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Draper made sure Red Wings got bang for their buck

Friday, 12.27.2013 / 3:48 PM
Jon Lane  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Kris Draper laughs about it now, but there was something surreal about his involvement in a transaction dated June 30, 1993, when the original Winnipeg Jets traded him to the Detroit Red Wings -- for $1.

To this day the memory elicits laughter from those with whom Draper shares a small but significant part of his hockey story. One day while retelling the tale to his 11-year-old son's youth hockey team, the group of kids broke out in hysterics.

"What? You were traded for $1?" they exclaimed.

"Now you can have some good laughs about it," Draper said.

It's true, but Draper has one million reasons to smile and reflect on 17 seasons in the Motor City. Taken with the 62nd pick by the Jets in the 1989 NHL Draft, he's a rarity who played in the American Hockey League and the NHL before spending most of the 1990-91 season playing junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League.

Once traded to Red Wings, the "One Dollar Man" was born. That's certainly not on par with "The Six Million Dollar Man" or even "The Million Dollar Man," but little did the Red Wings know that over time they would receive some serious bang and boom for that buck.

A fixture with Darren McCarty and either Kirk Maltby or Joe Kocur on Detroit's "Grind Line" that did the dirty work for Red Wings teams that won three Stanley Cups in six seasons, Draper became one of only five players to skate in more than 1,000 games wearing a Detroit uniform. In addition to winning four Cups, Draper's resume boasts a Frank J. Selke Trophy and 1,137 games as a Wing, fifth on the franchise's career list, behind Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Months after winning his first Stanley Cup in 1997, Draper approached Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch and his wife on Fan Appreciation Night with a personal token of his own appreciation.

"I was able to give Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch the dollar back, so I'd like to think that we're even," Draper said. "Who would have thought that No. 1 a player was going to be traded for a dollar, and then certainly I'm real proud of everything that went on and all the proud moments I had within the organization."

Payback was bliss for Draper back then and will be equally rewarding Tuesday when he participates in the 2013 Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings Alumni Showdown at Comerica Park. Including Draper, the Red Wings' roster will feature 30 players who won a Stanley Cup during their stay in Detroit, the most recent addition being Yzerman, the former captain and current Tampa Bay Lightning general manager.

"I think Detroit is taking it to a whole new level with the way they're doing it," Draper said. "I know everybody is really excited about the opportunities here and I know I can't wait to get back to the ice, skate outdoors, skate at Comerica and put the Red Wings jersey on again and play with some of my great friends and teammates. Just to do it one more time is going to be awesome."

It was playing on the Grind Line where Draper's imprint on the game remains the biggest. In the 1997 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers, Draper, Maltby and McCarty shut down the Flyers' dangerous "Legion of Doom" line in completing a four-game sweep. John LeClair, a 50-goal scorer in the regular season, had just two in the Final. Eric Lindros' lone goal came with 15 seconds left in the deciding Game 4. An injured Mikael Renberg was replaced by rookie Dainius Zubrus in Games 2, 3 and 4.

"It was such a huge honor and a huge thrill for us to be able to be put in those situations," Draper said. "Whether you're playing against Lindros, playing against [Peter] Forsberg or [Joe] Sakic or playing against [Mike] Modano, we took a lot of pride in that. We also felt that we could chip in with some goals offensively. That was something we were able to do.

"We were going to play. We were going to play hard. We were going to compete and felt that we could do some good things."

Draper's name remains entrenched in Detroit sports annals and the Red Wings' executive offices. Immediately following his retirement he took a position as a special assistant to general manager Ken Holland, whom he helps with amateur and professional player evaluations and shares insight into potential draft picks. For Draper, a Toronto native, all it took was that $1 investment for his career to turn into something wholly satisfying and worth its weight in gold.

"Sometimes I think the city of Detroit gets a bad rap, but you look at the players that have stayed here and made their home here," Draper said. "It's a great city. There's a lot of great things that happen here. There's a lot of loyalty and for us it's something as past players you appreciate."

And that's some bang for one's buck. Such is life if you're Kris Draper.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNHL

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