There are maybe two organizations that have consistently produce elite teams over the past twenty years—the Devils and the Red Wings.
I’m happy to listen to plaudits for other organizations (I think
, for example, has been a model expansion franchise on a shoestring, but they haven’t managed to go deep into the playoffs yet). But to me, Nashville New Jersey and are the two that simply stand out. ( Detroit could arguably be placed in that category as well, but like the Devils, the Avs have seen their performance slide somewhat. Perhaps we can say Colorado is in third “place”, if I can call it that. Their success dates back to their Quebec City days when they drafted Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Joe Sakic, acquired Peter Forsberg and built a solid young team that was so good for many years.) Colorado
may be the best of the best at drafting as well as finding, acquiring and developing players with the talent and attitude that makes for a successful team over a long period of time. Detroit
For many people, Steve Yzerman is the ultimate modern-day Red Wing. Now the GM in
, he made the team as an 18 year-old in the early 1980s, and after some rocky times with a poor team, emerged as a team leader and captain. After some ups and downs even when the Wings were pretty good in the early '90s, he eventually hoisted the Cup three times. Tampa
There’s no question Yzerman deserves his due credit. As does Nick Lidstrom, who has continued the Red Wing legacy through a seamless transition of leadership which has largely been possible thanks to the classy Swede.
There have been countless others who have also played significant roles in the Red Wing success, from MaCarty and Federov to Chelios and Brett Hull,
, Osgood and so many others. Vernon
But there’s one guy I wish the Maple Leafs had had all these years, a guy now on the down side of a tremendous career.
That’s Kris Draper.
That’s Kris Draper.
Why do I like Draper so much? Well, in his prime, he was an elite skater, gritty but not dirty. Tough but clean. He played his role as a checking forward to the hilt with McCarty and Maltby. He could kill penalties well and made important plays all over the ice. He was good enough to be on the Canadian Olympic team in 2006.
Off the ice, he has always presented as an engaging guy without the huge ego so many athletes seem to have.
The guy has been a major contributor to really good Red Wing teams—4 Cups (almost a fifth a couple of years back) and six trips to the finals, if I’m not mistaken.
Unfortunately (not that this really matters), because he started his career with the old Winnipeg Jets and played maybe 25 or so games there, he won’t be like Yzerman—a career "one-team" player, such a rarity in this day and age.
I may not have much support for this, but I would have no problem putting Draper in the Hall-of-Fame. I know the Hall is for the best of the best, but to me, he is a modern-day Bob Pulford or Bob Gainey, a player who did not have huge offensive numbers but was so instrumental to his team's success. (He will likely retire with well under 200 career goals and less than 400 career points.) But when you check the other teams’ best players every night, including throughout long playoff runs year after year, it means something. Killing penalties, scoring a key goal here and there, it all adds odd to a wonderful career.
He is, for me, alonside Yzerman and Lidstrom, the ultimate modern-day Red Wing.
I expect Draper to retire soon after this season is over. His role is limited now with the Wings, but he has been a tremendous performer for many years.
I just wish he’d been a Leaf all these years. And I really wish Toronto had a young Kris Draper now. The team has all kinds of third-line level role-players players, but none in my mind with the traits that Draper brought to the ice every night in his best years.