Another Wing legend walks off into the sunset.
They say you can't get much for a dollar anymore. In 1993, it was able to procure one of the most iconic Red Wing players of the last 20 years.
Today is a tough day as we say goodbye to Kris Draper. After over 1,000 games in a Wing uniform, his place on the team was no longer available, and rather than accept a diminished role or play somewhere else, he's decided to hang up the skates. Thus ends the playing career of a man who was obtained for 1/3 of a gallon of gasoline.
They say that bad things happen in threes, so this should end the rash of retirements that has infected the Red Wings this summer. There are some big holes to fill in this roster, but today let's look back at the man simply known as Drapes.
His story is similar to Drew Miller's: he was picked up off waivers from an under-achieving team in 1993, and the sum total of what the Wings paid for him was $1 American Dollar (or, $250 Canadian at the time). There's not a Red Wing fan alive who would say he was not worth it. Since then, he has become one of the core guys that the team is built around. No, he's not a top-6 forward. But what he did for the Wings was give them a legitimate 3rd line/checking line center. He ate up valuable minutes and he was great at faceoffs (still is, to a degree). There was a time that he and Maltby probably made up the best 1-2 punch of penalty killers in the NHL. One thing I always used to notice was that after the Wings were scored on, who did Scotty put on the ice? Draper and his line. He brought energy to the team, and if you ever saw ESPN's The Season, you'll know he's a good dressing room guy. One thing I remember from that show (besides Tomas Holmstrom's daily butchering of the English language) was Draper saying to Shanahan "I don't think Jack Bauer would like you doing that to his hat" after Shanny had written something on a "24" hat. I thought that was hilarious. There's also the well-known antic of shoving a pie in a teammate's face on his birthday.
His career has not been without some downtimes and controversy. There was the infamous quote after Game 7 in 2009 when he admonished Sidney Crosby for not shaking Nicklas Lidstrom's hand after the series was over, and of course he had an unintentionally major influence on the rivalry with the Avalanche when he was hit from behind by Claude Lemieux, resulting in broken bones in his nose, cheekbone and jaw. He would have his jaw wired shut for 5 weeks, which only meant that he could not be the verbal jokester in the dressing room that summer.
One thing for me that gets Draper on this list is the fact that he has played over 1000 games as a Red Wing; only Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom accomplished. 1000 games with one team by anyone is a major feat for anyone, and even more so when you consider that Draper has never been a "star". I think it speaks to the Wings' belief in him as an important cog of the team that he has remained with the team, and playing the same role he has had for his entire career. His role has been reduced somewhat with the emergence of Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves as penalty-killers, but he has transitioned to being a role model for those guys, teaching them what it takes to be a 3rd line player in the league while contributing to the team's success. I've long maintained that one of the biggest reasons why the Wings broke through and won the Stanley Cup in 1997 was the emergence of the Grind Line, especially Draper. A team can not be successful without their depth players stepping up, and Draper led the charge for the Wings. His OT goal in Game 2 against the Capitals in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals still ranks as my favourite non-Cup presenting moment of that playoff season.
It's a shame to see Draper retire despite the fact that he was still a contributor, but the cap world being what it is and his justified refusal to not accept a try-out contract necessitated this move. It's a shame that he's leaving while he's still got something to give, but rather than consider that a bad thing, I'll use it as a reminder that this guy was all about heart, grit and effort, and would never want to come back unless he was going to have an important role on the team and complete it to the best of his ability.
For those keeping score, that now means that the Grind Line has no members left in the NHL. It's truly a bittersweet day for Wing fans, but we here at WIIM congratulate Kris Draper on a fantastic career and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.