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Is Chris Chelios the greatest U.S. hockey player ever?

Dec 11, 2011, 11:10 AM EDT

Chris Chelios AP

On Monday night, Chris Chelios will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The Chicago-based ceremony will welcome him, Gary Suter, Keith Tkachuk, announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick and Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider into the hall — quite the stellar induction class.

Which got Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune to thinking: Who’s the greatest U.S. hockey player ever?

Rosenbloom says the answer is simple. It’s Chelios.

There never has been a better U.S.-born player than Chelios because there never has been another American who combined skill, smarts, leadership, toughness and longevity the way Chelios did.

You want longevity? Try 26 NHL seasons and a record 24 Stanley Cup playoff seasons. Think about every great hockey player. Think about the legends. They’re all behind Chelios when it comes to invitations to play for sport’s most demanding championship.

And he wasn’t a passenger in those furious springs, believe me.

You want toughness? He once played 18 months with a torn knee ligament, and he still seemed to be on the ice every other shift, even-strength, power play, penalty-killing, what else you got?

Leadership? He was captain of the Blackhawks and just about every American Olympic and U.S. international team on which he played. In my time around Chelios’ dressing room, he was the kind of leader who never wanted to talk much after victories when everybody was available but always stood up after losses when a lot of players hid.

Skill and smarts? This could go on a while. Three Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman. Midseason All-Star. End-of-season All-Star. International All-Star. And that’s just this planet.

It certainly raises an interesting debate, as the list of viable candidates for the “Greatest American Player” title is big. Mike Modano is the all-time goal-scoring and points leader amongst American-born players. Brian Leetch won two Norris Trophies, was one of only five defensemen in NHL history to record a 100-point season and the first American to win the Conn Smythe. Pat Lafontaine scored 148 points in 1993-94, the highest-ever total for an American. Phil Housley played in seven All-Star games and is the career leader for points from an American defenseman.

Other names worthy of consideration include John LeClair, Jeremy Roenick, Joe Mullen and Mike Richter.

(And don’t sleep on Mark Howe, Neal Broten and Frank Brimsek.)

Heck, you could even make the case for Brett Hull (third all-time in goals and a Hockey Hall of Famer, but was born in Canada and holds dual citizenship) or Rod Langway (two-time Norris winner, born in Taiwan, raised in Massachusetts.)

So, who’s the greatest U.S. player of all time? Have at it in the comments section. For the record, I’m going with Leetch because of the surgical precision in which he dissected Vancouver in the 1994 Stanley Cup final.

Related: Versus NHL experts discuss if Chelios is the best American-born player.

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  1. mianfr - Dec 11, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    Yeah, I find it really hard to go against Leetch. Everyone should go to his hockey reference page and check out his stats. He was unbelievable, and for a long stretch of time.

  2. 1wildfan1 - Dec 11, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Chelios is probably in the top 5, and for sure top 10. Best ever? That’s a stretch. Anyone playing a quarter century could pad stats like he did. I’d put at least Leetch and Modano ahead of him. Housley and Broten are right there too, but they get some points from me as MN boys.

  3. kiopta1 - Dec 11, 2011 at 1:21 PM

    Yeah don’t know if he is the best American ever but he is at least top 5. Congrats chelios and thanks for your time in Det.

  4. mtm1321 - Dec 11, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    Chelios was a great hockey player. Best ever, I don’t know. If I had to pick the top US born players or dual citizens. This is how my top 15 looks.
    (1)Brett Hull, Mike Modano, Phil Housley, Jeremy Roenick, Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Joe Mullen, Doug Weight, Pat Lafontaine, Neal Broten, Keith Tkachuck, Tony Amonte, Gary Sutter, John Leclaire, (15) Rod Langway.
    Top 3 goalies (1) John Vanbiesbrouk, Tom Barraso, Mike Richter.
    That’s how looks to me after 40 years of playing and being a fan of the best game around.

  5. atwatercrushesokoye - Dec 11, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    Gary Suter is a VERY underrated player overall! I’m not saying he’s top 5 of American born players but take a look at his numbr from when he played with the Flames, in 8 full seasons he put up more than 60 points 6 times, more than 70 4 times, and had a high water mark of 91 points one year. He also won the Calder trophy.

    Based on who the HHOF has been letting in, they should be considering Gary Suter, but they won’t because of his hits on Gretzky and Kariya.

  6. sjsharksfan11 - Dec 11, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    Couldn’t stand the guy but Mike Modano is hands down the greatest then followed by guys like Leetch, Roenick, Chelios, and heck the guy who mentioned Suter was pretty spot on. What an underrated player he was

  7. Jeff - Dec 11, 2011 at 9:56 PM

    Best U.S. hockey player? Yeah I can buy that. If not Cheli, then probably Modano.

  8. dstars2797 - Dec 12, 2011 at 3:27 AM

    Chelios has my vote for one of the best US players. The Hockey Hall of Fame is the next step.

  9. michiganhockey11 - Dec 12, 2011 at 8:58 AM

    I loved what Chelios did for the Wings, but I gotta go with either Modano or Leetch.

  10. stakex - Dec 12, 2011 at 12:39 PM

    Mike Modano was the best US forward, and Leetch is hands down the best US defensemen.

    Hell, just look at Leetch’s stats. He had almost 100 more points then Chelios, and he did it with 400 less games. Chelios has a much better career +/-… but that was helped greatly by the fact he played on a Detroit team that few would aargue has been the best team in the NHL over the last 15 years. Leetch on the other hand played on a Rangers team that, aside from 1994 and 1997 was pretty awful… missing the playoffs from 98 through 04. Yet even while playing with one of the worst teams in the NHL during that time, Leetch still put up very respectable numbers.

    Don’t get me wrong, Chelios is clearly one of the best US players of all time. However I think both Modano and Leetch were better, especially when you consider what they accomplished with the teams they were playing for.

  11. mikeinindy - Dec 15, 2011 at 7:41 AM

    Best American EVER??? Sorry! Very good, but not that good! Leech was better on defense. If I had to take just one to build a team around in his prime, I’d go with Lafontaine. Keep watching the game though, I can see Patrick Kane — when he is done — being the best ever.

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