It's one thing to let go of a player who isn't associated with much of anything for your hockey team. Moving parts are exchanged for low draft picks from time to time, and no one really takes notice. They aren't rooted in the minds of fans as a Maple Leaf or a Bruin or a Star.
It's another thing entirely to allow guys who have been the epitome and definition of your franchise to walk, especially when they are willing to suit up and give their all for one more season. Especially when they are your friends.
This is the position Kenny Holland and Detroit's management team find themselves in this offseason with Chris Osgood and Kris Draper, guys who clearly bleed red and white and still love the game.
Both want to return to the ice wearing the Winged Wheel for one more season. Both swear to the Hockey Gods that they have enough gas left in the tank to aid the Wings in their quest for another Cup—Draper already has four, Osgood has three.
And both have capable youngsters in the minors chomping at their heels, ready to hone their skills at the NHL level.
As a General Manager, what do you do?
The Red Wings brass may be in an enviable position, if you look at things from a particular perspective. While some teams are mired in rumors of movement and instability, others are having to make tough personnel choices because of the salary cap.
Detroit just needs to decide if they should keep a 400-win goaltender as a backup and a serviceable fourth-liner who is a great penalty killer and faceoff man.
The fact that the faces are so familiar makes the choice a difficult one. Because the said guys in the minors aren't getting any younger either, and every year they don't play with the big squad is still a year off of their contract. The Wings need to know what they have at some point, right?
As Detroit fans found out during the last season, there is not much room for sentiment in hockey. Teams that make choices in that fashion can quickly find themselves on the outside of the top-eight in their Conference looking in, wondering what went wrong.
Holland tends to do the right thing when these issues come across his desk—the Wings have constantly been one of the top teams in the league for a reason. Kirk Maltby, Draper's Grind Line brother-in-arms, went a similar route before finally bowing out and away from the team and game he still adored.
The biggest indicator of Draper's future may have come during the playoffs, when he was a healthy scratch for much of the run. Serviceable, indeed. Preferable? Not at this point.
This is a tough call for management to say the least. Especially since the team has generally been so good to veterans. But the time is now for these war-torn, longtime Wings to hang up their skates. While they still have the love of their teammates and fans alike, it's time for Detroit to undertake their own youth movement, before they are consumed by teams that have already have.
Draper and Osgood have both contributed mightily to Red Wings lore, which is saying something. The fact that they may be forced out while still considering themselves willing combatants may be the greatest testament to both the players as people, and the Wings as a franchise.
Because there is something admirable in having a hard time admitting that a career is over. And it's only tough when you love it so much.
That's why it'll be tough for Draper and Osgood to receive word in the coming weeks that they won't be back, why it'll be tough for management to make those conference calls and why it'll be tough on fans to watch these two underappreciated, consummate Red Wings skate off into the proverbial sunset.
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