Between 1987 and 1989, forward Kris King played 58 games for the Red Wings, collecting three goals, three assists and 170 penalty minutes.
Kris King has a long history with Toronto. The former left-winger grew up rooting for the Maple Leafs, spent the tail-end of his NHL career playing in Toronto, and now works in the hockey capital of the world as the NHL’s senior vice president of hockey operations.
Yet it was in Detroit, home of the 2013 Winter Classic, where King first broke into the NHL in the late 1980s.
“I’m from Norton, Ontario, so we had three channels: CBC, CBC French and some other channel we never watched,” King said of his early hockey influences. “And Saturday night was all about ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ and the Leafs were my team and every once a month when they threw the Montreal Canadiens on we’d turn the TV off. So Toronto was the team I grew-up cheering for.”
King was drafted 80th overall by the Washington Capitals in 1984 but didn’t make his NHL debut until after signing as a free agent with the Red Wings in March 1987. Although he only played one full season in Detroit in 1988-89 (and a handful of games the previous year) it didn’t take long for King to learn of the rivalry between the Wings and the Maple Leafs.
“That was my rookie year and obviously not playing too much,” King said. “But you knew when you came into Toronto as a Red Wings player you weren’t well-liked and then the same thing here, there tended to be a lot of Leafs' fans from over the border in Windsor so it was always an exciting game.”
King’s time in Detroit only amounted to 58 games but while he was in the Motor City, he made allies with a few of the Wings brawnier players – a move that proved to be beneficial for his future.
“I was lucky enough as a rookie to be on the same team with Joey (Kocur) and Bobby (Probert) so I was very smart,” King said. “Colin (Campbell) was our assistant coach at that time and he said, ‘Listen, make sure these guys are your friends because you’re never going to play together all the time and when you go to another team you can at least say, hey, we were teammates and buddies one time.’ And it saved me a little with Joey, not so much with Bobby. We had our battles in the years to come.”
From 1989 to 1997, King played with the New York Rangers, Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes before signing as a free agent with the team he had grown up rooting for.
“Being part of the Leafs, we didn’t play them (Detroit) a lot,” King said of his 2 ½ seasons in Toronto. “But the certain games we did, there was just automatically a dislike.”
It was during King’s time with the Maple Leafs that Detroit’s Grind Line was in its heyday, a fact that King learned firsthand in a game between the two Original Six teams.
“I recall running into Kirk Malty and his buddy Kris Draper right on my back and then Joey Kocur didn’t like it too much either,” King said. “So I was doing what I tried to do best and they didn’t appreciate it and they were doing what they did best.”
Even after King retired from professional hockey in 2001, having played on six different NHL teams, he still found opportunities to rekindle old rivalries while playing on Toronto’s alumni team.
“When we had the lockout (2004-05), we did the train series, and I played with Toronto and we trained down, played the game here in front of an almost full Joe Louis Arena,” King said. “We had a great time. A lot of the guys that played for Detroit, I had played with: Shawn Burr, Lee Norwood, John Ogrodnick. So it was really good that way in the fact that there was no hockey. It was kind of big and it got a little more intense than we thought.”