Kirk Maltby probably never scored a goal that made you jump out of your seat in amazement -- and that's okay. It wasn't his job to score; it was his job to help the team win.
Believe it or not, but Kirk Maltby was actually once a prolific goal scorer.
During his Ontario Hockey League days with the Owen Sound Platers (now the "Attack"), Maltby was one of the top scorers in junior hockey. He recorded 50 goals and 41 assists in 1991-92, his third OHL season, topping the 34 goals and 32 assists he had put up the previous season. When he moved to the American Hockey League, he was still productive, notching 22 goals in his first year with the Cape Breton Oilers.
The Edmonton Oilers thought enough of Maltby to use a third round pick on him in 1992, 65th overall. After just two and a half seasons however, the Oilers gave up on him.
Enter the Detroit Red Wings.
Maltby was traded to the Wings during the 1995-96 season and he became a Red Wing for life. That journey ended this week when Maltby, 37, announced his retirement from the game of hockey.
Suffice to say, Maltby didn’t reinvent his offense once arriving in Detroit. He only had 107 goals in his 14 seasons with the team. He scored 14 goals three times over the course of his career, but never had any more than that in a season. His highest point total never exceeded 37.
But Maltby’s contributions never usually came on the stat sheet. They came from his mouth—and his shoulder.
Maltby endeared himself to Red Wings fans as part of the "Grind Line" that captured the blue-collar spirit of the city. They became renowned for their defense and gritty play that often left opposing players sitting in the penalty box, while the Grinders skated back to their bench with a smirk on their faces.
The Grind Line is now all but gone. Darren McCarty is already a TV analyst. Kris Draper is the last of the breed, still chugging along at the ripe age of 39. Younger, newer grinders like Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm have forced the Wings to part ways with some of the old guard like Maltby and McCarty.
Maltby didn’t wow us with spectacular goals. Instead, he prodded, provoked and frustrated opposing teams for the next 14 seasons. As a top goal scorer in the junior circuit, one might assume that Maltby would become one in the pros.
He never did, but the Red Wings had a job for him anyway. Maltby became the agitator that, on more than one occasion, forced somebody into an uncharacteristic penalty.
And like so many before him, he remained loyal to the franchise that gave him a shot to prove himself.
He could have gone to another NHL team for a season or two as a free agent this offseason. He could have uprooted his family and continued his playing career in the NHL. Instead, he signed a deal that he knew would likely land him in the minor leagues.
Maltby thought it was better to be a Red Wing minor leaguer than be a major leaguer for anyone else.
At 37, it was apparent that Maltby was wearing down. After playing in over 1,000 regular season games, 169 playoff games and winning four Stanley Cups, it was really no surprise. Shoulder problems forced him to miss the last two months of the regular season last year, and many wondered if Maltby had played his last game.
The Red Wings wouldn’t give up on him yet. Maltby wanted to keep playing, and Wings general manager Ken Holland refused to turn his back on one of his own. Holland offered Maltby a two-way deal that gave him a slim chance to make an already stacked squad in training camp. If he didn't make the team right out of the gate, he could start the season at AHL Grand Rapids and bide his time until an injury popped up. With the competition from guys like Abdelkader, Helm and Drew Miller, Maltby was unable to secure a spot.
Left with the choice of continuing his career in the minors or retiring, Maltby decided he'd had enough.
Just as Maltby remained loyal to Detroit, Detroit remained loyal to Maltby. Shortly after announcing his retirement, the Wings offered Maltby a gig as a scout for the team. Like Steve Yzerman and Chris Chelios before him, the Red Wings always are there for one of their own.
While the Grinders are fading, the memories won’t. Not many players can say they accomplished what Maltby has done as an NHL player. Not many can walk away with four rings on their hand.
He wasn't flashy. He wasn't a star. He was a winner.
Kirk Maltby—By the numbers
Kirk Maltby didn't appear on the stat sheet too often during his 16-year tenure in the NHL, but he still collected some impressive numbers. Here are a few of his notable career accomplishments.
1,079 regular season games
169 playoff games (fourth all-time amongst Red Wings players)
Regular season stats: 128 goals, 132 assists, 260 points
Playoff stats: 16 goals, 15 assists, 31 points
1016 regular season and playoff penalty minutes
4-time Stanley Cup Champion (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008)