Detroit — If Chris Chelios had his way, he would probably have announced he was signing a contract to play for the Red Wings instead officially retiring as a player.
But reality finally hit Chelios, 48, when he was called up from the AHL’s Chicago Wolves last spring to play for the Atlanta Thrashers. Although he still believed he could be a significant part of an NHL team, he was just a role player there. To make matters worse, he had to be away from his family.
“To stay in Detroit, I would have done that role forever,” Chelios said at a Tuesday news conference at Joe Louis Arena. “But I wasn’t going to do that for any other team.”
Chelios spent more than 20 minutes thanking as many people as he could from the three parts of his 26-year career — Montreal, Chicago and Detroit. He tried not to leave anyone out, from players, coaches, owners, the media and other staff.
But he did not leave any wiggle room for a possible return to the NHL. Chelios does not plan to be Brett Favre.
“I’m not going to leave the door open,” Chelios said. “I’m 100 percent sure this is it. It’s not a hard decision. I couldn’t play any longer than I did. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to keep playing.”
Chelios played in 1,651 games, the most by a defenseman in NHL history. He is the only one in league history to play in more than 400 games for three different teams. He played in 664 with Chicago, 578 with Detroit and 402 with Montreal.
A three-time Stanley Cup champion and three-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman, Chelios won two Stanley Cups in Detroit, in 2002 and 2008. His third came with the Canadiens in 1986.
Former Red Wings teammates Nick Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Kris Draper were on hand for the announcement.
“At one point, you thought, ‘Gee, he’s probably going to play until he’s 50,'” Lidstrom said.
Chelios will now move into a similar role that Steve Yzerman had when he finished playing. Executive vice president/general manager Ken Holland said Chelios will become advisor to the hockey operations.
Holland, who called Chelios and goaltender Dominik Hasek the two best trades he ever made, said Chelios could offer a different perspective, one that comes from playing so recently and from being with the players in the dressing room.
“His role will evolve over the course of the year,” Holland said. “He’ll be involved in player development. We have some prospects in Grand Rapids that are going to be playing for the Detroit Red Wings down the road. There’s no better defenseman to give advice than a guy who spent 27 years in the NHL.”
Lidstrom said having Chelios return to the Wings organization was a win-win.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for him to stay in hockey and stay with the Wings,” Lidstrom said. “I think the Wings are going to benefit from it, too. All the little details of playing defense, if you played the position for 27 years in the NHL, you know what you’re doing, so I think he’s going help a lot.
“I saw him play against Stevie (Yzerman) and Sergei (Fedorov) all those years. He was tough play against, so it was great to get an opportunity to play with him and have him join our team and be that player for us that we needed at that time.”
Holland said Chelios would also attend many home games and offer his unique perspective to Mike Babcock and the other coaches after the game.
“He’ll have some great thoughts for us,” Babcock said. “For a while we had Scotty (Bowman) and Stevie, and they’ve moved on. It’s important we continue to use the assets we have.”
Chelios’ family, wife Tracee, sons Dean and Jake, and daughters Caley and Tara were all sitting in the front row of the news conference. Chelios said one of the main reasons he made this decision was to be able to spend time with them, especially daughter Caley, who is a high school senior this year. He also looks forward to watching Dean, a Michigan State senior, and Jake, an MSU freshman, play together on the same team for the first time since they were six, seven years old.
“I always told people over the years that I never took it for granted one day,” Chelios said. “I always knew how lucky I was, how fortunate I was. I have no regrets.
“Having this opportunity to work with the Wings makes the transition easier. As long as I’m busy, I’ll be OK.”
Chelios, who played in just seven games for the Thrashers late last season, first revealed his retirement plans to a Chicago Cubs TV audience earlier this month, after singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field.