Honor for Chris Chelios in Patrick Kane's Chicago return is perfect for Detroit Red Wings

Fittingly, Patrick Kane's first memorable interaction with Chris Chelios was one that embodies both players' careers.

The two stars, rooted in the Windy City and celebrated in the Motor City, will be the focal point of Sunday's game between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks in a matchup of Original Six rivals with a history that dates back nearly a century. The event marks Kane's first appearance at United Center since being traded in 2023, which ended a tenure that spanned 16 seasons and included three Stanley Cup championships.

Before the game starts, the Blackhawks will retire the No. 7 sweater with which Chelios was synonymous during his nine seasons with them.

"I know him well, just from being in Chicago in the summers and USA Hockey connections," Kane said. "Maybe I'm copying his path a little bit here with Chicago and Detroit. He’s a great guy. I always enjoy when I get a chance to talk to him and spend some time with him. Definitely deserving of getting that No. 7 retired."

Detroit Red Wings right wing Patrick Kane (88) skates with the puck in the third period against the St. Louis Blues at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.
Detroit Red Wings right wing Patrick Kane (88) skates with the puck in the third period against the St. Louis Blues at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

By the time Kane made his Blackhawks debut in October 2007, Chelios was in his ninth season with the Wings. (He wore No. 24 in Detroit, as No. 7 was retired in 1991 in honor of Ted Lindsay.) For anyone who played with, against, or merely watched Chelios, Kane's memory of what it meant to go up against Chelios resonates. Both showed the competitive streak that marks long and celebrated careers.

"I think it was my first year, we had a power play," Kane said. "There was a puck in the corner and it was kind of just like sitting there. It was tied up in someone’s skates. I was trying to dig for it. He crosschecked me a few times and I kind of looked at the ref — the ref wasn’t calling anything. I slashed him back and then he crosschecked me three or four times. I think they called it on the seventh crosscheck. That gave us a five-on-three.

"It was funny talking to him about that situation, because at that time, I was 18 or 19 and he was a bit older. He might have been in his 40s. He might have been twice my age. But it was fun going up against him and being able to get a chance to play against him. He’s one of the best, if not the best, American-born players ever. Definitely looked up to him when I was younger."

Chelios was indeed more than twice Kane's age in that meeting in Chicago; Kane was 19 in the April 2, 2008, matchup, while Chelios was 46. Chelios left a mark, but Kane had the last laugh, with a goal and two assists in the Blackhawks' 6-2 victory.

The veteran defenseman was 37 when he came to Detroit at the 1999 trade deadline, leaving a Blackhawks team that was ridding itself of its stars to join a Wings team that saw value in an aging veteran who was a Stanley Cup champion.

If that description sounds familiar, it should. Kane didn't go directly from Chicago to Detroit, appearing in 19 regular-season games with the New York Rangers last spring, plus another seven first-round playoff games before becoming a free agent. By the time he was cleared to play, roughly six months after undergoing invasive hip surgery on June 1, 2023, Kane had celebrated his 35th birthday. Once again, the Wings saw value in an aging veteran who was a Stanley Cup champion. On Nov. 28, Kane signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract; on Dec. 7, he made his debut. He scored in his second game and has 26 points through 26 games.

"Of all the things that have impressed me with Patty, how he stepped in seamlessly was probably the most," coach Derek Lalonde said. "He’s a huge addition. He exceeded expectations on how NHL ready he would be, but the person he’s been in the room is something I didn’t expect. I probably should, with all the winning he’s done and all the success he’s had. And I like his team game. We don’t need Patrick to finish off his career with a Selke, but we do need him to play within our structure and he does it through intelligence. He’s been a big part of our recent success and hopefully a big part of our continued growth down the stretch."

Kane said when he signed that "Detroit was in my heart" as he filtered through options of where to reboot a career that one day will land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame, where Chelios was inducted in 2013. One of the players Kane turned to for advice was his former adversary, Chelios.

"He had nothing but positive things to say," Kane said. "He said I would love it here as well. I know he was in a similar situation with being in Chicago for a long time and then coming to the Red Wings, so I definitely picked his brain about things."

In one of those funny turns of events, Kane's first time at Little Caesars Arena as a member of the Wings was the night they played the Blackhawks. He exited his taxi on Woodward Avenue and walked straight into a gaggle of Blackhawks fans, who, of course, immediately recognized him.

Sunday marks an opportunity for the organization that drafted him first overall in 2007 to recognize a player that led them to the Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Kane estimated he will have 20-25 family and friends at the game.

"It’ll be fun to spend time with my family and enjoy it with them, and hopefully settle in pretty quickly and just play well,' Kane said. "It’s a little bit different now with the organization - different coach and different GM, president, owner, all that stuff since I started there. Feels a little different but I still enjoy it with the fans and I just want to enjoy the moment."

Chelios enjoyed his time with the Wings so much he stuck around for a decade, helping them win the Cup in 2002 and 2008. Kane isn't ready to say if he'll stick around past this season, though for the Wings, it would certainly make sense to extend him. For both sides, it's been as good a fit as Chelios' arrival.

"I feel like it’s still so new and fresh being here," Kane said. 'I'm focused on this year and we’ll see what happens. I will say I’ve enjoyed my time here with the group and the team and the organization in general. It’s been a real positive for me."

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Chris Chelios, Patrick Kane bonded from Chicago to Detroit Red Wings