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DETROIT — Kris Draper loved playing hockey, and he loved playing for the Detroit Red Wings.
Once the 40-year-old Draper learned he wasn’t a sure bet to play for Detroit next season, he decided to hang up his skates for good.
Draper announced his retirement Tuesday after 20 seasons in the NHL, the last 17 with the Red Wings. He will remain in the organization in a still undefined front-office capacity, but he wasn’t interested in signing a two-way deal to play in the minor leagues, coming to training camp on a tryout or playing with another team.
It was the Red Wings or nothing.
“I loved everything about the game and everything about the Red Wings,” he said at a press conference at Joe Louis Arena. “And that’s why I’m going to miss it so much”
Once one of the NHL’s top checking forwards, penalty killers and face-off men, Draper helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008).
Not bad for a player acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in 1993 for the then-waiver price of $1.
“I never thought that I would get a player at the cost of a smoothie at McDonald’s. But it happened,” Red Wings’ owner Mike Ilitch said.
Draper’s 1,137 games with the Red Wings is fifth in franchise history behind Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio and Niklas Lidstrom. His 222 playoff games trails only Lidstrom, and Draper had 24 goals and 46 points in those games.
Draper’s career totals are 161 goals and 203 assists for 364 points in 1,157 games (he played in 20 games for Winnipeg from 1990-91 to 1992-93). He won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward in 2003-04, when he posted career highs of 24 goals and 40 points despite missing 15 games due to a late-season shoulder injury.
“He was a role model for all of our young players and a leader in the locker room,” Detroit general manager Ken Holland said.
Draper also centered the “Grind Line” for many seasons with Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty as his primary wingers.
“(Former Red Wings’ coach) Scotty Bowman trusted us. He trusted us in a lot of situations,” Draper said. “I certainly enjoyed playing with those guys.”
Draper had hoped to play another season in Detroit, but the club does not have an available roster spot and plenty of forwards. He was the odd man out.
“I played with some great players, and because of that, I got my name on four Stanley Cups,” Draper said.