Shepkowski: Defending Chris Chelios
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By Nick Shepkowski–
For those unaware tonight at the United Center is “Chris Chelios Heritage Night” as the Blackhawks host the rival Red Wings. The name Chris Chelios still brings up many sore memories for Blackhawks fans in this city, but I’m still confused as to why.
It was March of 1999 and Blackhawks fans around the world were devastated to find out that beloved three-time Norris Trophy winner had been traded to Detroit. From that day forward plenty of Hawks fans turned their backs on “Chelly” for good.
At the time the Red Wings were the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and in the middle of their ninth straight season that saw them reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Chelios had been made aware that he wasn’t going to be brought back to Chicago before the trade and he had a chance to play for a cup contender and the Hawks weren’t contending for a playoff spot that season. If he was going to be elsewhere the following season anyway, why stick around knowing he was missing a chance at winning a Stanley Cup?
Yes, the facts remain that Chris Chelios may be better known as a Red Wing, much because he played one more season with them than he did in Detroit. Who cares about one extra year? He’s easily one of the greatest Hawks of all-time.
Chelios won two Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman while a Blackhawk and if one were to logically compile an all-time Blackhawks lineup there is no doubt he would be on the first defensive pairing.
It boggles my mind why Blackhawks fans are still so bitter towards Chris Chelios. Yes, there were great memories made with him as a Blackhawk but his time on the team was over with both parties ready to move on.
Chelly is the perfect example of everything that was wrong with the Hawks from 1998-2008, a stretch that saw them win only one playoff game.
At the time Chelios was still a star despite aging but was aware he wasn’t going to be welcomed back to Chicago the following season. Despite his stardom, he was too expensive for owner Bill Wirtz. If the Hawks weren’t going to be loyal to him, why the Hell should he have been loyal towards them?
Chelios saw an opportunity to win another Stanley Cup with Detroit and he fulfilled that goal in both 2002 and 2008. Furthermore, during Chelios’ run in Detroit the Red Wings made the playoffs all ten seasons. During that same span the beloved Hawks reached the playoffs only twice.
For a team that honored Bob Probert with his own heritage night in 2009, Chris Chelios getting his own Blackhawks heritage night makes nothing but sense. It’s further admission of their more than decade long lapse in judgment and a chance to honor a true Blackhawk legend despite the many who still turn their backs on him.