October 12, 2009
"Right now, my thought is getting ready to play here. I haven't played for a while. Last year I only played 30 games at best. I've got a big challenge to prove to myself and a lot of people that I can still play." - Defenseman Chris Chelios(notes) of the AHL Chicago Wolves
Chelios skated with the Wolves today and said he planned on signing a contract with the team this week.
He's 47 years old, which is five years older than Chicago coach Don Granato and 32 years older than the franchise he's about to join. But he's also hockey royalty in Chicago and is going to bring a few more fans to the rink to see the Wolves play -- even if Chicago was fourth in the League at the gate last season.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Chelios is going to have a 25-game "tryout" with the Wolves that will allow him to sign with an NHL team. So his stint with the Atlanta Thrashers' AHL affiliate will be equal parts audition and anticipation; proving he can still handle the pro hockey grind and hoping the circumstances change for some NHL team to the point where they'd want to add a warhorse to the stable.
Of course, there's a better-than-good chance that this is the end of the 25-season skate for Chelios, allowing him to retire in his hometown -- even if it's not with a Chicago Blackhawks Indian head on the front of the sweater.
Chelios has gotten the Brett Favre label from some, and that's entirely unfair. He's been nearly unwavering in his desire to continue playing hockey; his ego hasn't interfered with the personnel decisions of any professional franchises; and, to our knowledge, he never had to fear Rachel Nichols of ESPN following him to his car door.
In fact, Chelios's endurance and dedication to the game long ago made him something more than an aged sideshow or the old man who doesn't know how to read the clock; in a sporting world where legends never know how to say goodbye, Chelios's inability to do so has only added to his legacy -- rather than tarnished it.
Speaking of legacy: Brad May's(notes) request to wear Cheli's old number with the Detroit Red Wings sparked an interesting debate about immortality in the Motor City. Should Chelios have his number retired in Detroit, Chicago or both? What about Montreal?
George James Malik states the case for the Red Wings:
The Wings put Brendan Shanahan's(notes) #14 back into circulation a few seasons after he left for the New York Rangers; Sergei Fedorov's(notes) #91 may very well head to the rafters as his long tenure with the Wings is very important to the Wings' organization in terms of reluctantly placing jerseys alongside Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe, and Terry Sawchuk's nameplates, but Fedorov and the Wings will have to mend some fences and let old wounds at least scar over before #91 goes up.
Does the fact that Chelios, who was essentially "Claude Lemieux before there was Claude Lemieux(notes)" as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, ended up playing a full third of his career and won two of his three Stanley Cups in Detroit, never mind becoming an area businessman and adopted Detroiter, merit a jersey retirement?
Malik's noncommittal but it's a "yes" from Clark Rasmussen of DetroitHockey.Net, who would like to see it retired in Chicago as well; even though Brent Seabrook(notes) currently wears Chelios's old No. 7.
We'd lean towards a number retirement in Chicago but not in Detroit. He was the main attraction for the Blackhawks, and a vital piece for the Red Wings. As for Montreal ... jeez, do they have the room? Make It 16!