Chelios, 45, will be the oldest defenseman to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring, but the Detroit Red Wings rearguard has no intentions of sticking around long enough to become the oldest player at any position to compete in the playoffs. That mark belongs to Howe, who was 52-years-old when he last played in the postseason.
"I talked to Gordie Howe about two weeks ago and I promised him I would quit at 51," Chelios said. "He's Mr. Hockey."
If Howe is Mr. Hockey, then Chelios is Mr. Longevity. The most veteran player in the League today, Chelios has been a part of hockey for almost as long as ice has. This is going to be Chelios' record 22nd playoff appearance, moving him past Ray Bourque, who finished his career with 21 tournaments under his belt.
Even more remarkable than Chelios' longevity has been his knack for being a part of good teams. Out of 23 NHL seasons, he's only missed the playoffs once in his career. Once! His lone miss came in his final full season with the Chicago Blackhawks, when they missed the playoffs in 1998.
By that time, Chelios had already won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986 and was seen in 14 straight playoff tournaments.
Chelios was traded to the Red Wings the following season and he's been in the playoffs every year since. Setting a North American professional sports record, Detroit has been to the playoffs 16-straight years and the franchise has accumulated over 100 points in seven-consecutive seasons. Chelios is a big reason why the Red Wings have been able to continue those impressive trends.
At a time when the NHL is being taken over by a widespread youth movement and many young players have played beyond their years, "Old Man" Chelios hasn't lost a step and is as steady on the blue line as he's ever been. A big reason for that is he's blessed with the right genetics. But an equally important aspect of his staying power is how much Chelios takes care of himself between games and away from the rink.
"I think it's just a little bit of everything," he says. "There's been a lot of guys over the past 10, 12 years that trained just as hard. I think I've been very fortunate that I met my trainer 14 years ago, T.R. Goodman, who basically was the first to do my type of training, I guess you want to call it circuit training. I changed my training. I've had to train because I can't do the impact training that I used to. I've been very fortunate to bounce back from the injuries that I've had.
"But like I said, when you last 23 years, that's just a little bit of everything and I think I look at other guys, the tragedies that they have been through and the injuries they have sustained, I've been very fortunate and I've remained healthy," Chelios said. "And I've just been able to fit in with the trainer in the last couple of years and not been able to uproot and move my family, which probably would been about the end of my career a few years ago if I had not been able to play with Detroit. The team has had a lot of success, and I think that's what's kept me around the longest for the most part I think."
Chelios is sixth on the all-time list with 228 playoff games played. He won Stanley Cups in 1986 and 2002 and he would very much like to win another one before he hangs up the skates forever. It was the Cup he won in 2002 that remains the highlight of his long career.
"If you look back, probably the biggest highlight has to be on the ice when we won the 2002 Cup with my two boys who were 15 and 14, or 14 and 13 at the time, to share that with two sons who love hockey as much as I do," Chelios said. "That was definitely the highlight of my career. You know, not making it any more important than the Cup that I won in Montreal, but I celebrated that alone, and to do it with my two boys and my family, it was something special. If you look at the guys and going through what I've gone through, it's a special thing to do as a parent."
And the man old enough to be the father of many NHL players would like to win one more before it's over. Before he gets as old as Gordie Howe.