DRAPER’S INJURY KEEPS EVERYONE GUESSING

"Is it the nose?"

"No comment," Kris Draper says.

"The neck?"

"No comment."

"It’s above the waist, right?"

"Yeah."

"The elbow? The lower lip? The upper lip?"

"No comment," he says, laughing.

It’s nice to hear him laugh. He hasn’t laughed much lately. About three weeks ago, Draper suffered some freak injury that the Wings will only identify as "upper body." He hasn’t played since.

"The wrist!" I say. "Is that upper body?"

"No comment."

Draper isn’t used to this. Not the secrecy – heck, Draper is usually as straightforward as a gym teacher – and certainly not the injury. Not during the playoffs. Draper and the postseason are like a golden retriever and feeding time, all paws and feet and panting tongue, ready to go. He has been in nearly 200 playoff games.

Draper lives for the playoffs.

And he’s dying not to be playing.

"The solar plexus?" I say. "The collarbone?"

"No comment," he says. Playoff time usually means playing time

Now, it may seem silly to hide an injury. But Ken Holland, the Red Wings’ GM, and Mike Babcock, the head coach, harken back to last year, when Johan Franzen missed part of the postseason with concussion symptoms.

"And the first game he got back," Draper recalls, "every chance they got, the other guys were punching him in the head."

Babcock likens this to a bull’s-eye. He doesn’t want Draper, whenever he returns, to be a human "Hit Me" sign.

Which Draper appreciates. But not as much as if they’d let him play. He had hoped the doctor would clear him Thursday. He desperately wanted to be in the lineup for tonight’s Game 1 of the conference semifinals against Anaheim. After all, Draper doesn’t miss playoff games. In 1996, he suffered a separated shoulder in the classic double-overtime game against St. Louis.

"I froze it and kept playing," he says.

A few years ago, he suffered a sports hernia.

"I froze it and kept playing," he says.

Many remember the infamous conference finals against Colorado – also 1996 – which ended the night Draper was cheap-shotted into the boards, by Claude Lemieux. Draper fractured his jaw and cheekbone, broke his nose, dislodged teeth and needed 30 stitches inside his mouth.

And had there been a Game 7, "I’d have put a cage on it and I’m good to go." Waiting for clearance

This is not bravado. This is who 37-year-old Kris Draper is – and always has been. This is a guy who was traded to the Wings for a dollar, and would have given them change. For more than a decade, he has been the second Red Wing onto the playoff ice, right behind the starting goalie.

Which makes his current situation torturous. "As crazy as it sounds, I don’t feel any pain. I can do everything that I would normally do, I practice, I skate after practice, I run, I lift, everything. But when it’s time to drop the puck, I can’t play."

Instead, he stays behind in the locker room. He rides the bike. He lifts weights. He sweats sympathetically. But when he hears his teammates’ skates thudding down the hall, he hangs back. He won’t sit by his locker stall, because it doesn’t feel right if you’re not out in the muck. Then the skates thud down the hall, and he’s alone.

"Jawbone?" I say. "Spine? Shoulder blade? Eye socket? Cranium?"

"Can’t do it," he says, sighing.

Whatever it is, you hope Kris Draper recovers fully and is cleared soon. For one thing, he deserves to be out there, he leaves a piece of his soul in every playoff game he plays.

Besides, there’s too many body parts to guess.

"Why don’t you just say you have a lower body injury?" I suggest. "Then whatever the other team goes after will be wrong."

He chuckles. But he doesn’t argue.

Kris Draper has a toe injury!

OK, Doc? Can he play now?

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