After 17 years with the Detroit Red Wings, grinder Kris Draper announced his retirement from the National Hockey League this afternoon at a press conference at Joe Louis Arena.
“This is the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make because I love the game of hockey, and I love being a Red Wing,” Draper said during the news conference. “I consider myself one of the luckiest athletes of all time to be able to play with this organization for 17 years.”
Originally drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1989, Draper spent several seasons bouncing around Winnipeg’s minor league system before he was finally traded to the Red Wings in 1993 for only a dollar. That single dollar may have been one of the best monetary transactions the Red Wings made as Draper became a pivotal role player for the Red Wings during the 1990’s and 2000’s, especially as a center on Detroit’s famed “Grind Line” with former teammates Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty. Draper helped the team win four Stanley Cup championships during his tenure.
“I think the best way to put it is,” said senior vice president Jim Devellano, “it was a dollar well spent.”
Draper also represented his home country of Canada several times during his NHL career, winning gold medals at multiple international tournaments, including two World Championships (1990, 1991) and the World Championships (2003). Draper also played for Team Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics, but the team failed to garner a medal that year.
Perhaps what Draper will be most remembered for, however, is his involvement in the exhilarating rivalry between the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche throughout the mid-to-late 90’s. The rivalry began when Claude Lemieux sent Draper face-first into the boards with a hit from behind during Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Finals at Colorado, resulting in numerous facial injuries to Draper. The Avalanche went on to win the series, and the Stanley Cup, but the hit sparked one of the league’s most vicious rivalries that culminated the following season in a massive brawl between the two clubs and caused several seasons of bitterness. The rivalry managed to strengthen the bonds of Red Wings teammates during those years as they went on to win back-to-back championships in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
Later in his career, while still an effective grinder and face-off player, Draper became a mentor to young up-and-coming talent like Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, the latter of which shows many similarities to Draper with his ability to cause turnovers with his speed.
With so many players clamoring for roster spots, however, the Red Wings simply couldn’t afford to keep Draper on another season and risk losing valuable young talent. Draper stated earlier this summer that he wished to play another season, but he expressed his disinterest in signing a two-way contract or playing for another team.