Chris Chelios in Russia? The KHL has been calling

August, 18, 2009

WOODRIDGE, Ill. -- When I last spoke with Chris Chelios in late June, he was giddy with excitement at hitting the free-agent market on July 1.

Well, he's still waiting for the phone to ring with good news.

Chelios isn't close to signing with an NHL team, but revealed Tuesday he's got a pair of offers from the rival Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.

The 47-year-old unrestricted free-agent defenseman told gathered media on Day 2 of the U.S. Olympic hockey camp, where he's helping out the coaching staff, that he's been approached by former Red Wings assistant coach Barry Smith about playing for St. Petersburg, where Smith is coach. There was also a voicemail on his phone from another unidentified KHL team wondering if he'd be interested.

"I haven't ruled out anything ... [including] the Russian League," Chelios, in Team USA sweats, told us. "The biggest thing is my family; I don't know about being away from my family. I love the game and I want to play it, but I love my kids more, so we'll see what happens."

He wants to remain close to his kids, so spending a whole year overseas doesn't appeal to him at this point. But perhaps it's not out of the question for a short stint.

"I'm going to play somewhere at the beginning of the year -- whether it's the minors or Europe," said Chelios. "I have to play. I have every intention of playing somewhere at the beginning of the year; hopefully, it's in the NHL. But if not, we'll see what happens."

He's heard the same refrain from NHL clubs that have some interest: They want to wait and see how some of their youngsters perform out of the gate before deciding whether they need him.

"I'll be waiting by the phone," Chelios said.

Another option might be his hometown Chicago Wolves of the AHL. That remains to be seen, he said. The Blackhawks? That would be ideal, of course, to finish his career with his former team.

"I don't even want to start that; you guys are going to put out some headlines," Chelios said with a laugh.

Truth is, the Blackhawks are deep along the blue line, and right now there's just no room for him.

Chelios was on the ice for the second straight day Tuesday, skating alongside players, except he wasn't in uniform. Instead, he had sweats on. He was invited here by Team USA GM Brian Burke as a special assistant to the coaching staff. Chelios quickly straightened me out when I asked him how it felt to be on the ice in a coach's outfit.

"I have a different outfit than those three, in case you haven't noticed -- it is not the same," he said. "I still consider myself a player. It's awkward, it really is. But it's a learning experience for me. I've said over the years that I do intend to stay with hockey and this is just one step toward my after career and being involved."

If no NHL team comes calling, Chelios suggested he might devote himself to scouting for Team USA ahead of the February Olympics. But he prefers not to think about that possibility; surely, he tells himself, one NHL team will call at some point. Maybe he's right. Or maybe it's time the man who some believe to be the best U.S.-born player in history accepts it is finally over.

Don't bet on it.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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