The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/26/11 at 07:36 PM ET
Maybe it’s better that I didn’t see it, because this 6,’ 250-lb bald man with a rock n’ roll goatee would have teared up—and I don’t mean Jason Williams miraculously finding NHL employment....
The Wings’ press release confirming that Kris Draper was making his retirement official this morning was all I needed to start feeling teary-eyed and downright devastated because the spit, vinegar, heart, soul and super glue that greased the Big Red Machine’s wings for so many years has finally chosen to hang ‘em up:
Kris Draper, a four-time Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008, announced today that he will retire from the National Hockey League after 20 seasons. Draper appeared in 1,157 regular-season games, 222 postseason contests (ninth all-time in NHL history) and made six trips to the Stanley Cup finals during his career.
Draper, 40, was originally a third-round pick (62nd overall) of the Winnipeg Jets in the 1989 NHL draft. He made his NHL debut with the Jets on Oct. 4, 1990, scoring his first career goal and picking up his first fighting major in a 7-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound center played 20 games for Winnipeg from 1990-91 through 1992-93 before the Jets traded him to Detroit on June 30, 1993 in exchange for future considerations.
Draper would spend the next 17 seasons donning the winged wheel in the Motor City. He split time between Adirondack (AHL) and Detroit in 1993-94, but became a fixture in the Red Wings lineup during the second half of the season. Recognized for his speed and relentless effort, he played the pivot on what became known as the ‘Grind Line’ with Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty and, early on, Joe Kocur. They formed one of the most revered lines in Red Wings history and played an integral role in helping Detroit end a 42-year drought by capturing the 1997 Stanley Cup with a sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers. The ‘Grind Line’ was at it again in 1998, checking the top lines of opponents, killing penalties and wearing down opposing defenses en route to Detroit’s second consecutive title with a four-game sweep of the Washington Capitals. Draper scored perhaps the biggest goal of his NHL career when he buried the game-winner at 4:36 of overtime in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Capitals that year. Draper, Maltby and McCarty join Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom as the only players to hoist the Cup in each of Detroit’s last four championships.
The Toronto, Ontario, native was effective again in a supporting role as the talent-laden 2001-02 Red Wings marched through the regular-season and playoffs to claim the 10th Stanley Cup in franchise history. Draper was one of three Red Wings to play in all 82 games that season and also suited up for all 23 postseason contests. A penalty killer extraordinaire and face-off specialist, Draper continually supplied the Red Wings with all of the intangibles necessary to produce championship caliber teams. This was a big reason he was named as an assistant captain prior to the 2006-07 season.
“Kris Draper has represented the Detroit Red Wings with nothing but class and dedication for the last 17 years,” said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. “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.”
Draper enjoyed the best statistical season of his career in 2003-04. He registered career-highs with 24 goals, 40 points and five shorthanded goals in just 67 games. Despite the jump in his offensive production, his defensive responsibilities never wavered and Draper was rewarded with the 2004 Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.
On Feb. 2, 2009, Draper became just the 235th player in NHL history to play in 1,000 career games when the Red Wings played host to the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena. Six weeks later, on March 17 against Philadelphia, he became just the fifth player in team history to play 1,000 games in a Red Wings sweater, joining Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman and Lidstrom. His postseason longevity is equally impressive. Draper never missed the playoffs in his 17 years with Detroit and appeared in 220 postseason games for the Red Wings, second in club history behind Lidstrom (258).
Draper also found success at the international level throughout his career. He represented his native Canada at numerous IIHF competitions including the World Junior Championships (1990-gold, 1991-gold), the World Championships (2003-gold, 2005-silver), the World Cup of Hockey (2004-gold) and the Olympic Winter Games (2006).
Here’s the Wings’ website’s clip of Draper’s presser…
Darren McCarty spoke about Draper’s career…
As did fellow linemate Kirk Maltby…
And Danny Cleary, Brian Rafalski and Justin Abdelkader were just some of Draper’s many teammates, past and present, who showed up at the presser to support their friend:
Maybe it’s better to not tell the Wings that the link to that now-infamous photo gallery is still broken...
Because it sounds like Draper had a rough go of it, too, per the Associated Press:
“I loved everything about the game and everything about the Red Wings,” he said at a news conference at Joe Louis Arena. “And that’s why I’m going to miss it so much.”
Once one of the NHL’s top checking forwards, penalty-killers and faceoff men, Draper helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008). Not bad for a player acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in 1993 for the then-waiver price of $1.
“I never thought that I would get a player at the cost of a smoothie at McDonald’s. But it happened,” Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said.
Draper’s 1,137 games played with the Red Wings is fifth in franchise history behind only Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio and Nicklas Lidstrom. His 222 playoff games trails only Lidstrom, and he had 24 goals and 46 points in those games. Draper’s career totals are 161 goals and 203 assists for 364 points in 1,157 games (he played in 20 games for Winnipeg from 1990-91 to 1992-93). He won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward in 2003-04, when he posted career highs of 24 goals and 40 points despite missing 15 games due to a late-season shoulder injury.
“He was a role model for all of our young players and a leader in the locker room,” Detroit general manager Ken Holland said.
Draper also centered the “Grind Line” for many seasons with Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty as his primary wingers.
“(Former Red Wings coach) Scotty Bowman trusted us. He trusted us in a lot of situations,” Draper said. “I certainly enjoyed playing with those guys.”
“I played with some great players and because of that, I got my name on four Stanley Cups,” Draper said.
Four Stanley Cups, and today, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James notes, a hard, hard decision to say goodbye with games left to play in those ever-chugging legs…
Speaking at a news conference at Joe Louis Arena, Draper said, “This is something that I’ve thought long and hard about with my family and teammates. This is the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make, because I love the game of hockey, and I love being a Red Wing. I consider myself one of luckiest athletes of all time to be able to play with this organization for 17 years. To be able to play over 1,000 games with the Red Wings is probably what I’m most proud of. It’s been great. “
General manager Ken Holland and team owner Mike Ilitch flanked Draper on the dais. Ilitch got a good laugh with his comment that “I never dreamt I’d get a player for the price of a smoothie at McDonalds,” a reference to the $1 it cost the Wings to acquire Draper from the Winnipeg Jets.
“It’s kind of sad, in a way,” Ilitch continued, “but he’s going to be with our organization, and I’m thrilled about that. I know he’s going to bring a lot to the table. So we can continue to have good times together.”
Draper’s wife, Julie, and their children, Kennedi, Kienan and Kamryn, sat in the front row. Off to the side stood current and former Wings Danny Cleary, Justin Abdelkader, Darren McCarty, Larry Murphy and Kirk Maltby. Holland noted Draper “has had an incredible career in a Red Wings uniform.”
Draper, 40, had wanted to play another season, but he no longer fit into the Wings’ plans. They have 14 forwards for next season and want to give some of their young players more playing time. Draper retires having won four Stanley Cups and the 2004 Frank J. Selke trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward. He gained fame locally a few years into his Detroit career, when he formed the Grind Line with fellow original members Kirk Maltby and Joe Kocur. Draper was, for years, a go-to guy on the penalty kill, where his blazing speed often led to breakaways (he openly joked about how many of them he left unconverted).
Draper joined the Wings in ’93, acquired by then-assistant general manager Doug MacLean for $1. After starting in Adirondack, Draper was brought to Detroit and soon became a valuable role player.
“He made himself, in his heyday, into a very solid third-line player,” senior vice president Jimmy Devellano said. “Later in his career, he went back to the fourth line and continued to do a good job. I think the best way to put it is, it was a dollar well spent.”
And as St. James suggests in a column penned for USA Today, the Wings really have lost a spiritual leader of sorts:
[W]what I will remember most about Draper is that he was essentially the spokesman and morale officer for the Red Wings for most of his 17 seasons in Detroit. Steve Yzerman was captain for most of Draper’s tenure, but Yzerman didn’t enjoy talking to the media every day about every issue that affected the team or the NHL.
Draper usually filled that role in Detroit. When the team was going well, Draper was there to praise teammates. When the team was going poorly, Draper made himself available to explain what went wrong and how the team was going to turn around. He was the player who spread the message of composure that was probably directed at his teammates, as well as the fans and media. Draper always seemed to know what to say.
No one garnered more respect than Yzerman in the Detroit room, but I don’t believe there was a more popular player than Draper. He has an infectious, charming personality. He was always in the middle of the jokes, and Draper could throw one-liners as effectively as checks. Any reporter doing a story on any member of the Red Wings would stop first to see Draper because he would always have a story, often funny, that provided insight into that teammate’s personality.
Former Red Wings beat writer Viv Bernstein wrote on Facebook Monday that Draper is one of the five nicest people she has met while in the sportswriting business.
I will take that one step further: I’ve covered the NHL longer than Draper has been in the NHL, and I don’t believe I could name a player classier or more considerate than Draper. Of the countless times I’ve talked to Draper through the years, he has never given me anything less than a thoughtful answer to a question.
Years ago, when I asked Mark Messier why he didn’t seem to mind dealing with the media, he told me that leadership always means standing up for his team on and off the ice. He felt that was an important part of his workload because if he provided answers to the media, then his teammates could simply concentrate on playing the game.
I always felt that Draper believed that being a leader meant being a voice in the Detroit dressing room. That’s why today I say that the Red Wings have lost their voice as well as one of the best defensive forwards the franchise has ever had.
And the Wings lost someone who always placed the best interests of others, of his teammates—family or adopted family—ahead of his own, as MLive’s Ansar Khan notes:
As expected, forward Kris Draper officially announced his retirement Tuesday morning at Joe Louis Arena.
“I loved everything about the game and everything about the Red Wings, that’s why I’m going to miss it so much,’’ Draper said.
Draper has accepted a front-office job with the club. He has no title yet but it’ll be in management. He wants to follow in the footsteps of Steve Yzerman, who learned the ins and outs of management for four years with the Red Wings before becoming the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I would have loved to play another year, but when I went back to Toronto (after the season) and talked to my wife and family about it, (retirement) made sense,’’ Draper said. “They had to remind me I’m 40 years old.’‘
Draper, who played a key role in four Stanley Cup championships, spent 17 seasons with the Red Wings and ranks fifth on the franchise list for games played with 1,137, behind only Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio and Nicklas Lidstrom. Draper also won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward in 2004, after he notched career highs with 24 goals and 40 points.
He still wanted to play, but as he told the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness, both his family and being a Red Wing meant that if the team could no longer employ his services, then he was done:
“This is something I’ve thought long and hard about,” Draper said during a press conference at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday morning. “It’s the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make because I love this game so much and I love being a Red Wing.”
Draper, 40, played 17 seasons in Detroit. Draper had hoped to play another season with Detroit, but the Wings’ have a number of forwards under one-way contracts already. With the re-signing of Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller, the Wings have 13 forwards signed to one-way deals for next season. Rookie Cory Emmerton has a two-way deal, but is out of options so therefore can’t be sent back to Grand Rapids without first clearing waivers.
Wings general manager Ken Holland said he will more than likely carry 14 forwards on the roster next season.
“Kris made a decision that it’s time,” Holland said Tuesday. “He didn’t want to come to training camp and be in a competition. He didn’t want there and become a distraction. People look at our team and they think we’ve done all this winning because of skill,” Holland added. “Skill is apart of, I’m more impressed with the character, sacrifice and all the intangibles our players have. Probably part of Kris Draper’s was this is probably good for the organization.”
“Anytime you leave something as much as he does, some of the reason you’re leaving is because of the best interests of the organization,” Holland said. “It’s not all about him. That’s why we’ve won.”
Damn straight, as the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa suggests:
Kris Draper, one of five players in the history of the Red Wings to play more than 1,000 games and the ultimate blue-collar player in a blue-collar town, announced his retirement Tuesday after 17 seasons in Hockeytown and four Stanley Cups. With characteristic humility during a 12-minute farewell address, Draper thanked everyone from parking-lot attendants who saved him the best parking place to his teammates and the management of a franchise that was the most successful in the NHL during his years in the dressing room.
“As you can probably tell I loved everything about the game and everything about the Red Wings, and that is why I am going to miss it so much,” said Draper, who paused a few times to gather his emotions, especially when he spoke about his family and special memories of both his daily routine in Joe Louis Arena and his relationships with a host of current and former Red Wings. “
The routine, the structure, the workouts, the discipline, the competition, the loyalty, I lived for that,” he said.
Draper, 40, will now join the management team in the front office working with the general manager Ken Holland and his assistant Jim Nill in a position that, Draper joked, does not yet have a title. His farewell news conference as a player was attended, notably, by the owners of the Red Wings, Mike and Marian Ilitch, who along with Draper and his teammates, helped restore the glory to the moribund NHL franchise in Detroit. Also present were Draper’s family and several players. Draper said he had talked to his former captain, Steve Yzerman, now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, on the drive to The Joe.
He also made frequent references to “the greatest coach in the game,” Scotty Bowman. Draper said it was especially important in the development of his career that Bowman trusted him to be on the ice in many key situations that led to so much success for the Red Wings.
“I know how fortunate I am to play this game, to live this dream out,” Draper said. “I had one dream, and that was to play in the NHL. I never thought I was going to last this long. I never thought I was going to be with the greatest organization, the Detroit Red Wings.”
Draper told DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose that he’s very proud of the fact that he’ll remain with the organization in some capacity…
Draper will now work with the Wings’ front office team of Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Ryan Martin. Though a job title and description are forthcoming, Draper is excited about his new management challenge.
“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’.”
Asked to reflect on his spectacular career, Draper highlighted three specific moments.
“Scoring in the Stanley Cup finals in 1998 was special,” he said. “It’s something that I’ll never forget. To be able to score a big (overtime) goal like that in the Stanley Cup finals, and it put us up 2-0, and then we went on to sweep Washington. Playing in 1,000 games is something that I’m proud of, but to play in 1,000 games as a Red Wing is something that I’m certainly very proud of. To be one of five guys, and obviously, the company that I’m in, you shake your head at it.”
Draper played in 1,137 games for the Wings, joining Gordie Howe (1,687), Alex Delvecchio (1,549), Yzerman (1,514) and Nicklas Lidstrom (1,494) to reach the franchise milestone. Draper also ranks ninth all-time in Stanley Cup history for games played, trailing only Chris Chelios (266), Lidstrom (258), Mark Messier (236), Claude Lemieux (234), Scott Stevens (233), Guy Carbonneau (231), Larry Robinson (227) and Glenn Anderson (225).
“Winning the Selke (in 2004) and having my name on the same trophy as Bob Gainey, Pavel Datsyuk, Steve Yzerman, those guys, that’s a true honor,” Draper said. “I’m just glad to have won a Selke before Pav decided to dominate everything that he does, because there’s no chance that I would ever win that again.”
But those staggering numbers—there is a very real argument that Draper’s #33 should be retired for becoming the ultimate “company man”—but I keep using that word because Draper’s departure was as painful for him to decide upon as it is for the fans he thanked by name to accept, as he told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji, recalling a conversation with his son, Kienan:
“I’ll be honest, probably one of the toughest things that I’ve ever had to do in my life is tell my son,” Draper said. “Now I’m probably going to start to get emotional. We literally sat in our pool for about two hours and both of us were crying. He loves it as much as I do. He loves that his dad is a Red Wing. He loves that dad wears No. 33. Going to bed last night, same thing. I slept in his bed and kind of hugged and cried. That was probably one of the toughest things that I’ve ever had to do.”
Draper, who turned 40 in May, called it a career after 20 NHL seasons, the last 17 in Detroit. He finishes with four Stanley Cups, never having missed the postseason with the Red Wings and as the fifth player in team history to play 1,000 games. Many of Draper’s former teammates were in attendance at Joe Louis Arena’s Olympia Club, including Darren McCarty, Joe Kocur, Kirk Maltby, Danny Cleary, Brian Rafalski, Larry Murphy, Jakub Kindl and Justin Abdelkader. Others watched the announcement live on the team’s website.
Draper will remain with the Red Wings in a front-office role.
“I just thought when I looked big picture at what I wanted to do, I thought this was a great opportunity just to kind of step back from the game, still be involved in the game and watch hockey,” Draper said.
“The day to day of just being around him and the guys, the routine that we had, traveling and all the things that we got to do together on and off the ice,” [Kirk] Maltby said. “He’s a great person and he’s been great with me and my family. I’m glad that he’s still going to be with the organization so I’ll still get to see him quite a bit.”
I’ll leave reading about Draper’s talk with Steve Yzerman and the fact that he treasures celebrating the his 2008 Stanley Cup win with his kids the most to you, but this is a wonderful spot to end on for the moment:
“I consider myself one of the luckiest athletes of all time,” Draper said. “I never thought I’d last this long. I never thought I’d play in a great organization like the Detroit Red Wings. My goal was just to play in the NHL. There is sadness. This is all I know. I loved this team. I loved everything about it. I loved training, competing. I’m really going to miss being a hockey player. Throwing on Draper 33, I loved it.”
For now, I’ve got a family that’s yelling at me to come to dinner with them on vacation, so blogging’s got to take a backseat for the moment, but amongst the good reads that I hope to revisit for the “overnight” report:
• ESPN’s Scott Burnside penned a touching column about Draper’s retirement;
• USA Today’s Kevin Allen produced a short write-up;
• SI’s Stu Hackel went top shelf with a fantastic Draper career retrospective, YouTube highlights galore included;
• NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman duly noted that Draper thanked Doug MacLean and Bryan Murray for making the “blockbuster” $1 trade to acquire him;
• Yahoo Sports’ Sean Leahy paid A fitting tribute to Draper’s tenacity and character;
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon duly notes that Draper was loved in Detroit and despised by his opponents for his…okay, his piss and vinegar grit;
• The Sporting News confirms the following...
Among his many thanks to Red Wings players and personnel, Draper saluted the team’s fans. “Hockeytown fans are the greatest fans, both at home and on the road,” he said.
• And Craig Custance delivers the must read of must reads in suggesting that it’s Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Danny Cleary and Niklas Kronwall, among others, who have to step up and replace Draper’s heart-and-soul talks both on the ice and in the locker room that made him a de-facto coach;
• Wings social media coordinator Jake Duhaime paid tribute to Draper in his own unique way (and I dig it);
• Bill Roose spoke to Draper’s Grind Line pals;
• It’s not an understatement for Fox 2’s Ryan Ermanni to suggest that Draper was the best buck ever spent by the Wings;
And in the multimedia department, TSN embedded some classic Draper clips into its story, Sportsnet posted a Draper tribute, Fox 2, ClickonDetroit, WXYZ, 97.1 the Ticket’s Mike Stoneand Ermanni via WDFN all spoke to Draper…
Draper spent so long talking to the media that everyone eventually left the building. http://is.gd/cINfEO #redwings
We’ll also leave Sam McCaig’s suggestion that Johan Franzen’s the seventeenth-best right winger in the NHL today for later.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.