After he filled in when younger players couldn't over the past two seasons, Detroit re-signed 45-year-old defenceman Chris Chelios to a one-year contract Tuesday, bringing the three-time Norris Trophy winner back for his 24th NHL season and ninth with the Red Wings.
Chelios, who said the deal will pay him US$850,000 plus incentive bonuses, can reach another milestone next spring. He needs to appear in just two more playoff appearances to surpass Patrick Roy for the most career post-season games in the NHL.
Of course, Chelios, who turns 46 in January, has more than that in mind after the Red Wings' elimination this season in six games at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
"We were pretty close again to being back in the finals and having a chance of winning that Cup," Chelios told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "One bounce, one game and I thought we were as good as any team, we just didn't capitalize on our opportunities, Anaheim did.
"We're coming back with basically the same group of guys next year, we'll be able to take a run at the Cup again and that's what it's all about and that's what I'm looking forward to."
Chelios played a key role for the Red Wings after Jiri Fischer was sidelined with a heart ailment during the 2005-06 season and Niklas Kronwall suffered a fractured hip late last season. He logged more than 20 minutes a game over the last seven games of the playoffs after Mathieu Schneider broke his wrist in Game 5 of the second round against the San Jose Sharks.
"He has taken conditioning to a new level and has set the standard for how today's professional athlete trains year-round in order to compete at an elite level," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said in a statement. "In addition to his high level of play, Chris' experience and leadership are second to none."
Given his accomplishments, few could begrudge the NHL's oldest player for opting for retirement. Chelios is coming off a league-record 22nd post-season appearance and he won Stanley Cup trophies with Detroit in 2002 and the Montreal Canadiens in 1986.
He has appeared in 11 NHL all-star Games and played for the United States in the 1984, 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics.
Chelios appeared in 71 games last season, finishing with no goals and 11 assists with 34 penalty minutes. During the playoffs, he led the Wings' blue-liners with a plus-7 rating and ranked fifth among all defencemen, with one goal and six assists in 18 games.
Chelios, who played nine seasons for the Blackhawks in his native Chicago, has put down roots in Michigan. He owns the popular Cheli's Chili Bar, which has locations in downtown Detroit and in Dearborn.