Their left wing lock also protects veteran defensemen better than any system in the NHL. Not only do Detroit backliners rarely face three-on-two or two-on-one rushes, but right-side defensemen like Chelios are also spared the wear and tear of moving diagonally to the left corner to retrieve a puck on an opposing dump-in, as they would do in most defensive systems. (In the Wings' lock, that is the left wing's responsibility.) "It gives you more freedom to join the rush," Chelios says. "A couple of times against Buffalo, I started going [to the left corner] for the puck before I remembered. In the breakout Detroit uses with the center, I'm supposed to jump into the play, and I kept forgetting to do that, too. In Chicago it was all move [the puck from defenseman to defenseman] and fire it up the boards. Now I've got to look for guys in the right spot and make plays."
Against Buffalo, Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman played Chelios with Lidstrom, although in the final minute of a one-goal game, the minutes that have defined Chelios's career, he used Murphy with Lidstrom. With Chelios, Lidstrom and Murphy—Bowman likened them to the Big 3 of Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe that he coached in Montreal's dynastic days of the late 1970s—the coach has plenty of options.
A fourth Norris next year for Chelios is not impossible, although the odds will be a lot higher than 2 to 1. He still moves brilliantly, pivoting and shifting his posture from offense to defense as quickly as anyone. He still can pass tape-to-tape. He still is conscientious without the puck; on a Chicago team that had allowed the third-most goals in the NHL, Chelios, despite averaging 27 minutes a game, was only-4.
In the unlikely event that the world doesn't end in 2000, and Chelios as a Red Wing can be construed as a sign the apocalypse is upon us, the Wings should continue as an NHL power for at least a few years, despite Holland's seeming indifference to the future. "We know some day we're going to fall," Holland says. "When you never get a top 10 draft pick, you will eventually be pulled down. But we said, Let's look back five years from now and say that we did everything we could to win a third Cup, that we maxed out, that we gave ourselves the best possible chance, even if some of these moves are for this year only. We didn't do anything totally stupid"—the financial commitment is $15.2 million for Chelios and about $1 million combined for the other three—"and we feel we've upgraded our team on paper. Now we have to see on the ice."