The question appeared to catch Chris Chelios
a little off-guard.
"Could you still play in the National Hockey League right now?" he was asked recently during a conversation with NHL.com.
The 49-year old former star defenseman, who will be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, retired in 2010 and took a job as executive advisor to Detroit Red Wings
general manager Ken Holland. He has an office at Joe Louis Arena, complete with a flat screen TV on one wall and a giant dry-erase board on the other for tracking and grading players.
2011 U.S. HOCKEY HALL OF FAME
That doesn't mean Chelios has lost his love of the ice. He still works out in the gym with Wings players, still gets on the ice with Detroit’s defense prospects in Grand Rapids and still looks to be in game shape.
"I always think I could play," said Chelios, who played parts of 26 NHL seasons for four different teams including the Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks
, Montreal Canadiens
and Atlanta Thrashers. "I don't lose my vision or skill level, but the legs are what always got me out of trouble and if I don't have my legs, there's no way I could play in this game."
There's always the next best thing, of course, which is coaching. Chelios has gotten a taste of that since retiring and would like to explore it more in the future.
"I'm not 100-percent sure, but that seems to be the way I'm leaning right now," Chelios told NHL.com. "Right now, the only thing keeping me from coaching is my kids and their activities."
Chelios currently has two sons – Dean (a junior forward) and Jake (a sophomore defenseman) – playing hockey at Michigan State. He also has a daughter, Caley, who's a freshman lacrosse player at Northwestern – located in Evanston, Ill., north of Chelios' hometown of Chicago.
After all the road trips and practices that took him away when he was playing, Chelios is now playing catch-up with his kids.
"I'm just making up for lost time," he said. "My two boys, I enjoyed watching them more than I probably enjoyed playing at the end of my career. Now I have a daughter at Northwestern and I'm looking forward to watching her. I don't know how I'll be able to hang in there for four more years before I coach, though."
That's because hockey is practically etched into his DNA code.
Chelios still plays hockey in Detroit-area men's leagues and has found the hands-on part of teaching young hockey players quite enjoyable. Aside from his responsibilities with Detroit, Chelios was also one of Don Waddell's assistant coaches for the U.S. team that played in the Deutschland Cup in November.
"My two boys, I enjoyed watching them more than I probably enjoyed playing at the end of my career. Now I have a daughter at Northwestern and I'm looking forward to watching her. I don't know how I'll be able to hang in there for four more years before I coach, though" -- Chris Chelios
The other assistant was Bill Guerin
"I'm sure if they'd had an injury or two, he would've put on the equipment and played," said Holland, who sees a similar passion for coaching in Chelios that he saw in him as a player. "He just loves hockey. He's a rink rat. That's why he's accomplished what he's accomplished."
Could it translate to the bench?
"He and I have talked about it," Holland told NHL.com. "I think he'd be a fabulous assistant coach right now. I know he wants to spend time watching his boys play and his daughter play lacrosse, but it wouldn't surprise me if somewhere down the road he got into the game. He'd be a real good assistant coach."
That became apparent last spring, when Chelios worked with the Red Wings' black aces prospects who got called up from Grand Rapids for Detroit's playoff run.
"He'd go on the ice with the black aces after practice and they'd go to the gym afterward," Holland told NHL.com. "A lot of our young kids … you know, he's Chris Chelios
. They followed him around like he was the pied piper – and he loved it. He was right there on the ice with them playing and then going to the gym to work out with them. So, I think it's a natural fit."
"It's like Kevin Costner in that movie 'Waterworld,'" Chelios said, referring to the much-maligned movie in which the world is covered in water. "He just had to be on the ocean. I just love being on the ice and around the rink. Being on the bench, if you can't play anymore, it seems to be the next best thing. The only thing stopping me right now is I love watching my kids play. I've missed so much over the years."