One of the questions that the Detroit front office has had to deal with this off-season is what to do with veteran forward Kirk Maltby. Maltby has spent 13 of his 16 NHL seasons as a full-time member of the Red Wings but all of that may be at an end as the Red Wings have very little cap space remaining and a few deals to make.
The Detroit ownership is about as loyal as you can get in terms of keeping players around, bringing them back if they leave, and overall establishing the team more as a family and not a collection of names. Maltby is one of those players that has grown as part of the family. His 107 career goals with the Red Wings are nowhere near the top of the historic franchise's list but as a member of the Grind Line along with Kris Draper and Darren McCarty, Maltby found a long-term home to play his game.
Now the issue of staying loyal to a long time member of your "family" is starting to surface. Currently, the team is slated to part ways with Maltby, assuming they sign Mike Modano. However, if the Red Wings are unable to sign Modano, it is expected that they will offer Maltby a new contract though his role would likely be limited. The question then arises as to how much time would he be given on the ice with the roster starting to become crowded. Just as the roster space starts to dwindle down, so do Maltby's options with the team become limited.
As it currently stands, Drew Miller is seen as Maltby's replacement and has even drawn comparisons as a younger version of the veteran. Miller plays on the penalty kill very well, provides great energy, can hit well for his size and even chip in the occasional goal--all things that #18 became well known for.
Maltby accounted for a $833,333 cap hit last season and with the Red Wings only retaining about $3.757 million to sign Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Derek Meech and either Mike Modano or a 6th/7th defenseman, Maltby may be asked to take a paycut, again. I think at that point, it becomes a real question for Maltby as to whether he thinks sitting in the press box is worth signing another contract.
As for the loyalty vs. rationality debate, rationality will likely triumph over loyalty for the rare occasion when considering Maltby's future. The Red Wings simply cannot afford to re-sign Maltby with the projected logjam of forwards. With no real indications of other teams around the league presenting an offer sheet to Justin Abdelkader or Darren Helm this summer, the two will likely return to Detroit and account for the 13th and 14th forwards signed. If Modano signs, that's 15 forwards and there's no room at all for Maltby.
This is something that just happens in professional sports, a byproduct of the business aspect. A player may have served you as a coach/owner/general manager well over a long period of time but at a certain point there needs to be a separation and the team as a whole needs to move on and allow a younger player a chance to grow and develop. The natural phasing out of a player and nurturing of a new player isn't necessarily easy on any party involved. As a longtime fan, you often want to keep giving the veteran the shot to prove he still belongs, even if he doesn't. As a player, you want nothing more than to prove that you do belong and that you are still serviceable to the team. As a general manager or a coach, you've built respect for the veteran but promised the younger player the chance to make a name for himself.
One of the most recent examples of this comes from within the Red Wings own system. Chris Chelios was an excellent defender for the Red Wings for several years but after a while, the draft picks began working their way up through the system and vying for a spot as the 6th defenseman. Chelios had lost his edge but in the meantime had tutored Brett Lebda as his replacement. As a fan, you wanted to see Cheli on the ice because of the name and the "aura" surrounding him as a player.
At a certain point, the Wings had to make the trade-off between their loyalty and rationality. Rationality for a more complete team prevailed and Lebda began seeing more minutes than the former Norris Trophy winner.That exact same situation has been taking place in Detroit over the past two years as Helm and Abdelkader have emerged as a new set of grinders and Maltby's minutes have suffered because of it.
As much as I have enjoyed the career of Kirk Maltby and appreciated everything that he has done for the franchise over the years, I believe his time is up in Detroit. I would like to see him take a position within the organization as a scout or coach of some sort, but that's just my wishful thinking and who knows if the team will offer him such a position. I believe that his entire future within the team rests on where the pen of Mike Modano lands and his own preferences based on the possible scenarios. For all we know, #18 might want to hang up the jersey on his own accord and not based on who the team does and does not sign.