Saying Goodbye to a Legend

I was at Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final this past June, and – though the game didn’t end as we would have liked – there was a great moment. Chris Chelios, the Red Wings’ 47-year-old warhorse was taking warm-ups, like he did every night. There was no chance he was going to get into the lineup, the Wings had simply become too deep on the blueline.
As the team slowly vacated the ice and made their way to the locker room and fewer and fewer players were taking shots at an empty net, one couldn’t help but notice Chelios – still circling the zone, stickhanding, and flinging a few wristers. There’s no way of knowing if someone told him to take a few extra laps, or if he was compelled to stay out longer knowing it might be his last time on NHL ice. Soon enough, he was the last Wing out there.
As he slowly made his way to the bench, on his way to the room – presumably to ride the exercise bike like he did every game he was scratched – I started to think, “ya know…this really could be the last time Chris Chelios skates off the ice.” It wasn’t exactly as epic as Steve Yzerman’s last step, obviously, but this is a hockey hero and deserves a warm send-off.
But I wasn’t the only one who noticed. As Chris Chelios strode off-ice, with his head slightly down, Joe Louis Arena rose to its feet, and gave him a rousing ovation. It was the loudest the crowd would be that night. It was nice to see that 19,000 others noticed what I did: there goes one of the baddest-ass hockey players of all time.
It was clear by last January that the Red Wings weren’t going to re-sign Chris Chelios, despite his desire to continue playing and, frankly, his ability to do so (here at TPL we’re pretty sure he’s a cyborg). Ken Holland and Co had decided it was time to move on, get some youth churning, and let Chelios explore other options. Rumor has it Holland told Chelios to call if there are no playing options out there, presumably to offer Chelios a coaching position. But, Cheli doesn’t want to coach. Sure, he enjoyed mentoring the young guns, but he wants to play.
Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a huge market for a defenseman approaching fifty, and he signed in his hometown of Chicago — only with the Wolves of the AHL, and not the Hawks. It’s a great fit because his family can stay in Detroit (his teenage kids are finishing high school and easing into college) and he can get to Michigan in the blink of an eye. He maintains that he’d like to get back to the NHL, but “it would have to take a pretty unique situation.” Chelios made no secret that he’d like to return to the Red Wings, and has – in turn – even declined NHL offers this season.
One might have thought that when Jonathan Ericsson went down with an apparent knee injury that Chris Chelios’ phone might have started ringing. After all, the Wings were down three of their presumed top six defensemen. But, it turned out that Ericsson’s injury wasn’t as severe as it looked, and Nik Kronwall might be back relatively soon, so management turned to guys from Grand Rapids. Doug Janik was called up when it appeared Big Rig might only miss two or three weeks.
Presumably, this ends the journey for Chris Chelios. Sure, he might get an offer after the New Year or near the deadline, but no one should be surprised if his NHL career has come to an end. I hope not, but you’ve got to face facts and at least throw it out there.
If I did witness Chelios’ last stride, it’s the image I’ll choose to remember from Game 7.

16 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to a Legend”

  1. Great post, Michael. I love Cheli so much; I know it was entirely unfeasable to keep him on board this year, but it still makes me sad that he's no longer around. I was surprised that more teams weren't after him during the off-season; sure, he's 47, but I remember how he played during the WCF against Chicago last year when Ericsson was out for his appendectomy. The guy still has it, to some degree–maybe not as fast, maybe not as lethal as he used to be, but he's still awesome. Maybe he IS a cyborg…

  2. Great post, Michael. I love Cheli so much; I know it was entirely unfeasable to keep him on board this year, but it still makes me sad that he's no longer around. I was surprised that more teams weren't after him during the off-season; sure, he's 47, but I remember how he played during the WCF against Chicago last year when Ericsson was out for his appendectomy. The guy still has it, to some degree–maybe not as fast, maybe not as lethal as he used to be, but he's still awesome. Maybe he IS a cyborg…

  3. I'm pretty sure he has the same sort of "affliction" as Lance Armstrong, whose resting heart rate is so low that when he gets going, it only approaches 60 beats/minute. Just a natural, born athlete. It was touching to see that ovation. It's sad to think that maybe his NHL career has come to an end because it wasn't on his terms. It wasn't an injury, so it could have been worse, but he made no secret that he wanted to play into his 50's.

  4. I'm pretty sure he has the same sort of "affliction" as Lance Armstrong, whose resting heart rate is so low that when he gets going, it only approaches 60 beats/minute. Just a natural, born athlete.

    It was touching to see that ovation. It's sad to think that maybe his NHL career has come to an end because it wasn't on his terms. It wasn't an injury, so it could have been worse, but he made no secret that he wanted to play into his 50's.

  5. Wish I'd been at the Joe for that last skate. I love Cheli, and I miss seeing him in the Winged Wheel. Thanks for this post. It's the first one I remember seeing that really gave Cheli his due. A lot of people mentioned him leaving, but no one else captured what it meant.

  6. Wish I'd been at the Joe for that last skate. I love Cheli, and I miss seeing him in the Winged Wheel. Thanks for this post. It's the first one I remember seeing that really gave Cheli his due. A lot of people mentioned him leaving, but no one else captured what it meant.

  7. I think it's because no one really believes he might be gone yet. I gotta think that some team is going to give him a shot. And by the sound of that article, some teams HAVE, but he turned them down.Maybe he changes his mind later in the season, or maybe he realizes that his time has come to an end, quiet and classy.I wish I would have taken a picture, but I was too busy welling up and clapping.

  8. I think it's because no one really believes he might be gone yet. I gotta think that some team is going to give him a shot. And by the sound of that article, some teams HAVE, but he turned them down.

    Maybe he changes his mind later in the season, or maybe he realizes that his time has come to an end, quiet and classy.

    I wish I would have taken a picture, but I was too busy welling up and clapping.

  9. The other day I was wandering around the internet looking for something else, and came across the hockey-reference.com's entry for Chelios.He's been around so long, it becomes easy to forget just how incredibly talented and accomplished he was as a young man because it was multiple decades ago.

  10. The other day I was wandering around the internet looking for something else, and came across the hockey-reference.com's entry for Chelios.

    He's been around so long, it becomes easy to forget just how incredibly talented and accomplished he was as a young man because it was multiple decades ago.

  11. He really was something else, wasn't he? It was amazing that a former Norris winner was like a 6/7 in Detroit for a handful of years. Incredible.If someone ONLY watched hockey for the 1990's decade, they would have had a hell of an argument for Chris Chelios as the best defenseman on the planet.

  12. He really was something else, wasn't he? It was amazing that a former Norris winner was like a 6/7 in Detroit for a handful of years. Incredible.

    If someone ONLY watched hockey for the 1990's decade, they would have had a hell of an argument for Chris Chelios as the best defenseman on the planet.

  13. All this chatter about Chelios is fine, however the guy I hated to see go was McCarty. To me, HE was the RED Wings. Every minute on the ice , he gave 150 %. WINGS management treated him very shabbily at the end.

  14. All this chatter about Chelios is fine, however the guy I hated to see go was McCarty. To me, HE was the RED Wings. Every minute on the ice , he gave 150 %. WINGS management treated him very shabbily at the end.

  15. I hated to see McCarty go, too, because I feel the same way you do about him: lived and breathed Red Wings. But I don't feel like he was treated shabbily AT ALL. He was given a chance, after the entire league turned its back on him, to re-join the Red Wings. He played in the playoffs, even though it was clear to anyone with eyeballs his game wasn't where it should have been anymore. Sometimes it's time to say goodbye, and after last season was that time. I would have loved if he stayed in the system somehow, maybe as a mentor to the Griffs – a role he filled well. But, there comes a time…

  16. I hated to see McCarty go, too, because I feel the same way you do about him: lived and breathed Red Wings. But I don't feel like he was treated shabbily AT ALL. He was given a chance, after the entire league turned its back on him, to re-join the Red Wings. He played in the playoffs, even though it was clear to anyone with eyeballs his game wasn't where it should have been anymore. Sometimes it's time to say goodbye, and after last season was that time.

    I would have loved if he stayed in the system somehow, maybe as a mentor to the Griffs – a role he filled well. But, there comes a time…

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