Kirk Maltby never scored more than 15 goals in a season. His name and number won't hang from the rafters of Joe Louis Arena. But if the question needs to be asked whether Kirk Maltby is a Hockeytown legend, you might want to skip town sooner rather than later.
As a four time Stanley Cup winner with the Red Wings and a member of the original Grind Line, Maltby solidified himself as a fan favorite in Motown. I would even argue that Maltby means as much to the Detroit fanbase as some star players mean to their respective fanbases. Is he the "savior" of the Detroit franchise like some of those players are? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But his style of play was the hockey embodiment of the city he played for. When it comes to collars, Kirk's was about as blue as it could get.
Maltby's style of play was the typical "grinder". Digging along the boards, taking hits to set up a play, dishing out hits to set up a play, killing penalties, the occasional goal and of course--in Grade A Maltby fashion--chirping at opposing players throughout the game. His work ethic of doing the tough stuff made him identifiable with a lot of Detroit fans.
Maltby was a player I grew up with and to be honest I don't know if I can remember when he wasn't a Red Wing. He was kind of one of those players that you kept thinking might move on to a different city after a while but at the end of every summer, #18 took the ice--big grin and all. I think a lot of fanbases can't really appreciate what Maltby is to the Red Wings organization. Most teams have a few grinders but how long do those grinders normally stay, 3 maybe 4 years tops? I think Maltby's 14 year stay in Detroit is one of the reasons why so many Red Wings fans became attached to him, cheered for him, appreciated him and as a result, are sad to see him step away from the game.
I put up a post during the summer about what the Red Wings faced when considering bringing Maltby back. It was definitely a tough decision for the front office to make and even as a fan to decide which you'd prefer to see: Maltby brought back or the new era of grinders ushered in. The front office went the route of youth by signing Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader. Suddenly, there was no more room for the 16 year veteran and after a tryout didn't land him a spot on the team, he decided to hang up the skates instead of take the minor league route with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Maltby has taken a position within the organization as a scout and will join former teammate Chris Chelios as a member of the Detroit front office. Much like the player that wore the jersey number above him, Maltby will continue to be a part of this organization and I for one could not be any happier that he stayed with the club in some capacity.
Farewell, Malts. We'll miss you.