit without worrying, gamble a bit offensively, and it helps offset the speed factor that everyone’s making such a big deal of.

Hasek is the player who really puts our team over the top. Buffalo as a good defensive team, for sure, but they aren’t any better than the Wings, who have two Selke winners for forwards and two Norris winners on defense. The Sabres defensemen were +27 total on defense last year. The Wings players still with the team were a combined +35. That’s not counting Oulasson or Krupp.

In sum, there is nothing to suggest Hasek will be anything short of spectacular in net for us, and he is the biggest acquistion this offseason.