December 17, 2010 was Chris Chelios Heritage Night at the United Center in Chicago. As the Blackhawks honoured one of their all-time greats, those in attendance showered him with boos.
Chelios, then 48, pleaded with the sold-out crowd, asking them to, “let bygones be bygones,” and telling the fans that he was one of them. The Blackhawks faithful relented slightly, but seemingly few remember just what Chelios meant to the organization.
The words to describe Chelios as a player are plentiful: warrior, determined, leader, teacher, champion — the list goes on all the way to the one word that encapsulates it all. Legend.
Legend isn’t a word I throw around lightly when it comes to the greats of our beloved game, but Chelios deserves it. A three-time Stanley Cup Champion, three-time Norris Trophy winner, multiple First Team All-Star votes, and an NHL career that spanned over 25 years. He’s the modern icon of career longevity (Gordie Howe being the historical figure that best embodied that attribute).
When he left Chicago, very few fans chose to remember that it wasn’t necessarily on his own accord.
Sure, Chelios had lofty contract demands and he was 36 years old, but the onus — at least in my mind — falls on William W. Wirtz. Wirtz was unwilling to pay his veteran leader the money that he rightfully deserved, thus leading to him being jettisoned to the much maligned division rival Detroit Red Wings. You can’t fault Chelios for this either. Plain and simple, the Wings were the highest bidders.
Days after the trade had taken place, Chelios told reporters he regretted not being able to finish his career as a Blackhawk.
This is a Chicago native, a man who took the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final in 1992, the defenseman who represented the ‘Hawks in several All-Star Games and won two Norris Trophies as a member of the team. He is the third highest scoring defenseman in team history — with the second highest P/PG — and was the captain for five seasons. He was a leader on and off the ice.
With the Hall of Fame inductees for 2012 being announced today, it is without a doubt that come Chelios’s time he’ll be a first ballot inductee.
You can trust this is one the induction committee will get right, that’s not my concern. What is more concerning, and far more interesting, is whether or not the Blackhawks do the right thing: retiring Chelios’s number 7.
Chelios’s credentials are there and his numbers are comparable to all those Blackhawks whose numbers hang from the rafters in the United Center. What he meant to the franchise cannot be quantified. He lead the team to greatness and his exit coincides with one of the greatest tailspins in franchise history.
When Chelios gets the greatest honour in hockey, an induction to the Hall of Fame, it is only right if the Blackhawks do the same and retire his number.
All due respect to Brent Seabrook, but there is only one 7.