Chris Chelios played 1651 games in the NHL, fourth all-time behind Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Ron Francis. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
I’ve been thinking about 2012 a lot lately, both the good and the bad.
The bad news? Sadly, we won’t be watching Chris Chelios celebrate his 50th birthday patrolling the blueline as some NHL team’s seventh defenseman. His recent transition into retirement put that dream to an end.
Fifty. It’s just a number, really. Chelios getting to 48 in the NHL was a phenomenal feat in itself. All the same, it would’ve been fabulous to see a professional athlete maintain his conditioning and level of compete to such a degree that he could play against rivals 30 years his junior.
It wasn’t that long ago – OK, maybe 25 years ago – I used to think that when a player approached 30, he was entering the last decent season or two of his career. And the stories in The Hockey News made that appear the case.
I remember reading 1977 first overall pick Dale McCourt was slowing down at 27 and his days of averaging a point per game in the NHL were soon at an end. He spent his last few seasons in Switzerland.
I remember reading the Los Angeles Kings wanted to find a successor to aging three-time 30-goal center Jim Fox because his best days were behind him. Fox’s goal totals slipped to 14, 19 and 16 in his late-20s and he was gone – and Wayne Gretzky acquired – before turning 30.
Then, 10 or so years ago, it became a monumental feat when skaters (not just goalies) made it to 40 and still served an important purpose on the ice. Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Ray Bourque, Dave Andreychuk, Steve Yzerman, Scott Stevens, et al, really pushed the limit with good conditioning and solid work ethics.
But Chelios maintaining usefulness well into and through his mid-40s? That was impressive. Chelios would have liked to become the first 50-year-old to play since Gordie Howe was 51 in 1979-80, but the opportunity didn’t present itself this season. And that’s too bad.
My good thoughts about 2012 have to do about the growing discussion that another NHL lockout is on the horizon in two years when the collective bargaining agreement expires. I’m in the camp that believes the league and players’ association will never let CBA negotiations dither to the point a work stoppage is unavoidable.
NHL LABOR DOOM? NOT SO FAST
The main reason for my optimism that a resolution will be struck has to do with the threat that a world-wide “double-dip” economic recession is on its way in the next couple of years. Just a few days ago, Goldman Sachs predicted there’s a 25-30 percent chance the U.S. economy will slip back into recession, due largely to slow economic growth, unemployment and a slowdown in housing starts. A prominent U.S. economist put the odds at 40 percent.
In case you missed it, the recession of 2008 happened at a time (September) that enabled the NHL to get through it relatively unscathed. Fans had already committed to their season tickets, businesses committed to their advertising. The recession didn’t bottom out until March of 2009 and by the time fans and advertisers had decisions to make in the summer of 2009, economic recovery was well in hand.
But now that we’re getting late into 2010 and the world is bracing for a global economic slowdown, surely the NHL and its players’ union realize it probably won’t be so lucky this time.
If the world, or more specifically North America, is in the midst of economic doom and gloom six to 18 months from now and fans and advertisers are second-guessing where they allocate their depleting resources, are they going to care about millionaires fighting over billions of dollars?
There’s no way in the world the NHL and its players are going to allow that to happen.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.