by Jas Faulkner, senior correspondent, Nashville
Summer is the cruelest season for romance and hockey. It is a time when attachments that felt so secure are suddenly loosened and connections are changed or severed completely. Those cuts, whether bitter or sweet or a bit of both, are always accompanied by declarations of future happiness to come. In the case of that sun-kissed romance, it can be the promise of continued contact. In hockey, it’s a little less clear that Danny’s kissing Sandy but thinking of getting back home to Rizzo -um- Danny is thinking of retiring or possibly changing the colour scheme of his work wardrobe until the announcements hit the news outlets.
The Danny in this case is Chris…and Kris. Earlier this month, the Red Wings issued formal announcements that veteran goalie Chris Osgood and star centre Kris Draper would be retiring from the game. Given the NHL-wide trend towards rosters loaded with people who think the Beatles were created specifically for Rock Band, it was more a question of whether it would happen in the next few weeks or sometime during summer 2012. However, an earlier decision by the Red Wings Organisation and team captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who at 41 announced that he would stay in the club for at least one more season, led many to speculate that Detroit GM Ken Holland and Head Coach Mike Babcock would continue to emphasise experience and maturity as key elements of their roster. While those attributes have not been completely excised with the loss of Draper and Osgood, the unavoidable truth remains: their departure from the NHL leaves a huge gap in the Red Wings lineup and culture that will be hard to fill.
Requiem for the One Dollar Man
On July 25th, the Red Wings Organisation posted a retirement announcement complete with a tribute slide show almost a full day before Draper himself had intended to make his decision known to the pubic. Administrative glitches, management misadventures and unorthodox dealmaking on a mythic scale were hallmarks of Draper’s time as a member of the club, who was the last remaining active member of the legendary “Grind Line.” His career as a Red Wing got off to an inauspicious start in 1993 when, as legend has it, he was traded to the team for one dollar. Over time, the “One Dollar Man” would prove to be priceless to Detroit. A positive force in the locker room and on the ice, he could inspire his teammates to avenge his honour as they did in the 1997 “Brawl in Hockeytown”.
Draper may not have walked away from the NHL on exactly the terms he would have liked. He wanted one more year and couldn’t come to an agreement with the Red Wings. He does take with him the kind of career that most players dream about: over 1000 games, four Stanley Cup Rings and a nod for the Selke in 2004. As much as the Red Wings may want change and the energy of kids fresh from the Juniors and the NCAA, they will hopefully know they need the special mojo that Draper brought to the mix and recognise in the prospects that odd bodkin who can bring the magic and the numbers.
The Motor City Mouth Is Uncaged
Sui Generis only begins to describe Chris Osgood. It’s easy to see him first and foremost as the class clown. His brash, outsized image provided the team with balance to Lidstrom’s Scandanavian cool grace. Beyond the goofiness there are the numbers. He is rightfully considered among the elite of North American netsmen for so many reasons. There was the goal he scored against the Hartford Whalers. There are the wins, which exceed 400.
There are also his actions and they speak so much louder than his words. He was one of the first to offer a comforting hug to an emotionally drained Jonas Hiller after Detroit defeated Anaheim in the 2008 playoffs. He exhibited his own brand of good-natured grace at the end of his career as he was relegated to secondary goalie to the young turk netminders, first Ty Conklin and then Jimmy Howard. For all of his swagger when describing his own skills, he was always the team guy, one hundred percent behind whoever Babcock put on the ice.
Coming from behind the cage (the last one in use in the NHL), Osgood will use his knowledge to help train Detroit’s up and coming goalies. Who will be the heir apparent to the Wizard of Oz? Only time and apprenticeship to the sorcerer himself with reveal the answer.