It was a retirement announcement that easily could have passed for a 10-year reunion for the Detroit Red Wings.
Kris Draper was perched at the front of the room to announce his retirement after 17 seasons with the Red Wings while former teammates Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, Larry Murphy and Brian Rafalski looked on.
“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 in making his retirement official. “I consider myself one of the luckiest athletes of all time to be able to play with this organization for 17 years. To be able to play over 1,000 games with the Red Wings is probably what I’m most proud of. It’s been great.”
His days with the organization are far from over.
Draper will remain part of the club’s front office staff in a yet-to-be-determined position.
“In one way, it’s a sad day,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. “In another, it’s exciting. All the intangibles he stands for, he’ll bring to the front office.”
The Red Wings captured more than they ever could have hoped when the club claimed Draper off waivers from Winnipeg in 1993 for $1.
“I never dreamt I’d get a player for the price of a smoothie at McDonald’s,” Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said.
Draper went on to play 1,137 of his 1,157 games with the Red Wings during 17 seasons, which is fifth on the team’s all-time list behind Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Draper’s 222 playoff games put him in the NHL’s all-time top 10.
He won four Stanley Cup (in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008), the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward (in 2004) and played for Canada at the Winter Olympics (in 2006).
“I’m glad I walked away from the game and it didn’t pass me by,” Draper said. “I didn’t hang on too long.”
Maltby was already on him to make another transition. He slipped a note to the media to ask Draper when he would be ready to play for the alumni team.
McCarty, who played with Draper on the Grind Line, feels sure his old friend will easily make the transition to management.
“He’s smart enough and he’ll still be the first one working out every day,” McCarty said. “I’m sure he’ll have a chance to win another Cup on that side.”
Draper spoke with former captain Steve Yzerman on the drive in to make the announcement and hopes to follow the path of the Tampa Bay Lightning general manager.
“When Steve left the game, he worked with the organization, he brought the passion that he brought every day to the rink as a player,” Draper said.
“He did that at the next level and now look at him with Tampa Bay.
“Now, I have challenges and there’s goals. I like being a goal-oriented person and I’m going to set goals for myself.”