Monday, 25 July 2011

Helluva One-Dollar Deal

Think of all the stuff you can get in this world for one dollar. There aren't a lot of things that are available that can bring you home four Stanley Cup victories, a Selke award-winner, and get you 1000 NHL games worth of service. The Detroit Red Wings, however, invested wisely and brought home a valuable member of their organization in Kris Draper when they dropped off a one-dollar bill to the Winnipeg Jets in 1993 to acquire his services. After twenty games for the Jets over three seasons, Draper turned out to be one of the most valuable players for the Red Wings over the next two decades.

Draper arrived on the hockey scene in 1990 and 1991 as a member of the Canadian World Junior team. He elected to play with the Canadian National team rather than joining the OHL's Oshawa Generals after being selected in the fourth-round of the 1988 OHL draft. His choice to play with the Canadian National squad had little effect on his status as a solid underage player, and Draper was selected to be play in the 1990 World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

While Canada's entry was a solid team in 1990, the Czechoslovakians and Russians were the feared opposition. Robert Reichel and Jaromir Jagr led the tournament in scoring with 21 and 18 points, respectively. Draper didn't figure in much of the scoring for Canada that year, but he did have a pair of assists in the seven games, and his checking role shone through as he was assigned some major tasks: shut down Bure and Zhamnov against the Russians, and hold Reichel and Jagr off the scoresheet. The Canadians beat the Russians by a 6-4 score in their head-to-head meeting, and held the Czechs to one goal in a 2-1 victory. Canada would capture the gold medal as they finished 5-1-1 in the standings, but held the head-to-head win over the Russians as the tie-breaker.

Draper would return in 1991 where Canada and the Russians battled for the gold medal in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Draper scored the only goal of his World Junior appearances in the 1991 tournament, but it was in Saskatoon that Kris Draper became the incredible checking forward that we saw over his NHL career. Draper was assigned to shadow Pavel Bure once again, and head coach Dick Todd saw Draper turn in one of the best performances of his young hockey career.

"Dave Draper was the personnel guy who did the pre-scouting (in 1991)," Todd recalled to George Malik in 2009. "He went to the (Russia-Finland) game and gave us a great scouting report. One of the things that come out of it was that Pavel Bure was the key to the Russian team. We devised a strategy where we put a young player who, up until that point, had been frustrated with his game as far as scoring-wise goes. I went to him (Kris Draper) and said, 'We're thinking about sticking a man on Bure and we're giving you the opportunity. Do you feel that you'd like to take that opportunity? It means a lot of ice time, but it means, more or less, that you're sacrificing yourself to prevent him from scoring goals.'"

Draper had himself a whale of a game in the shutdown role, and John Slaney's late goal helped Canada to a 3-2 victory and their second consecutive gold medal performance. While his scoring prowess was still evident, it was becoming more obvious that Draper was a more effective force in preventing goals than he was scoring them. After his success at the World Junior Championships, the Jets assigned him to the AHL's Moncton Hawks.

After bouncing between the AHL, NHL, and the OHL's Ottawa 67's for a couple of years, Adirondack Red Wings General Manager Doug MacLean orchestrated the "trade" that sent Draper to the Red Wings. He spent the 1993-94 season with the AHL Red Wings where he scored 20 goals and added 23 helpers in just 46 games before being called up to the Detroit Red Wings. From that point on, he was a mainstay on the Detroit roster, spending the next 17 seasons with the red-and-white.

"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.

The 1996 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs saw Draper involved in one of the biggest moments in playoff history. Draper was on the receiving end of a vicious check thrown by Colorado's Claude Lemieux that saw Draper's face driven into the dasher on the boards after being checked from behind. The resulting injuries included a broken jaw, a broken nose, a broken cheekbone, and a concussion. Draper's playoffs were over after that hit, but he would return the following season after using the summer to recover from his devastating injuries.

The Red Wings were a team that looked hungry as the playoffs started in 1997, and they got key performances from players such as Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Vladimir Konstantinov, Larry Murphy, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Mike Vernon through the "second season". But it was the defensive play of Draper and linemates, Kirk Marlby and Joe Kocur, that Scotty Bowman relied on heavily to shut down opposing stars. Draper played against some of the biggest names in hockey during the 1997 postseason: Eric Lindros, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, and Brett Hull. After the dust had settled, the Red Wings swept the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final and returned the Stanley Cup to the Motor City. Draper had two goals and four assists, but his contributions were much bigger than just what the stat sheet had to say as he kept some of the best scorers in hockey history off the scoresheet night after night.

Draper would also prove to be a valuable player en route to a second straight Stanley Cup parade in 1998. Again, he contributed with one goal and three assists in the playoffs, but he and linemates Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty had one of the best playoffs in history in stopping teams from scoring. The Western Conference Final saw the "Grind Line", as the unit was known, shut down the President's Trophy-winning Dallas Stars in six games. The Stanley Cup went home to Detroit after the Red Wings stymied the upstart Washington Capitals in sweep that saw Washington score only seven goals.

2001-02 was a banner year for Draper and the "Grind Line". Draper scored then-career highs of 15 goals and 30 points in helping Detroit capture the President's Trophy as the league's best team in the regular season. For years, the Grind Line was known as one of the league's premiere stoppers when it came to neutralizing the opposition, and they went on to win the 2002 Stanley Cup with the help of newcomers Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, and Dominik Hasek. The Grind Line played a major role in shutting down the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Final. With Colorado holding a 3-2 series lead, Detroit won Games Six and Seven by scores of 2-0 and 7-0. Game Six included the infamous Patrick Roy "dropped puck" moment.

After dispatching the Avalanche, the Wings went on to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes in five games for another Stanley Cup victory, and the third time that Kris Draper would sip champagne from the Stanley Cup.

After the Red Wings were surprisingly swept out of the playoffs in 2003 by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Draper accepted a spot on the Canadian World Hockey Championship team where he would become a leader for the team. Draper was impressive in his checking role as well, helping Canada to the gold medal in a 3-2 win over Sweden! Just like the last time he was in Helsinki in 1990, Draper captured a gold medal!

2003-04 saw Kris Draper finally gain recognition for all the hard work he had put in while stopping star players from scoring. Draper scored career highs of 24 goals and 40 points, and he was nominated as a Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist. Draper finished with a +22 rating as a checking line centerman, had five shorthanded goals that season in helping Detroit to the best penalty-killing unit, and was eighth-best when it came to winning faceoffs. Draper was awarded the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward, beating out New Jersey's John Madden for the award!

Draper would be invited to join the Canadian team at the World Cup of Hockey in 2004 as well, and he did what he did best: shut down the opposition. While stars like Martin Brodeur, Vincent Lecavalier, and Joe Sakic were in the headlines as Canada earned the gold medal, Draper's leadership and defensive presence shut down a number of high-scoring players in this tournament: Martin Havlat, Milan Hejduk, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, and Pavol Demitra in the championship rounds alone.

Kris Draper would experience the high of winning one more Stanley Cup as the Detroit Red Wings downed the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. He nearly had a fifth Stanley Cup championship on his resume, but the Penguins downed the Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.

Overall, it's hard to imagine that Kris Draper will be a Hall of Fame candidate based on his numbers alone. In 1157 NHL games, Draper recorded 161 goals and 203 assists - hardly overwhelming numbers when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration. There is, however, a better chance of having #33 hoisted to the rafters in Joe Louis Arena when you consider that he is one of five men who have played 1000 games in a Red Wings uniform, joining such stars as Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman, and Nicklas Lidstrom. The first three men have their numbers hanging from the rafters, and there's no doubt that Lidstrom's number will join them. Should Draper's number join them?

Personally, I have to think that the Red Wings will do something to honour the long-serving foot soldier. Draper's contributions rarely showed on the Red Wings' side of the scoresheet, but there is no doubt that he was one of the best defensive forwards to have ever played the game, ranking him alongside such lofty names as Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, and Joel Otto. That, to me, is quite an honour for a guy who routinely was asked to play against the best players in the game, and especially when you consider how well he did his job against those players.

May you enjoy your retirement with your family and friends, Mr. Draper. HBIC salutes you for your longevity and ability. And that was one helluva return-on-investment!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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