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A sad day for hockey


Back in the day when working at NHL.com, we used to joke that Kris Draper would call the office each week just to see if we needed anything. That’s how cooperative Draper was in getting the word out on hockey. There was no ego involved. Draper wasn’t trying to blow his own horn, instead speading the gospel of hockey simply by being helpful and friendly.

My colleague, John McGourty called Draper the best defensive zone, penalty-killing center ever upon learning Draper, 40, was retiring.

“Draper was the first guy I would go to the dressing room after practices,” McGourty remembered. “He would always introduce his new teammates to me and start conversations with them. He signed a Team Canada jersey from the 2004 World Cup of Hockey tournament for me for charity.”


Like they say, little things mean a lot. And in Detroit, all those little things added up to a very big package, one that made Draper an indispensible member of one of the NHL’s elite teams over the course of his career.

“Kris Draper has represented the Detroit Red Wings with nothing but class and dedication for the last 17 years,” Wings GM Ken Holland rightly observed. “His extraordinary work ethic has provided a great example for all players within our organization and his influence on the young players in our system will be felt for years to come. I cannot thank Kris enough for all he has done for us. He is a true professional.”

And as a true pro, Draper realizes that time marches on for professional athletes. At age 40, Draper knew his odds of playing a significant role for the team this season were 50-50 at best, so he accepted the offer of a job in the front office and moves on with the next chaper of his life.

“There is sadness because this is all I know,” Draper said at a press conference Tuesday morning at Joe Louis Arena. “I love this game. I love everything about it. I love the training, I love competing. I’m going to miss it … tremendously.

“It’s is a sad day because my hockey career is over. It’s something that I’ve loved to do. Every day I get into the car. It’s game day. I get to the pre-game skate. I go to lunch with 13-14 of my teammates. Those are the things that I’m really going to miss.”

That’s what separates Draper from others. He was a champion player who enjoyed the camradiere more than anything else. And that camradiere was on full display as evidenced by the number of players who got to “The Joe” to honor his accomplishments, among them Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, Joey kocur, Larry Murphy, Brian Rafalski, Dan Cleary and Justin Abdelkader. 

Draper was selected by the Winnipeg Jets in the third round of the 1989 Entry Draft and played in the Winnipeg organization for three seasons before being famously acquired by the Red Wings for “future considerations” that turned out to be one dollar. Talk about getting some bang for that buck! Draper’s teams went to six Stanley Cup Finals and won the Cup four times, a winning percentage anyone would take.

In all, Draper played in 1,157 regular-season games, scoring 161 goals and 203 assists and finishing at plus-72. In Stanley Cup Playoff competition, Draper appeared in 222 games, scoring 24 goals and 22 assists. But again, those statistics tell only a small part of what Draper has meant to the Red Wings. Now, he goes to hockey’s version of graduate school working with the NHL’s top front office team.

“I talked to Steve Yzerman on the drive in here,” Draper said. “I loved when Stevie left the game he worked with the organization and he brought the passion every day that he brought as a player. Now look at him with Tampa. Those are the things … now that I have challenges and there are goals. I like being a goal-oriented person and I’m going to set some goals for myself.

“But the bottom line is, I’m really going to miss being a hockey player. I’m really going to miss throwing on ‘Draper 33’.”

And there are going to be thousands who are going to miss seeing it.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Detroit Red Wings, Phil_Coffey, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: kris+draper



Players like Draper are a big reason the Wings have had such incredible success over the past 20 years. He’s truly one of those guys for whom numbers don’t come close to telling the story.

And good to see you back, Phil!

Posted by DonK from Saskatoon on 07/27/11 at 01:48 AM ET


I swear at least 150 of those goals were against the Blues.

As much as I hated watching Kris play because he always seemed to be a game changer against the Blues, I’ll miss watching his work ethic.  Players of his ilk are what makes a team.

I hear analyst talk all the time about a player having or missing the “jam”, the “grit” or the “heart”.  Love him or hate him, Drapes is full of all three.

Posted by Patrick Werner from St. Louis on 07/27/11 at 02:14 AM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

I like being a goal-oriented person and I’m going to set some goals for myself.

Five years from now, how great would it be to see Tick Tock retire and be replaced by Stevie Y. And, at that same press conference, to see Drapes replace Babs as the Wings head coach. Then, with a team led by “veterans” like Kronwall, Kindl, Smith, Helm, Abbi, Tatar, Jurco and others, to see him end that season by hoisting Cup #14 (or maybe even #15).

Okay, maybe that’s a dream scenario. But, then, so is thinking that a guy you got for a buck could turn into someone who would end up truly representing the heart and the soul of the organ-I-zation.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 07/27/11 at 02:21 AM ET

perfection's avatar

this was an awesome tribute Phil… one of the best I’ve seen. Draper was really a pro through and through and I’m glad there are folks out there who recognize it. You almost wish there was some kind of working man’s Hockey Hall of Fame that could recognize the Drapers of the game.

Posted by perfection from LaLaLand on 07/27/11 at 02:48 AM ET

Primis's avatar

I haven’t spoken about Draper anywhere yet but the best tribute that I can pay to him is this:

Darren Helm is often a DEMON on both ends of the ice and has already reached cult hero status in Detroit… and yet still we talk about him developing to be more like Draper.

I can’t really sum it up much better.

Do you think Claude Lemieux ever wakes up one day and realizes that the guy he checked from behind won as many Cups as he did (on only one team even), represented Canada more in international play than him, has more medals, and even made an Olympic Team (which Lemieux never did)?

Posted by Primis on 07/27/11 at 03:22 AM ET

joedaiceman's avatar

Damn - Draper, Ozzie and Raffi all retired - a void that will be felt by all RedWing fans for a long time.  Holland did a masterful job in handling all of this, but more is owed to the way these guys made the decision and left with aplomb. Now, room is made for the next generation.

Posted by joedaiceman on 07/27/11 at 03:47 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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