DETROIT – He won’t be a Detroit Red Wing, but Chris Chelios still wants to play.
The 47-year-old defenceman said Wednesday he has no hard feelings about Detroit’s decision not to sign him for next season. In fact, he says his 10 years as a Red Wing couldn’t have turned out better.
“Absolutely no regrets, ” he said. “I had the best 10 years in Detroit.”
He was limited to 28 games during the 2008-09 regular season because of a broken leg suffered during an exhibition game. He played in six games during the playoffs, which Detroit lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Chelios has played 25 NHL seasons, winning three Stanley Cups and three Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenceman. He said he had one last chat with Red Wings’ owner Mike Ilitch at the Detroit Tigers’ game Tuesday night, and is ready to move elsewhere. He and his agent will start contacting teams July 1, when he officially becomes a free agent.
“I just want to see if I can get the opportunity with another team and if I can contribute,” he said, adding that he would prefer to play with a team in the Eastern Conference because travel would be easier than in the far-flung Western Conference.
But Chelios also said if things aren’t going well and he’s not playing a month or two into next season, he would retire. And if he can’t catch on with a team, Chelios said he expects to do more with the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team. General manager Brian Burke has said that Chelios will have a non-playing role.
Chelios, who started his NHL career in Montreal, won two Stanley Cups with the Red Wings after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1998-1999 season. As a Blackhawk, Chelios was been one of the players Detroit fans hated the most. But he is now one of the city’s most beloved athletes.
“Who would have thought, with what I did for Chicago to the city of Detroit, that I would be able to make this kind of relationship?” Chelios asked.
Whatever happens next year, his family won’t move from the Detroit area, where Chelios owns bars. He has two daughters still in high school. His son Dean will be attending and playing hockey at Michigan State next season and his son Jake will play with the Chicago Steel of the Major Junior United State Hockey League in 2009-10.
Chelios is the second-oldest to ever play in the NHL. Only Gordie Howe, who played at 52, was older. But Chelios says Mr. Hockey won’t have to worry about losing that distinction to him.
“I’ll be satisfied to be the oldest American,” he said.