He never scored 20 goals. He never even had 40 points. But Kirk Maltby left his mark.
Just ask Sidney Crosby.
It’s hard to find a player that embodies that time-honoured hockey adjective of being a “grinder” more than Maltby, the long-time Detroit Red Wings forward who announced his retirement Tuesday.
Maltby was on the infamous Detroit Grind Line, and chucked fists alongside the likes of Joey Kocur and Chris Draper. He wasn’t an enforcer, and didn’t have the fetish for fisticuffs like a Tie Domi, or Detroit’s own Bob Probert. But in a tough city where grinding it out becomes a way of life in the auto industry, Maltby was a sort of folk hero, a scrappy reflection of a hard-nosed region.
It’s a familiar refrain on championship teams. The skill players with the soft hands draw the flashbulbs, while players like Maltby do the heavy lifting. They are the grunts, the bloodied warriors who kill penalties, and wear out the opposition’s talent, and it’s a testament to the uniqueness of hockey that a Kirk Maltby–with his 260 points over 1,072 games– is celebrated upon his exit.
In their prime, the Grind Line inspired T-shirts that could be seen all around Detroit. Maltby, Draper, Kocur, and later Darren McCarty were given their own small slice of Detroit sports lore. They were crucial to the Red Wings dynasty that won three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002), with Maltby also a part of the 2008 cup winning team. Maltby now becomes the latest grinder to go, leaving Draper as the last link to an era of crashing and banging in the corners of Joe Louis Arena.
While he could certainly hold his own, Maltby didn’t drop the gloves often, and didn’t have more than 100 penalty minutes in any of his 16 seasons. But when he did, it was usually over pretty quick, one way or another.
We pay tribute to Maltby with three moments that best illustrate his hybrid agitator/grinder approach to the game, all stemming from the legendary Avalanche-Red Wings rivalry.
What began as a skirmish between Maltby and Warren Rychel ended in an epic tilt between Patrick Roy and Chris Osgood at centre ice. If you can’t find Maltby just trust me, he’s in there somewhere:
Oh the glory days. Roy sure didn’t like the Red Wings, especially the goalies. He didn’t care who it was, he just wanted to fight someone. And this time it was Maltby:
Lastly, a tussle ended with Maltby wrestling Rene Corbet to the ice. The tussle itself was brief, but the tenacity of Maltby in the corners and the send-off he received from the crowd are vintage: