Draper ready for next stage of his career

DETROIT – For Kris Draper, getting up at 6:45 every morning this offseason to go to the gym was something he felt he needed to prepare for another season in the National Hockey League.

This morning, however, Draper has every reason to at least hit the snooze button on his alarm at least once.

Draper officially announced his retirement from the NHL Tuesday morning at Joe Louis Arena.

“I’ll be honest, probably the time I kind of knew it was over was on the golf trip to Scotland,” said Draper, who was on the trip with his teammates to celebrate Chris Osgood’s 400th win. “I talked to Henrik Zetterberg and said, ‘I think I might retire.’ We had a great talk. I talked to Ozzie.

Draper, 40, played 17 seasons in Detroit.

“I’ve got mixed emotions,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “If we’re moving forward as an organization these days have to come. The organization thinks there’s someone ready for a bigger role and a bigger responsibility.”

Draper is the third Red Wing to retire this offseason. Osgood announced his retirement last Tuesday, while defenseman Brian Rafalski walked away with one year remaining on a $6 million contract in late May.

“They no longer are the players on the ice that they once were, but they’re every bit as important in the locker room, and maybe even more as they ever were,” Holland said.

Draper, who suffered a groin injury on the first day of training camp last year and eventually had sports hernia surgery, played just 47 games last season and had six goals and five assists.

“It’s one of those things,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “I’m glad they’re able to go out on their own terms. It’s tough though to see guys retire that have meant so much to this organization, but we’ve got guys ready to take the next step.”

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 he’s out of options so he can’t be sent back to Grand Rapids without first clearing waivers.

Holland said he’ll more than likely carry 14 forwards on the roster next season.

The NHL roster limit is 23, which is where the Wings, who are currently $6 million under this year’s salary cap, will be at if Emmerton makes the team.

“I tried to call as many people as I could,” Draper said. “I wanted them to hear it from me. The toughest thing for me was being a healthy scratch. I’m very proud, very competitive and when that happens, I’d like to think I handled it the right way, but it just burned inside that I wasn’t going to play.

“Seeing what happened this year, in one game and out the other, which I understand because we were so deep, but those are the kind of things going forward I didn’t know if I could mentally handle again.”

Last season, Kirk Maltby was faced with a similar situation.

Maltby signed a two-way contract just before camp opened. He did not make the team and was assigned to Grand Rapids.

Maltby instead decided to retire on Oct. 12.

“I’m just glad to be here for him today,” Maltby said. “It’s bittersweet because I lived this whole situation a year ago. I went to camp and decided afterwards. I think that was a tough part for him to decide if he wanted to do that or not. He wanted to go out on his terms and I don’t blame him. It’s going to be a good enjoyable summer for him.”

Draper centered the original Grind Line, with Maltby and Joe Kocur. Darren McCarty replaced Kocur after the 1998 season.

“It was great playing with him,” Maltby said. “He’s a great friend and a great teammate. I told him whatever decision he made it was going to be the right one.

“I’m glad he’s staying in the organization so I’ll still get to see him quite a bit,” Maltby added. “We’ll always have the memories, the pictures, the rings and the Cups to remember it. But everyone has to move on sooner or later.”

Draper has yet to be assigned a role within the organization, but it will be something on the management end.

“I asked him if he wanted to be on the coaching side or the managerial side and he was more interested in the managerial side,” Holland said. “Right now he needs experience. You don’t step from player into the pro ranks and start making decisions. He knows the NHL, but he doesn’t know the AHL, college or juniors.

“He needs to spend a year or two meeting people, building relationships, watching junior and college games,” Holland added. “And then as you gather information, as you gain experience, you’re more comfortable in being involved. Sit in the pro scouting meetings, sit in the amateur meetings and sit at the draft. See how the process works from this side.”

Holland sees Draper as an assistant general manager or even a general manager sometime down the road.

“I think he’s going to be a fabulous executive,” Holland said. “He needs to build relationships, get an understanding of how an organization works.”

Draper was a third-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1989 (62nd overall), but played just 20 games over parts of three seasons in Winnipeg.

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.

“I never thought that I would get a player at the cost of a smoothie at McDonald’s, but it happened,” team owner Mike Ilitch joked.

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.

“Playing in 1,000 games is something I’m proud of, but playing in 1,000 games as a Red Wing is something I’m really proud of,” Draper said. “When you see the list and the company that I’m in, you kind of shake your head at it. The other thing I’m most proud of is the playoff games played. A buddy said I’m ninth all-time.”

Draper is second on the Wings’ all-time list for most playoff games played (222). Lidstrom tops the list.

He 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.

“I’m going to miss everything about it,” Draper said. “For sure I’m going to have those days of wanting to play, miss going to lunch and being on the road with the guys. That’s everything I enjoyed. But I’m still going to be around the game and be here. I was given a tremendous opportunity by Kenny Holland and Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch.”

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.

“Most memorable goal was in the ’98 Stanley Cup finals,” said Draper, who scored in overtime of Game 2 against the Washington Capitals. “I’ll never forget, to be able to score a big goal like that in the Stanley Cup finals. It put us up 2-0.

“Personally, winning the Selke is something I’m proud of, to have my name on the same trophy as Bob Gainey, Pavel Datsyuk, Steve Yzerman,” Draper added. “I’m glad I was able to win before Pav decided to dominate.”

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One response to “Draper ready for next stage of his career

  1. one of my favourite players ever. He had a standout career to anyone who really knows the ins and outs of hockey, he was never the fastest or the biggest or the strongest, but he knew where to be, how to be positioned when he got there, and where he needed to go next. brilliant hockey mind, the wings and the nhl lost a true class act today. Good luck with everything Kris

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