In a summer that has seen the Detroit Red Wings lose the likes of Brian Rafalski and Chris Osgood, the team appears to be on the verge of losing a third player to retirement this offseason. The Red Wings have scheduled a press conference at Joe Louis Arena for 11 a.m. tomorrow morning, during which it is expected that long time checking forward, Kris Draper, will announce his retirement from hockey.
Draper’s story is the stuff of legend in the Motor City, as the Wings picked him up from Winnipeg in 1993 for literally $1.00. Draper would go on to be one of the best checking centers in the league for the majority of his career, and brought certain intangibles to the clubhouse that helped make the Wings into the powerhouse they are right now, and have been for the past two decades.
Draper’s departure signals what is realistically the end of an era in Detroit hockey. Starting in the mid-to-late 1990′s, Draper, and teammates Kirk Maltby and Joe Kocur formed one of the most famous lines in Red Wings history, “The Grind Line”. Kocur would share time on this line with another fan favorite, Darren McCarty. Together, these four players filled out Detroit’s bottom six, and wreaked havoc on the opposition.
“The Grind Line” wasn’t going to light you up with goal scoring prowess, but they were dominant in their own roles. Penalty killing? Check. Bringing energy and grit to every shift? Check. Willingness to drop the gloves? Check. Ability to score timely (albeit sometimes ugly) goals? Check.
Draper’s main job on this unit was to win faceoffs, and bring some speed to the group. He was proficient in every aspect of a checking line forward’s role, even in his later years, and has served as mentor to guys like Darren Helm over the last couple of seasons.
Draper played in 1,157 career games, scoring 161 goals and 203 assists for 364 total points. Draper was the last remaining member of “The Grind Line”, and was one of just three remaining members of the Wings’ 1997 championship team.
Draper was adamant about the fact that he didn’t want to play anywhere other than Detroit, and it was pretty clear that he was going to have to give up his position to make room for next generation’s players, so this announcement isn’t too much of a surprise.
It has been rumored that Draper may take a position on the Wings’ staff in some capacity, but nothing is certain at this point. What is certain is that the Detroit Red Wings organization will be losing one of its most beloved players of the modern era. A guy who did whatever he was asked, as long as it was for the betterment of the team.
Players like Kris Draper don’t come by very often, and his presence in the Detroit locker room will be missed. He has great character, has been the archetypal “grinder” for his team, and has set the stage for tomorrow’s players to take up his mantle. He was just a great overall ambassador for the Red Wings.
So to Kris Draper, congratulations on a great career, and good luck in your future endeavors. Such a good story couldn’t have happened to a better guy.