The Chicago Blackhawks will retire former captain Chris Chelios’ No. 7 in the upcoming season, the team revealed in surprise fashion Thursday night. Here’s what you need to know:
- Pearl Jam frontman and Chelios’ close friend Eddie Vedder delivered the news to a sold-out United Center crowd during a concert.
- Chelios’ ceremony is slated for Feb. 25 when the Blackhawks host the Detroit Red Wings.
- The 61-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer will be the ninth player to have his number retired by the franchise.
A Blackhawks Legend and Chicago Icon: Cheli is going to the rafters 👏 pic.twitter.com/6fyOeQ34v1
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) September 8, 2023
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
Pearl Jam and Vedder, one of Chelios’ closest friends, playing a show at the United Center may have been the perfect timing for the announcement, but this was something discussed within the organization for years. It was also one of Rocky Wirtz’s wishes before his recent passing. Danny Wirtz said in a statement, “Rocky wanted Chris to be the next Blackhawk to have his jersey retired and would have loved to see this moment.”
Chelios, like Marian Hossa, who was the last player to have his number retired by the Blackhawks, was beloved by Rocky Wirtz as a person and as a player. They were held in a different light to Wirtz. Chelios returning to the organization in recent years as an ambassador was a sign of that. Chelios was one of those former Blackhawks where it was always wondered by fans whether he’d ever had his number retired, and now he will. — Powers
Who might be next?
With the Blackhawks’ centennial coming up in 2025-26, we can expect several more jerseys to be hoisted into the United Center rafters. While there are many worthy candidates, it’s a departure from the way the team has handled its history.
The Blackhawks have been notoriously stingy with jersey retirements over the years, with franchise greats such as Doug Wilson, Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick and — until now — Chelios still waiting their turns. The expectation was that, among the seven three-time champions, only Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith would find their way into the rafters, but Danny Wirtz and Jaime Faulkner have taken a different, more fan-friendly tack. The decision to retire Hossa’s No. 81 last season swung the door wide open for other so-called “borderline” cases. Hossa’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the best free-agent signing in Chicago history, but his best years came in Ottawa and Atlanta.
With Hossa’s jersey retired, it suddenly became possible that Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Niklas Hjalmarsson, the other three-time champs, get enshrined, too. Seabrook — the beating heart of those Stanley Cup teams — is a virtual lock once his contract expires after this coming season. And the fact that he shares Chelios’ No. 7 is not a concern, as the Blackhawks have two 3s hanging already — Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson. — Lazerus
Chicago’s jersey retirement guidelines
The Blackhawks noted in their release that Thursday’s announcement continues an organizational jersey retirement plan that began last year.
“Internal eligibility guidelines have been established for future jersey retirements and fans can expect more celebrations in years to come,” the team said.
According to a team source, those internal guidelines include:
- Player must be retired for at least three years (not including LTIR)
- Minimum of eight years and 500 games played (400 for goaltenders) with the Blackhawks
- Is enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame OR has played 1,000 games (700 games for a goaltender) with the Blackhawks
- Played more games with the Blackhawks than any other team during NHL career
- Among the most prolific Blackhawks at his position, as evidenced by on-ice performance, All-Star selections and major NHL Awards
- Exhibited (and continues to exhibit) strong off-ice character
- Changed the game of hockey
- Additional consideration given for members of Stanley Cup-winning teams in Chicago
- Additional consideration given for the entire body of work done by a player for the Blackhawks organization, including time as a broadcaster, ambassador and the like
Chelios, a three-time Norris Trophy winner, ranks fourth all-time among Blackhawks defensemen in assists (395) and points (487) and is fifth in goals (92) across 664 career games with the franchise.
During his 26-year NHL career, Chelios won three Stanley Cup titles — one with Montreal and two with Detroit — and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013. He ranks eighth all-time among NHL defensemen with 763 career assists and 10th with 948 career points.
(Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn / NHLI via Getty Images)