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Red Wings mid-day ramble: On Draper, Aaron Downey’s status with GR and more assistant coach talk

Updated repeatedly, most recently at 3:18 PM w/ news that the presser will take place at Joe Louis Arena with Ken Holland and Draper in attendance: MLive’s Ansar Khan confirms that Draper is retiring:

Forward Kris Draper will announce his retirement following 17 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday at an 11 a.m. news conference at Joe Louis Arena.

The team has announced the news conference. A source confirmed that Draper, 40, will announce his retirement.
...
Draper hoped to play another season with the Red Wings, but the club does not have an available roster spot, already having 23 players under contract. Draper was not interested in signing a two-way deal or coming to training camp on a tryout. He is expected to receive a job within the organization.

Update #4 or 5 or something: The Free Press’s James Jahnke and NHL.com’s confirming that Draper will retire, and via RedWingsFeed again, Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner is also confirming the news [edit: ditto for the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness] [edit/update #2: and the Free Press’s Helene St. James is now saying that Draper and Ken Holland will be taking questions from the press regarding Draper’s expected retirement, so there you go, and TSN is also confirming] [edit/update #3: Ted Kulfan says that the presser will take place at Joe Louis Arena].  Here’s NHL.com’s blurb:

The end has come for Kris Draper, and along with it comes the end of an era for the Detroit Red Wings. According to reports, Draper, 40, will announce his retirement Tuesday, ending a 20-year career, the final 17 of which were spent with Detroit. The Red Wings have scheduled an 11 a.m. press conference at Joe Louis Arena.

It has been a summer of seismic shifts within the Detroit organization. In May, defensive linchpin Brian Rafalski surprised almost everyone by calling it quits at 37, with a year still left on his contract. Then, earlier this week, goalie Chris Osgood announced his retirement, citing an uncertainty that his body can withstand another year of hockey.

Amongst all the inline updates above are various notes from the Free Press’s Helene St. James, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness and Fox Sports Detroit’ Art Regner, but as of 3:18 PM, here’s the Wings’ official “tweet”:

The Red Wings have scheduled a press conference for 11 A.M. on Tuesday. Expected to attend are GM Ken Holland and Kris Draper.

 

The Wings’ website also will stream the presser...

There are times in a blogger’s life where the, “Yeah, I found it first!” element takes a backseat to the utter punch-in-the-heart enormity of the situation. The Red Wings’ website happened to leak a 63-image gallery of “remembering” Chris Osgood about an hour and a half prior to the announcement of his retirement last week, and the Wings did the same thing (before pulling the content off their website) regarding Kris Draper’s apparently imminent, on-Tuesday retirement to likely take some sort of front-office position with the Wings, probably as the team’s first strength and conditioning coach.

Is it gratifying from a personal perspective to say, “I’m on vacation, I don’t have internet service in my cabin and found the damn thing on the phone?” No, because…The last and most important member of the Grind Line, perhaps the only one of the three who you might be able to argue has a chance in hell of having his number retired sometime down the line (or at least enshrined in a badly-needed Red Wings Hall of Fame/Ring of Honor to commemorate the Larry Murphy’s, Chris Chelioses, Brendan Shanahans, and yes, even the Darren McCarty’s, Chris Osgoods and, [!gasp!] Sergei Fedorovs who contributed to the teams’ four Stanley Cups), the man whose legacy as a heart-and-soul grinder, locker-room and on-ice leader, fitness fanatic of the first order…

And a man who would neither let the fact that he was acquired for a buck nor the ever-more-visible-as-he-ages titanium plates holding his right orbital bone together define him.

This isn’t just the last of the Grind Line we’re talking about here. This is the heart and soul of the Grind Line, a man so unbelievably professional and so remarkably centered on focusing on his team’s best interests and only his team’s best interests to the extent that he not only took Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and so many, many others under his wing to teach them how to work their asses off on and off the ice, but also came out to run the team’s warm-up and keep the players loose before their biggest games—even if he was scratched for the game his teammates would play in while Draper dutifully watched while working out in the locker room.

Kris Draper was the spit and grease and superglue and sometimes 10-W-40 that served as a leadership bridge between younger and older players and the players and coaching staff. As Mike Babcock’s often said over the last few years, he didn’t have to speak to his players very much after devastating losses or while facing long odds in the second or third periods in playoff games whose starts the team bombed because he knew that Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper would take care of the room. Draper was essentially an on-the-bench and on-ice coach in action, a general of sorts who made sure that everybody was in the right spot and that plays were well-executed on the forecheck and backcheck, and for a grinder and pain-in-the-ass…

It’s hard to find a person outside of perhaps an oxygen-deprived city out West who has a bad word to say about him because, in his own way, Draper played with metric tons of class, rarely taking advantage of a vulnerable opponent and preferring to seal them to the boards, use his fantastic feet (the best since Peter Zezel) to win battles for pucks in scrums and absorb cross-checks, hacks, whacks and slashes down low to ensure that the Wings were grinding the puck out and playing defense by keeping the puck as far away from their goal as possible…

And his ability to “cheat” on faceoffs is near-legendary, too.

I don’t believe that the news leaking out is based on “reports”—I genuinely believe that Draper is too rightfully proud to take a try-out contract and would prefer to remain in Detroit with more playing time left to give than to leave the city for a curtain call away from his family—and I think that if you look up the word “Grinder” in the hockey dictionary, it should include the famous picture of Kirk Maltby kissing Draper on the cheek as #33 shaves off yet another Chuck Norris beard after the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2002.

Four championships and a legacy as a player who all but defined what one can do with one’s hockey career if your heart, will and determination out-perform your natural athletic gifts and you just plain old work like a quarter horse on the ice to remain mentally and physically “fitter” than your opponents…

Whatever’s said over the next week or so about Draper and Osgood’s legacies and whether they have earned one hockey honor or another, we can say for sure that they’ve captured the hearts of Hockeytown and helped define the “Red Wings way” that Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kronwall, and now the next generation of Red Wings leaders in Abdelkader, Helm, Howard et. al. will teach their peers over the next five to ten years.

The Grind Line is going to lose its heart sooner than later because Kris Draper’s last act as a player will be much like his first to ten-thousandth acts—putting the team’s interests and his family’s interests ahead of his own remarkable desire to out-compete his anyone and everyone who opposed him—and that in itself tells you all you need to know about what a special player, and special person, Kris Draper has become.


Also of Wings-related note this afternoon: I’m admittedly very after a long day of traveling, so I’m going to slink back to my cabin and weigh in on MSM’s takes on what appears to be an inevitable retirement presser later this evening, but here are some stories to tide you over:

• According to the Free Press’s George Sipple, the Grand Rapids Griffins plan on making Aaron Downey their full-time strength and conditioning coach after his year-long “try-out”:

The Wings hired him to work a couple of weeks each month with their prospects who played for the Grand Rapids Griffins. The trial run as a strength coach worked out so well that Downey was back working the summer development camp in Traverse City.

While Griffins coach Curt Fraser oversaw the on-ice workouts, Downey helped lead the prospects during their off-ice training activities.

Downey might accompany the Griffins on a few road trips this season. He made the drive to Grand Rapids from his home in Shelburne, Ontario, only when the Griffins had a stretch of home games last season.

“We’re going to sit down and talk to him,” Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said of Downey. “Development is so much a part of the game now. I think he really bonded well with those young guys.”

• Detroit Hockey Weekly’s Paul Harris reiterated the reasons why Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters left pretty dang solid coaching jobs with Western Michigan University and the AHL’s Rockford Icehogs to join Mike Babcock’s staff as assistant coaches…

“As much as I loved my position at Western, this was too good an opportunity not to take,” Blashill said. “It was my goal for a number of years to go to the NHL. Ultimately, I would like to be an NHL head coach.”

He said dealing with NHL players will present challenges.

“I hope I can continue to learn and get better as a coach,” Blashill said, adding that his strengths are his “ability to communicate with players and express my expectations, knowledge of the game.”

Peters, 46, has been the head coach of the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs for the last three seasons. Prior to that, he led the Major Junior Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs to the 2008 Memorial Cup title as champions of the Canadian Hockey League. He played for Babcock at Red Deer College and was part of Babcock’s staff in Spokane in the late 1990s before coaching at the University of Lethbridge.

“I’m looking for young, excited workers are willing to challenge the head coach,” Babcock said.

He added: “We have experience covered (in the front office and dressing room), but I wavered back and forth a number of times. I’m very confident in the guys I hired. You can’t have too much enthusiasm and excitement on a staff. I believe winning follows around good coaches.”

• Kukla’s Korner’s own Doug Miller weighs in with a superb article about Wings prospect and Saint John Sea Dogs forward Tomas Jurco, but I’d disagree slightly with his assessment: Yes, Jurco was inconsistent and his YouTube fame placed an inordinate amount of scrutiny upon him, but I do believe that he has the tools to succeed, and I can tell you very personally that Jurco DOES NOT want to be known as someone whose YouTube videos are better indications of what he can do than his on-ice performances.

Again, he’s only three weeks away from being drafted, and we’re not talking about another Pavel Datsyuk—Jurco’s somewhere in between a rich man’s Tomas Kopecky (i.e. Kopy who can score 25-30 goals and put up 60+ points) and one of those Slovakian Power Forward Factory machines—and yes, he’s inconsistent, and yes, he’s scrawny, so he’s no sure thing by any means (few 18-year-olds are), but I do believe in his work ethic, humility and desire to self-improve.

• And Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky’s take on the Draper situation? The plug is appreciated, but mistakes happen…

And I think we’re better off with advanced notice so that we Wings fans can chew on the finality of it all for a bit. It’s…Pretty devastating to have to say goodbye to Chris Osgood and Kris Draper in a little over a week’s worth of time. Maybe it’s better that things happened this way.

Update #2: According to Aftonbladet’s Jonathan Ekeliw, Henrik Zetterberg will play in the “farewell game” which Timra IK is holding for Anton Lander and Tim Erixon. The game will take place at the E-ON Arena on July 30th. Sundsvalls Tidning‘s Fredrik Jonsson reports that Calle Jarnkrok will take part in the game, too.

Update #3: Let’s use this as a “for-the-record”: Evgeni Nabokov’s agent told Sovetsky Sport’s Sergei Bergishev that Nabokov plans on showing up for training camp with the New York Islanders and playing for the team this season (presumably before being traded later on to a contending team).

Update half a gabillion or something: Via RedWingsFeed again, DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose reports that the Wings’-sponsored yacht in the Bayview Port Huron-to-Mackinac race, Sorcery, won the The Pro Team Challenge.

Update half a gabillion and one: The Free Press’s website’s “Best of Draper” gallery isn’t ironic.

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Comments

WingsFanInBeanLand's avatar

Dammit it’s dusty in my office again.

I’m sure it’s going to be an all out Haboob tomorrow.

Posted by WingsFanInBeanLand from where free agents no longer dare. on 07/25/11 at 04:44 PM ET

Hippy Dave's avatar

It is a sad day indeed.  I kind of hoped it would never come.  I hope he does stay with the organization.  Maybe one day, we’ll see him behind the bench smile

Posted by Hippy Dave from Portland by way of Detroit on 07/25/11 at 04:45 PM ET

MOWingsfan19's avatar

Stick tap to one helluva warrior & tried and true Red Wing.
Thanks #33.

Posted by MOWingsfan19 from I really like our team on 07/25/11 at 04:48 PM ET

bezukov's avatar

Those are great words you offered on Draper, George.  I couldn’t agree more.  I said this in on another thread but I’ll say it again.  Draper was one of those players I remember watching as a kid, he’s one of those guys you feel like you grew up with in a way.  Thanks for all the great memories #33, it won’t be the same watching the Wings without you.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 07/25/11 at 04:59 PM ET

Avatar

Much love for Draper…a class act and a professional through and through.

Posted by godblender on 07/25/11 at 05:22 PM ET

Lucce's avatar

A great man.

Posted by Lucce from Kingdom of Zweden on 07/25/11 at 05:29 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

George, that was a wonderful tribute to Drapes - I hope he sees it.

Oh yes, oh yes, he will be missed.  But I think it’s great that he will probably be in charge of kicking the players’ butts in the workout room from now on.  He’ll still be a motivating and inspiring force, just a bit more behind the scenes.

Enjoy that cabin, and the lake…

cool smile

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 07/25/11 at 05:36 PM ET

Avatar

Pretty devastating to have to say goodbye to Chris Osgood and Kris Draper in a little over a week’s worth of time.

They haven’t died, have they?  My goodness.

Posted by jkm2011 on 07/25/11 at 05:42 PM ET

UMFan's avatar

Great write up on Draper George. The heart and determination that Draper showed to beat the other guy shift after shift embodied everything I love about sports. Teams can have all the superstars and prima donnas, but if they don’t have the Drapers of the world they don’t win championships, let alone become dynasties.

Posted by UMFan from Denver, Colorado on 07/25/11 at 05:43 PM ET

Forlorn in VA's avatar

Dammit it’s dusty in my office again.
Posted by WingsFanInBeanLand from Lidstrom’s head telling him 1 more year on 07/25/11 at 02:44 PM ET

Mine too.

He is one of my all time favorites.

Posted by Forlorn in VA on 07/25/11 at 05:47 PM ET

PaulinMiamiBeach's avatar

Downey in GR getting the young guys in shape, and Draper in Detroit pushing them even more to keep them in shape.

that sounds like a phenomenal plan to me.

hope you have a great retirement, Drapes.  I wish I could retire in a couple years (when I’m his age).  thanks for the memories, the championships, and working your goddamn tail off every day for the last 20 years so that I could cheer you and the boys on.

if there is anyone in the organization in the last 20 years I think you could compare to Steve Yzerman, it’s Draper - in the context of contributions besides points on the ice.

Posted by PaulinMiamiBeach on 07/25/11 at 05:51 PM ET

w2j2's avatar

Great tribute, George!

What I will always remember about Draper is the comfort it would give me to see #33 come on the ice in a close game…...

He would just shut the other team down…....Guaranteed.

Maybe it is fate that the year that Winnipeg gets back the Jets is the year that Draper retires.

Well done, Chris Draper.

Posted by w2j2 on 07/25/11 at 06:28 PM ET

statelouis26's avatar

Thanks drapes, good luck.  But it was friggen about time.  Wings need the intangibles, not figure skaters

Posted by statelouis26 from Detroit, MI on 07/25/11 at 07:06 PM ET

Number9Loyalist's avatar

“What a great character and hustle guy you were Drapes.  You personified the Red Wing work ethic, willingness to do whatever it takes - no ego.  Thanks Chris and God bless you and your family as you enter a new season in your lives.”

Posted by Number9Loyalist on 07/25/11 at 07:52 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Loved that the Wings kept a real good guy in Downey in the ranks.

Posted by SYF from the team that re-signed KFQ and DFC by KFH on 07/25/11 at 10:18 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

Crosby will be first in line to shake his hand tomorrow.

Posted by cs6687 on 07/25/11 at 10:20 PM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

my rat terrier is named Draper, they were both rescue dogs

Posted by Rdwings28 on 07/25/11 at 10:50 PM ET

HockeyTownTodd's avatar

If you hang around long enough, you watch a lot of great players retire.
It does not get easier.  It is as painful now as it was 30 or 40 years ago.
Draper was something special, he will be remembered for a long time
I have even heard TSN play by play guys describe a slapshot to the goalies chest as a Draper.  Sad to see you go Kris, but it hurts even more to see a great player hang on too long.

Posted by HockeyTownTodd on 07/25/11 at 10:57 PM ET

cigar_nurse's avatar

Sad to see you go Kris, but it hurts even more to see a great player hang on too long.

Posted by HockeyTownTodd on 07/25/11 at 08:57 PM ET

+19 Gramps.  Great character guy on and off the ice. He will be missed , but it’s transition time for this year. Next year it will probably be TPH and Homer. never look foward to these things but such is life.

George take it easy. You are supposed to be soaking in a Up North retreat. This news can wait until you get back. Drapes won’t be dissed if your tributes are a week or 2 later.

Posted by cigar_nurse from Greenville South Cakalakee on 07/25/11 at 11:46 PM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

“all the signs are right this time,
you don’t have to try so very hard,
if you live in this world
yor feelin’ the change of the guard.”

Steely Dan

Posted by Rdwings28 on 07/25/11 at 11:58 PM ET

Avatar

Will miss watching Kris Draper, and hope he still teaches the art of being a 4th liner and faceoff expert. Anyone who can come back from having his face re-arranged is admirable in my book, let alone play well.
By the way George, for the nth time about you being tired, if I had the ability, I’d hide your computer and phone for the rest of vacation, even knowing the Draper presser is tomorrow. GET SOME REST AND RELAXATION (or as Elmer Fudd would say, west and wewaxation). We want you refreshed and recharged when you’re back.

Posted by Bugsy on 07/26/11 at 01:02 AM ET

PDXWing's avatar

Assuming that no further trades are made, what are the lines for the upcoming year? 

Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Holmstrom
Franzen/Filppula/Bertuzzi
Cleary/Helm/Eaves
Miller/Abdelkader/Mursak
Emmerton
Hudler?

Lidstrom/Kronwall
Stuart/White
Ericsson/Kindl
Commodore

I assume Hudler will be part of a trade for a top six guy, which will likely leave Bert in a weird position. The 3rd line, as I have it, is pretty versatile with offensive upside. The 2nd line needs to be more consistent this year, and I’m looking at Franzen and Fil to have big years. Franzen, because he will be fully healed and Fil because it’s a contract year.  I predict that White is going to be a favorite and have an awesome year and fit right in; I can easily see Babcock going back to the Kronwall-Stuart pairing and having White on the top pair with Lidstrom. The battle for the 6th defenseman should be intense with Commodore giving E and Kindl plenty of competition.  I don’t think Kindl’s development will be stunted by Commodore, but the Big Rig needs to play well to justify his raise (I like him, so I assume he’s going to have a great year, but, with his style, he will likely be the first pulled if he struggles).  Not sure about the 4th line and how that will shake out. I think Abdelkader is too good for that role, but he hasn’t forced Babcock to play him more up to this point. It remains to be seen if he has more offensive potential, but he is a solid young defensive player.

Thoughts?

Posted by PDXWing on 07/26/11 at 01:17 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Honestly, PDX? I see Abby leaving in a few years unless he improves his ability NOT to take stupid penalties in the third period AND his offense improves. His defense is solid, but nothing extraordinary. Miller is better in my mind than Abby in critical situations.

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 07/26/11 at 03:15 AM ET

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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.