For a while it seemed like Chris Chelios would never leave the game of hockey and that was solidified Tuesday when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Chelios played in the NHL until the age of 48, second only to Gordie Howe, and will go down as one of the most dominate American-born players of all-time.
Chelios is one of the most decorated players of the modern era. He won three Stanley Cups, three Norris Trophies while playing in 11 All-Star games. The Chicago-native also represented his country multiple times, including four Olympics, the Canada Cup and the World Cup. Even though he stood at only 5’11, Chelios’ skill and leadership brought him success everywhere he went.
Chelios was a star in the making as soon as his career began. The Montreal Canadiens made him the 40th pick in the 1981 draft and he was able to get 12 games in with them in the 1983-84 season. That same year he would play in the Olympics for the first time, picking up four assists in six games.
But the very next year, he stormed into the league with nine goals and 55 assists in 73 games. His 64 points got him onto the All-Rookie team and a second place finish to Mario Lemieux for the Calder Trophy.
The next year, he only played 41 games, but won his first Stanley Cup. After two years of continued growth, he had his best season as a Hab, picking up 15 goals in 73 points in 80 games. He also finished with a +35 and won the Norris Trophy for the first time.
After one more year with the Habs, he was traded for the first time to his home town team, the Chicago Blackhawks, with a second-round pick for Denis Savard.
He had even more offensive success with the Blackhawks, and came within four wins of the Stanley Cup in 1992. The following season, he matched his 73 point total and won the Norris Trophy again. The following season, 1993-94, he had his highest goal total with 16 and 60 points.
And then the first lockout hit.
The 1994-95 season was shortened to 48 games and as the inevitable canceling of games drew near in October of 1994, Chelios had some famous, controversial words for the new commissioner.
After the shortened season, Chelios returned as the captain of the Blackhawks and had another impressive season, picking up another 72 points and a third Norris Trophy. Chelios would never reach those numbers again, but still put up 35-50 points a season for the next four years.
It was around this time where Chelios had some of his biggest international success. He captained the 1996 US team that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. He also represented his country at the Olympics again in 1998, scoring two goals in four games.
But he never reached the same numbers he had in 1995 and in 1999, he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. At this point in his career, Chelios was already 37. The Wings probably expected they would only get a couple years out of him, but remarkably, they got 10.
Chelios saw his role and ice time decrease in Detroit, but his leadership and toughness was highly valued. Just ask Chelios’ Red Wings teammate, and fellow Hall of Fame inductee, Brendan Shanahan.
“If there was ever a guy you wanted to have your back it was Chris Chelios,” Shanahan said Tuesday when talking to TSN about getting inducted.
The 2002 season was his best with the Red Wings. Not only did he have his best offensive numbers with Detroit (6-33-39) but he also captained the US Olympic Team to a Silver Medal in Salt Lake City.
And then he was part of an amazing Stanley Cup champion team in 2002. In an era before the salary cap, the Red Wings were able to collect many Hall of Famers through free agency and trade, including Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Igor Larionov. Chelios still put up six goals and 39 points that season, second among defencemen on the team behind Nick Lidstrom. He also picked up 124 penalty minutes in that season, coming mostly from having teammates’ backs as Shanahan said above.
Chelios would go through one more lockout and one more Stanley Cup run throughout his career. He would also make one more Olympic appearance in 2006, captaining the US team for the third time and breaking the record for longest stretch between first and last Olympics, previously set in the 1940′s.
As a way of honoring his many years of service, Mark Messier picked Chelios to be the first player to receive the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2006. This award is given “to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season” and Chelios is the only player to win without being the captain of his team.
The Red Wings valued Chelios’s leadership as young players like Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson played and learned with him while they tried to make the jump to the NHL. But after the 2009 season, where the Red Wings lost the Stanley Cup final in seven games to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team decided to not offer Chelios another contract. At this point he was 47, but still wanted to play.
He moved onto the Atlanta Thrashers but spent most of his time with their AHL team, the Chicago Wolves. After one year of bouncing between the Thrashers and Wolves, and after missing the playoffs for only the second time in his 26 NHL seasons, Chelios retired from the NHL.
He was immediately given an executive role with the Red Wings and has remained there for the past three years. He continues to be involved in both the Detroit and Chicago communities with his charity, Cheli’s Children.
Although he may not have been the nicest player in the game (he did have 2,891 penalty minutes) but Chris Chelios was one of the most reliable players to play in recent years. Players don’t play as long as Chelios did and don’t win the way Chelios did very often and for that, he will be honored this November at the Hockey Hall of Fame.