Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Badgers on the Move: Chris Chelios

First of all, I want to thank 60min and the rest of the No Alibis crew from
bringing me on. I look forward to contributing here, and I can only hope
to be half as interesting as Minnesota

With free agency set to begin July 1st, and the NHL Draft around the
corner, we're more than likely to see a lot of player movement in the NHL over
the coming weeks. As has been reported here
and elsewhere, Chris Chelios is going to be one of those players. His deal is up in
Detroit, and Ken Holland will not be looking to resign him.

The question of what Chelios wants to do now didn't go unanswered
. Cheli held a press conference last week at his chili bar in Detroit to announce his intentions:

[Chelios] 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.

The sentimentalist (or the rabid BadgerHawk fan... one of the two) secretly hopes that he'll head back to his hometown Chicago Blackhawks. His radio interview with ESPN 1000 Wednesday (linked via above) certainly gave the impression that his preference for the Eastern Conference is just that, a preference: "I'm not ruling out any of the Western Teams, either". He openly stated that he'll probably be giving Dale Tallon of the Blackhawks a call, and that "[he has] a soft spot in [his] heart for Chicago".

There were some moments last season where Chelios looked his age, but considering how sparingly he played, one can hardly blame him for being out of rythym. And although he is certainly slower than he was in his prime, we live in a day and age where Hal freakin' Gill can be the main shut down defender on a Stanley Cup winning team. As long as his positional play is solid (I think it still is), and his icetime demands are consistent but low (they are), I think he can find that third pairing role he's been talking about. But that doesn't solve the million dollar question: Who will be in the market for Cheli?

Teams looking for Chelios will probably have to satisfy several, if not all, of the following characteristics in their defensive corps: youth (see also: inexperienced), lack of experienced leaders, lack of stay-at-home defensemen, lack of depth beyond their top four.

Who fits that bill? Atlanta, Toronto, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay stand out, if only because they had the worst GA in 2008-09- but they all fit at least three of those four virtues. Chicago would certainly be a sexy option (there's a phrase you don't see often) if not for the valuable experience that Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook got during this spring's playoff run.

LA certainly has an interesting hodge podge of defensemen in their system, including a lot of ex-college players (such as UW's own Davis Drewiske), but it might be a challenge for Cheli to crack that lineup consistently, even if very few of the Kings are head and shoulders above him.

There are numerous other teams that simply just don't have the depth at defense and are teetering on the edge of having a decent playoff run/appearance in them (Columbus, St. Louis, Buffalo, etc.). But the truth with Cheli is this: starting July 1st, he's got a lot of calls to start making, and this probably won't be settled quickly, unless Chicago actually (for some reason) makes an agressive offer. Just about all we know for sure is that he's not playing for Detroit.