Is Chris Chelios the greatest U.S. hockey player ever?
On Monday night, Chris Chelios will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The Chicago-based ceremony will welcome him, Gary Suter, Keith Tkachuk, announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick and Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider into the hall -- quite the stellar induction class.
Which got Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune to thinking: Who’s the greatest U.S. hockey player ever?
Rosenbloom says the answer is simple. It’s Chelios.
There never has been a better U.S.-born player than Chelios because there never has been another American who combined skill, smarts, leadership, toughness and longevity the way Chelios did.
You want longevity? Try 26 NHL seasons and a record 24 Stanley Cup playoff seasons. Think about every great hockey player. Think about the legends. They’re all behind Chelios when it comes to invitations to play for sport’s most demanding championship.
And he wasn’t a passenger in those furious springs, believe me.
You want toughness? He once played 18 months with a torn knee ligament, and he still seemed to be on the ice every other shift, even-strength, power play, penalty-killing, what else you got?
Leadership? He was captain of the Blackhawks and just about every American Olympic and U.S. international team on which he played. In my time around Chelios’ dressing room, he was the kind of leader who never wanted to talk much after victories when everybody was available but always stood up after losses when a lot of players hid.
Skill and smarts? This could go on a while. Three Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman. Midseason All-Star. End-of-season All-Star. International All-Star. And that’s just this planet.
It certainly raises an interesting debate, as the list of viable candidates for the “Greatest American Player” title is big. Mike Modano is the all-time goal-scoring and points leader amongst American-born players. Brian Leetch won two Norris Trophies, was one of only five defensemen in NHL history to record a 100-point season and the first American to win the Conn Smythe. Pat Lafontaine scored 148 points in 1993-94, the highest-ever total for an American. Phil Housley played in seven All-Star games and is the career leader for points from an American defenseman.
Other names worthy of consideration include John LeClair, Jeremy Roenick, Joe Mullen and Mike Richter.
(And don’t sleep on Mark Howe, Neal Broten and Frank Brimsek.)
Heck, you could even make the case for Brett Hull (third all-time in goals and a Hockey Hall of Famer, but was born in Canada and holds dual citizenship) or Rod Langway (two-time Norris winner, born in Taiwan, raised in Massachusetts.)
So, who’s the greatest U.S. player of all time? Have at it in the comments section. For the record, I’m going with Leetch because of the surgical precision in which he dissected Vancouver in the 1994 Stanley Cup final.
Related: Versus NHL experts discuss if Chelios is the best American-born player.