Kris Draper, last of the ‘Grind Line’, retires after 20 NHL seasons

Another original Winnipeg Jet is leaving the NHL.

A week after Chris Osgood announced he was hanging up his skates for good, Kris Draper announced his retirement after a 20-year career; the final 17 as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.

"There's sadness," said Draper at a press conference Tuesday morning. "This is all I know. I love this game. I love everything about it. I love the training. I love competing."

"I'm really going to miss being a hockey player. I going to miss throwing on 'Draper 33'. I love it."

Doug MacLean's track record as a general manager with Columbus has been picked apart, but when he was Detroit's assistant GM back in 1993, his acquisition of Draper from the Winnipeg Jets for $1 -- yes, a buck -- is one of, if not the, greatest bargain in the history of sports.

Draper said when he learned of the trade to Detroit, he had his doubts about his future with the Red Wings. "If I couldn't make the Winnipeg Jets, how was I going to make the Detroit Red Wings?"

But he told his trainers to do whatever they had to do to help get him a permanent ticket to the NHL.

"I didn't want to go away. I didn't want to leave this building. I didn't want to leave this organization."

A celebrated career in Hockeytown ends with four Stanley Cups, a 2004 Selke Trophy, a heckuva Day with the Cup story involving his daughter, and a place in one of the NHL's all-time top lines, the "Grind Line" with Kirk Maltby, Joe Kocur and later Darren McCarty.

Draper will also be linked to one of the most infamous brawls in NHL history after Claude Lemieux hit him into the boards face first during the 1996 Western Conference Final against the Colorado Avalanche that sparked the League's most fiercest rivalry in the late-'90's.

When Maltby retired last year, GM Ken Holland summed up the "Grind Line" perfectly by saying, "If you're going to win come playoff time, you need skill, you need character, but you also need people who are willing to go to the trenches and do the dirty work."

And as George Malik of Kukla's Korner put it, Draper was the heartbeat of that famous line that helped the Red Wings to two Cups with the original trio and a third in 2002 after McCarty replaced Kocur:

Kris Draper was the spit and grease and superglue and sometimes 10-W-40 that served as a leadership bridge between younger and older players and the players and coaching staff. As Mike Babcock's often said over the last few years, he didn't have to speak to his players very much after devastating losses or while facing long odds in the second or third periods in playoff games whose starts the team bombed because he knew that Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper would take care of the room. Draper was essentially an on-the-bench and on-ice coach in action, a general of sorts who made sure that everybody was in the right spot and that plays were well-executed on the forecheck and backcheck, and for a grinder and pain-in-the-ass…

The forming of a great hockey line relies on two things: chemistry between linemates and the belief from the coach that the trio will ultimately gel together and succeed.

"The one thing is Scotty Bowman trusted us," said Draper. "He trusted us in a lot of different situations. When you have the confidence of your coach to go out and play in these situations, you wanna go and you wanna do well; you wanna do it for your coach, you wanna do it for your linemates, you wanna do it for your teammates."

"I think that's why that line was so special."

Photo credit: Getty Images

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