“There is sadness because this is all I know,” said Draper, during a press conference Tuesday morning at Joe Louis Arena. “I love this game. I love everything about it. I love the training, I love competing. I’m going to miss it … tremendously.
“It is a sad day because my hockey career is over. It’s something that I’ve loved to do. Every day I get into the car. It’s game day. I get to the pre-game skate. I go to lunch with 13-14 of my teammates. Those are the things that I’m really going to miss.”
Several Wings and former Wings attended Tuesday's new conference to show support for their friend and former teammate, including fellow Grind Line mates Kirk Maltby, Joey Kocur and Darren McCarty. Other teammates in attendance were Jakub Kindl
, Brian Rafalski, Larry Murphy, Danny Cleary
and Justin Abdelkader
Also at Tuesday's conference were Detroit Lions offensive linemen Dominic Raiola and Stephen Peterman, who for the last year have worked out with Draper, who is known for his high-energy, high-intensity training sessions.
But with the Red Wings’ roster in transition, and up-and-coming young players in the wings, and the Wings out of minor-league options on forwards Cory Emmerton
and Jan Mursak
, Draper was faced with accepting the ‘R’ word after a very successful 20-season career that included 1,157 regular-season games, and another 222 playoff games.
Draper will now work with the Wings’ front office team of Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Ryan Martin. Though a job title and description are forthcoming, Draper is excited about his new management challenge.
“I talked to Steve Yzerman on the drive in here,” Draper said. “I loved when Stevie left the game he worked with the organization and he brought the passion every day that he brought as a player. Now look at him with Tampa. Those are the things … now that I have challenges and there are goals. I like being a goal-oriented person and I’m going to set some goals for myself.
“But the bottom line is, I’m really going to miss being a hockey player. I’m really going to miss throwing on ‘Draper 33’.”
Asked to reflect on his spectacular career, Draper highlighted three specific moments.
“Scoring in the Stanley Cup finals in 1998 was special,” he said. “It’s something that I’ll never forget. To be able to score a big (overtime) goal like that in the Stanley Cup finals, and it put us up 2-0, and then we went on to sweep Washington.
“Playing in 1,000 games is something that I’m proud of, but to play in 1,000 games as a Red Wing is something that I’m certainly very proud of. To be one of five guys, and obviously, the company that I’m in, you shake your head at it.”
Draper played in 1,137 games for the Wings, joining Gordie Howe (1,687), Alex Delvecchio (1,549), Yzerman (1,514) and Nicklas Lidstrom
(1,494) to reach the franchise milestone. Draper also ranks ninth all-time in Stanley Cup history for games played, trailing only Chris Chelios (266), Lidstrom (258), Mark Messier (236), Claude Lemieux (234), Scott Stevens (233), Guy Carbonneau (231), Larry Robinson (227) and Glenn Anderson (225).
“Winning the Selke (in 2004) and having my name on the same trophy as Bob Gainey, Pavel Datsyuk
, Steve Yzerman, those guys, that’s a true honor,” Draper said. “I’m just glad to have won a Selke before Pav decided to dominate everything that he does, because there’s no chance that I would ever win that again.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill