DETROIT – With perhaps one more season of hockey left in him, Kris Draper instead decided to retire from the National Hockey League.
“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.”
Draper will stay in the organization in a role and a title yet to be determined.
Draper is the third Wing to retire this season. Long-time teammate retired last Tuesday, while Brian Rafalski retired in late May.
He’s also the last member of the Wings’ infamous Grind Line to call it a career.
He centered the original Grind Line, with Kirk Maltby and Joe Kocur. Darren McCarty replaced Joe Kocur after the 1998 season.
Draper was not interested in coming to training camp on a tryout or signing a two-way deal.
The NHL roster limit is 23, which is where the Wings are at as well.
The Wings are also currently just under $6 million under the salary cap.
“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.”
Last season, Maltby was in the same situation.
Maltby signed a two-way contract just before camp opened last year and wound up not making the team and was going to be assigned to Grand Rapids.
Maltby announced his retirement on Oct. 12.
Draper suffered a groin injury at training camp last year and eventually needed to have sports hernia surgery.
He played just 47 games last season and had six goals and five assists.
Draper was a third-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1989 (62nd overall), but played just 20 games over parts of three seasons for the Jets.
Former Wings assistant general manager Doug MacLean got Draper from the Jets on June 30, 1993 for future considerations, which wound up being a dollar.
In 1,157 games, 1,137 of which were played in a Wings jersey, Draper had 161 goals and 203 assists.
Draper ranks fifth on the Wings’ all-time list for games played, behind only Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Draper is also just one of five players to be on the Detroit’s four most-recent Stanley Cup championship teams (1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008). Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Maltby and McCarty are the others.
Draper is second on the Wings’ all-time list for most playoff games played (222). Lidstrom tops the list.
Draper won the Selke Trophy in the 2003-04 season as NHL’s top defensive forward. He recorded career highs in goals (24) and points (40) despite playing only 67 games due to a late-season shoulder injury.