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Maltby ends fulfilling career

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT – Known more for his role as a disruptive-type than a goal-scorer, Kirk Maltby made a name for himself as a member of the Red Wings’ famed Grind Line that helped shut down opposing snipers, which ultimately helped the team win four Stanley Cup championships.

Tuesday afternoon, after 14 seasons with the Red Wings, Maltby, who played his first two NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, announced that he’s retiring. The hard-working forward signed a two-way contract in August with the chance of making the NHL squad. But instead of accepting a role with the team's AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, Maltby decided to retire as a player. He will, however, remain with the organization as a scout.

Last February, Maltby had season-ending shoulder surgery to alleviate the chronic pain that hampering his playing style all season. After a fast start to the season, he finished the 2009-10 campaign with four goals and two assists in 52 games.

Former teammates, like 1997 Conn Smythe winner Mike Vernon, said they weren’t surprised to hear the news of Maltby’s retirement, because of the amount of effort that he played with.

“He’s been in the league a long time,” Vernon said, “and the wear and tear and things like that, especially with the way he played. He played it physical. When you’re all out, and going at that speed and running into people, it’s bound to leave some injuries and things like that. I know he had some injuries when he first came to Detroit, but he seemed to get them all ironed out and still have a great career.”

A prolific scorer with Owen Sound of the OHL, Maltby’s biggest offensive NHL season came the year after the Wings won the Cup in 2002. That year, he played in every regular-season game – a feat that he accomplished four times in his career – and scored single-season highs in goals (14), assists (23), and points (37).

Maltby has always said that he would have been extremely satisfied had his career ended following the 1997 Stanley Cup. But the Red Wings knew what they had in him – longevity and tenaciousness – and they weren’t prepared to let him get away.

“The organization realized what they had in Kirk Maltby, and realized that it would be crazy to trade this guy away,” hall of fame defenseman Larry Murphy said. “Because he plays that role, he’s a role player and he plays it as effectively as anybody, and that’s why he was in Detroit so long.”

Maltby’s ability to contribute big plays when the Wings needed them most was an important part of Detroit’s success. In the 1997 playoffs, he chipped in five goals in 20 games to help the Wings end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought.

Murphy, who was Maltby’s teammate for five seasons, wasn’t surprised by the veteran forward’s offensive production that spring. But he was impressed that Maltby was able to produce while playing in difficult situations.

“It’s a tough spot,” Murphy said. “You look at that year he scored five goals. And it’s not like he gets power play time or is seeing a lot of minutes with the top offensive guys, it’s not the way you chip in. He’s a 100-goal guy that worked hard every shift and had the knack of coming up with the big play when you needed it.”

Maltby averaged little more than 14-minutes per game during that playoff run. When the Wings captured the Cup in 2002, he spent an average of 16:33 on the ice each game.

“When you get into the playoffs for the long haul, and you’ve been playing guys out there, he was always somebody coming up big in playoffs because he was a guy you could count on,” Murphy said. “That’s why he’s got four Cups.”

Maltby, 37, is among a select group of Red Wings, who have won four Stanley Cup titles with one organization, joining Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom, Gordie Howe, Red Kelly, Nicklas Lidstrom, Ted Lindsay, Darren McCarty, Marty Pavelich, Marcel Pronovost, Terry Sawchuk, Glen Skov and Johnny Wilson.

Maltby collected 107 goals and 115 assists in 908 games, which spanned 14 NHL seasons with the Red Wings. He leaves the game tied for No. 7 on the all-time list for regular-season games played – tying former teammate Sergei Fedorov – in franchise history.

Last season, Maltby became the 250th player in NHL history to play in his 1,000th career game when the Red Wings hosted Los Angeles on Feb. 27. 

For all of his accomplishments, Maltby's role as an agitator never got past his opponents, nor his teammates in the locker room.

"If I didn't become teammates with Malts I had designs to kill him," said former Wing Brendan Shanahan. "I just loved how he competed. How we always knew he was showing up no matter how difficult the game. He was as big a reason we won Stanley Cups as anybody."
Kirk Maltby's Retirement


When your former goalie remembers that you drove a hall-of-fame defenseman mad year-after-year, you must have done something right.

Vernon, the Wings’ goaltender during their 1997 Stanley Cup championship season, said Maltby and Draper caused headaches for former St. Louis Al MacInnis.

“I know that Al MacInnis used to just hate those guys,” Vernon said. “Even when we used to ice the pucks, those guys would be right on Al MacInnis’s ass, and it just drove him crazy. Those guys were just very effective in their roles.”

Vernon said that Maltby’s role as an agitator or a grinder, wasn’t because of his willingness to throw checks or distribute face-washes after the whistle.

“You know, he was a good skater so he got under the skin of a lot of defensemen,” Vernon said. “Just with his speed, he could get on top of the defensemen quickly and create havoc, and that’s what he used to do. He used his speed to the best of his ability.”

Vernon, who retired after playing 18 games in the 2001-02 season, said Maltby knew how to act in the Wings’ locker room, even when he was one of the younger players after his trade from Edmonton, in March 1996.
“He wasn’t overly vocal, but he wasn’t totally quiet either,” Vernon said. “He knew his role in the dressing room; he knew his role on the ice. He was a good leader and even though he didn’t wear an ‘A’ or anything like that, he was still contributing in all areas, anything he could contribute to the success of the hockey team.”


During his playing days, former enforcer Stu Grimson used his size and strength both as a competitor and an intimidator during his 14 NHL seasons.

But there was at least one guy who never backed down to the Grim Reaper.

“My first experience with (Maltby) was when I was a Detroit Red Wing and he was an Edmonton Oiler,” Grimson said of his former teammate. “I was carrying the puck through the neutral ice, and he stood me up. I mean, I had no idea who he was before then, but I sure did after. He hits hard, he’s a real solid guy.”

Grimson, who recorded 2,113 penalty minutes throughout his career, said he was always impressed by Maltby’s physical style.

“Kirk and I played together for parts of two years, I believe,” said Grimson, now a Nashville-based lawyer. “I was always really impressed with his tenacity on the ice. He was a hard-nosed guy and you got the same effort from Kirk every night.”

The former Wing said he didn’t agree with the label tagged on Maltby.

“There are lots of guys I think that kind of fit that description or fit that label of agitator,” Grimson said. “I don’t think it is necessarily well applied to somebody like Kirk, because I think he just plays a real hard-nosed game and he tends to I guess aggravate a lot of people, but not in the way a (Sean) Avery does or Ken Linesman does, or somebody that you know, maybe a better fit for that description.”

Grimson also said that Maltby’s demeanor in the locker room made him well-liked by his teammates.

“He was pretty quiet, but that was a part of the appeal of Kirk Maltby,” Grimson said. “He was a pretty soft-spoken guy, but at the same time, knew himself pretty well and I always thought he had a great disposition – just a great guy to have in the locker room.

“I think a little more outgoing when you get him away from the rink, he tends to be less reserved. I’ve always enjoyed Kirk.”

Michael Caples and Michelle Crechiolo contributed to this story.

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