by pcoffey on 07/27/11 at 12:39 AM ET
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.
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About Iced Coffey
Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.