You want to talk longevity, you go directly to Chris Chelios. Longevity isn't what got him into the Hall of Fame, it's what made him wait so long to get in. Chelios wanted to play until he could draw Social Security, but finally retired, reluctantly, at age 48.
Anyway, in his role as Blackhawks ambassador Thursday night, Chelios watched two fellow members in the brotherhood of defensemen, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. They represent the foundation of team's rebirth. Also, they are among the few current Blackhawks who remember seeing empty seats at the United Center.
"Amazing what they've done," said Chelios. "You always hear that, to win it all, you've got to have a couple guys like them. To shut down other teams, to play all those shifts, a lot of hard minutes and miles, especially at crunch time. Whether they've been a tandem, or split up, they've done it. Big time. Three times."
Seabrook logged his 1,100th regular season game with the Blackhawks a week ago Sunday against Buffalo. Keith joined him at that landmark Saturday night in Dallas. Only Stan Mikita, at 1,394, tops them in franchise history. That doesn't encompass playoff games, with sudden overtimes, many of them not so sudden. Seabrook has toiled 123 postseason meatgrinders, Keith 126.
You don't merit that kind of tenure unless you're good. Really, really good. Keith and Seabrook have been so reliably excellent that they have played longer than any active athletes in Chicago, any league. Keith, 36, actually rates senior status, for he was drafted in the second round, 54th overall, in 2002. Seabrook, 34, was chosen a year later, first round, 14th overall.
But they both debuted on October 5, 2005, in a 5-3 loss to Anaheim at the United Center, tickets available. They lived together briefly, during which time Keith detected "idiosyncrasies" in his blue line pal. Ask Seabrook about Keith, and you get the old eye roll. They've since become family men, but as Chelios stressed, whether together or apart, Keith and Seabrook are fixtures to success, and parades.
The Blackhawks have dressed some splendid defensive duos, of more recent vintage Pat Stapleton-Bill White in the 1970s, Doug Wilson-Bob Murray in the 1980s. Bigger picture, Chicago fans have enjoyed marquee mates on other franchises, none more accomplished than Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen with the Bulls. Thing is, hockey being the consummate team endeavor, the Blackhawks also boast Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who arrived shortly after Keith-Seabrook to pave the way. Jordan and Pippen each earned six rings. The Blackhawks' four horses also have 12 total. Never hurts to have two terrific twos.
"Dunc is flashier than Brent and, with his size, can skate fast and go all night," continued Chelios. "He's a freak, the way he conditions himself. But Seabs is a real physical presence who's made a lot of big hits during his career and still does. Plus, he's a real threat when he joins the rush. He's got a heavy, accurate shot. Scored some huge goals."
It so happened that, on Thursday night, Seabrook clicked shortly after his bobbleheads were distributed to the audience. What ceramic doesn't capture is his stature. By all accounts, Seabrook's grasp of leadership intangibles registers only with the people who matter. Not us on the outside, but to guys in the room, on the bus, at dinners on the road. Analytics are all the rage now, but where's the almighty Corsi gauge that quantifies an individual's character?
Patrick Sharp tabs Seabrook as "my best teammate ever," if not the best roommate. (Idiosyncrasies, i.e. multiple alarm clocks, superstitions, rituals.) Seabrook is the last Blackhawk on the ice before each period, and not because he's been brushing his teeth.
"I've never been in the locker room with Seabs, but everything I hear is that he's the greatest guy," said Chelios. "Sets an example, takes rookies under his wing, sacrifices everything for the team, keeps it fun when it's time for a laugh. I guess when he talks, everybody listens too. Nick Lidstrom, when I was with the Detroit, fabulous defenseman and person. He never said much but when he did…"
Keith told his grade school teacher that he intended to make it in the National Hockey League. His teacher told him to think again. Keith, voted among the best 100 NHL players ever, will be in the Hall of Fame. Probably not for a while, though.
"Both of them, Duncs and Seabs," promised Chelios. "They've got a lot of hockey left."