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Abel to Yzerman

If This Is It…Farewell To An Original Grinder

This could be it.  After two years, at least, of predicting the end of Kirk Maltby’s career in Detroit, this could finally be farewell to #18. In the midst of a riveting story about fan favorite Mattias Ritola’s placement on waivers, Teddy Kulfan devoted all of one sentence to what seems to be a foregone conclusion.

As for the last forward spot Kirk Maltby is likely to be sent to Grand Rapids.

Yeah, he could be back.  Baby Jeebus may decide to punish us once again for our well-earned arrogance and reign injuries down on this team like he did last year.  And if he does, Maltby will be one of the first called up.



But as it stands now, he’s going down (over) to Grand Rapids, where he’ll make about 100K.  He’ll be a Griff and a coach on the ice, essentially.  He’ll be hustling and agitating and pissing off minor leaguers who would see him as a chance to make names for themselves.  They’ll run him, yap at him, muscle up to him because they grew up watching their idols try to do the same thing.

And all those AHL’ers going up against Maltby probably have no recollection of this, one of the greatest moments in hundreds of amazing memories this current dynasty has provided us.

Sports Illustrated, 11 May 2002

Kirk Maltby was typical of the Red Wings’ effort. He blocked three shots during a penalty kill in the second period, including two after losing his stick.

“You don’t want to lose your stick, especially when you’re shorthanded,” said Maltby, who received a standing ovation after dragging himself to the bench. “It was just a matter of trying to stay in the lane with the puck and block what I could.”

“Standing ovation” doesn’t do it justice.  It was a frigging explosion.  It was a roar that shook the arena to its foundations.  It was the most knowledgable hockey crowd in the NHL showing their appreciation for a guy who gutted it out his entire career.  It was a satisfied bellow from the pits of the Joe, a frigging laugh in the face of St. Louis because they were done.  Pronger had impaled himself on The Captain’s hip, Shanahan bent them over and then Maltby slapped their faces with an open hand with a penalty kill that would be nearly equaled by Hank Zetterberg then Darren Helm six and seven years later. 

He blocked a shot and got back up.  Then he lost his stick and blocked another.  He got back up and then he blocked another frigging shot because that’s what he’d been raised to do. It’s what he lived for and it’s what Grinders did for Scott Bowman, for Steve Yzerman and for one another.

But before that, five years earlier?  There was this…


Oh hell yes.  Nothing could compare to that series, you know.  The sweep that followed was incredible, if unexpected.  The next year for Vladdie was so very good.  2002 was a relief because that team was so stacked anything but a Cup would have been a soul-crusher.  2008 was redemption for the donkey punch Anaheim handed us (along with Gary’s refs) in 2007. 

But my god that series against Denver in ‘97, that Western Conference Final.  We were terrified because it was more pain just waiting to happen.  San Jose, New Jersey, Denver…all the frigging nightmares of years past.  We were hesitant to give ourselves to that ‘97 team because…well, because they’d stabbed us in the frigging temple year after year. 

But they did it.  They frigging did it and Maltby was a huge part of it.  He got under their skin, drew penalties, killed penalties and he was a fixture on a line that was ours.  Did you relate to Sergei Fedorov, or Shanahan?  Really?  No.  But you sure as hell understood the kind of work it took to be a Kris Draper or a Kirk Maltby.  That Grind Line was ours. 


Oh, he was frigging despised.  Rival fans hated him.  The opposition seethed when he’d taunt, then skate backward, smiling, away…away…away.  Waving as Foote and Pronger and Tkachuk stomped their way to the box.  Big frigging dummies. 

He frustrated us because there were the occasional glimpses of offense. And Mick didn’t help by constantly bringing it up, you know…“fifty goal scorer in juniors.”  We know Mick. We know.  But c’mon, every goal from Maltby was a cold beer you found at the back of the fridge when you thought for sure you were out. 

His number won’t be hung. This isn’t Denver.  He’ll go to GR and wait for the call. If it comes, he’ll do his job as always and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him brought up just for that veteran presence in April.  But for all intents and purposes the Kirk Maltby era is done in Hockeytown.  The Grind Line is one more departure away from being an awesome frigging memory.  But what a memory it will be.  What a line it was.  What a revelation those bastards turned out to be, you know?

A standing ovation as he limped off the JLA ice.  There’s the Maltby legacy right there.  Thousands of ice packs, dozens of pissed off assholes in burgundy and candy-ass blue and four Stanley Cups to make it all worthwhile.

Imagery above courtesy of Sports Illustrated.


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Andy from FightNight's avatar

Beautiful, Chief. The grind line will always be my favourites. But the most defining Maltby moment actually happened last season in Washington. On a kill, on a great effort, he lose his helmet. What did he do helmetless at the end of the shift? He went down and blocked a slapshot from Ovechkin. That’s the dedication Malts always brought.

Posted by Andy from FightNight on 10/05/10 at 03:29 AM ET

Lucce's avatar

Number 18 will not be hung? It will not be worn by anyone else in a few years!

Posted by Lucce from Kingdom of Zweden on 10/05/10 at 03:50 AM ET

Lexa1523's avatar

Great job, Chief! Thanks a lot! Pure grinders - we know who they are! I named my blog in their favor, so all I can say - LONG LIVE GRINDERS!!!

Posted by Lexa1523 on 10/05/10 at 03:57 AM ET

Kris's avatar

Brilliant, as usual.  And so very, very true.

Posted by Kris from MI on 10/05/10 at 04:16 AM ET

WestWing's avatar

Fuchin-A Chief! 

Regarding the career of Kirk Maltby, I have said this before and I’ll say it again: The guy was clutch.  We’ve had an embarassment of riches over the past twenty years or so.  We’ve seen obscenely talented, elite-level players who’ve set the standard of what we have come to expect from this franchise.

But if you are seriously passionate about this team and you haven’t done so recently though, give yourself a treat , sit your ass down some time soon, cue up whatever playoff highlight reels you got stashed away in the DVR and just focus on Maltby’s contributions—in the playoffs!!!

This is how his Red Wing careeer should be judged after all.  Not by some garden-variety, meaningless regular-season , Tuesday night games in February.  None of that bullshit.  We’re not talking about some non-descript career third-liner who it so happens once scored fifty goals in juniors (thanks Mick, Ill have another!),  Nope.  The guy was, more often than not, what many much more acclaimed players somehow fail to become.  He was CLUTCH!

Whetther it be those penalty killing shifts that still reverberate through the Joe, the short-handed goals that broke the will of the opposition at crucial times, the memorable and often momentum-changing forechecking cycles down low in the offensive zone that gave the Grind Line its ever-lasting fame, along with the uncanny ability to get deep under the skin of the most hated of rivals.  That is Kirk Maltby’s legacy in Detroit.

It’s late and chances are I could very well be drunk as I type this, but if there is any just ending to this story, he clears waivers, bides his time in GR, and by hook or crook is next seen cruisin’ down Woodward in a convertable with a cup called Stanley and the inalienable right to say for all to hear that he has once more cup to his name than the Chicago fuchin’ Blackhawks!

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 10/05/10 at 05:11 AM ET

42jeff's avatar

See what Chief did right there? 

That was some good stuff there.

This?  Noo noo…that’s not a tear.  Nope.  That was a uh…WD-40…got it in my eye.  Yep.

Posted by 42jeff from The greater Taylor Tucky Metroplex on 10/05/10 at 05:58 AM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

Yer battin’ 1000 this preseason chief. In this fine country we call home, it’s a shame the love and admiration some of the drug dazed pop and movie stars get. It’s sad to see the worship of overpaid, inked up, bling crazy,  wife beating , cheating athletic superstars . Not enough time or space to survey the support and enthusiasm many power mad, narcissistic corrupt politicians continue to receive. it’s an honor to have our focus on Malts, Steve y, Nickle (5),  and so many other decent hard working, often underpaid hockey players. I love this sport, the players, the sacrifice, the teamwork, the sounds, the passion, and I feel a little sorry for those who say “they just don’t get hockey”. I don’t have time to explain it to them. Thanks for the eloquent reminder of “why” , chief.

Posted by Rdwings28 on 10/05/10 at 08:04 AM ET

w2j2's avatar

Well Done, Chief!

When are the Deep Diggers going to write something about Maltby?

tongue rolleye

Posted by w2j2 on 10/05/10 at 08:28 AM ET

John W.'s avatar

Awesome post, Chief.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 10/05/10 at 08:31 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

Well done.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 10/05/10 at 09:05 AM ET

Guilherme's avatar

There was some crazy stuff going on yesterday that the Wings were still considering waiving Maltby or Eaves. I don’t know where it came from, and I don’t believe and am not holding my breath.

Maltby will be a legend, and we’re lucky to have seen him play. Every generation has those unheralded guys that numbers and statistics won’t show, Maltby, Draper and Holmstrom seems to be ours.

So, 18 years until someone wears #18?

Posted by Guilherme from Brazsil on 10/05/10 at 09:11 AM ET

scottytooshotty's avatar

He’s going to be missed. His off-ice presence especially, from the little coverage I’ve seen of the wings away from the game. He seems to be the practical joker, the guy that keeps spirits high on long road trips. A massive intangible for the chemistry of a team. Once he decides to hang up his skates I know Mr. I has got a coaching position or something that keeps him with the team day to day.

Posted by scottytooshotty on 10/05/10 at 09:18 AM ET


We may be the only fanbase that not only understands how important the third and fourth lines are, but celebrates them. A team can not win a Stanley Cup without contributions from unlikely sources, and the Grind Line was the best checking line in the league for over 5 years. Maltby’s impact on the team was understated, but without him the Wings would not have been as successful as they were.

Posted by GrahamWIIM from Chicago via Toronto on 10/05/10 at 09:19 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Maltby tears it up in Grand Rapids.  Mark it down.

Great writeup, Chief.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 10/05/10 at 09:22 AM ET

mormerod19's avatar

On any otherteam, I would have hated his ass. Maybe not the way I hated Pepe Lemieux , but hated him. As it is, I was glad to have him on my team. During those two early cup runs, I bragged how our 4th liners would make a 2nd line on a lot of teams. And they played like it in the playoffs. Draper got all the attention out of the two, and he was better. But, he would not have achieved what he did without the chemistry he built with Malts. And I have that SI autographed and framed in my office. Right below Yzerman’t tribute edition. #18 right below #19, fitting.

Posted by mormerod19 on 10/05/10 at 09:29 AM ET

drimo's avatar

An excellent post.  And I love the dejected look on Patty’s face.  Michele probably didn’t enjoy that night.

Posted by drimo from Cincinnati, OH on 10/05/10 at 09:33 AM ET

MOWingsfan19's avatar

Absolutely spot on sailor.

Posted by MOWingsfan19 from I really like our team on 10/05/10 at 10:13 AM ET

bdos's avatar

Amen chief…Amen.

Posted by bdos from Columbus, OH on 10/05/10 at 10:39 AM ET

WingsFanInBeanLand's avatar

My baby daughter is in a crying fit right now because of this post Chief.  I hope you’re happy

Posted by WingsFanInBeanLand from where free agents no longer dare. on 10/05/10 at 10:50 AM ET

Nate A's avatar

The boys of the Grind Line need some kind of honor in the Joe and the new barn if/when it gets built.

Posted by Nate A from Detroit-ish on 10/05/10 at 10:54 AM ET

Cliff's avatar

The Av on the SI cover has the same look on his face as Rosby (from the post a couple of days ago).

Posted by Cliff on 10/05/10 at 11:00 AM ET

Twig's avatar

only someone with a journalism degree could write this well. right?

Posted by Twig from Houston, TX on 10/05/10 at 11:26 AM ET

PaulinMiamiBeach's avatar

That Grind Line was ours. 

yes, yes it was.

and somehow, in some twisted way, I think they loved us as much as we loved them.  because they knew that what they did on the ice usually doesn’t get appreciated by the fans.  in Hockeytown it did.  every night.  they know we know.  and we know they know we know.  and….uh, heh.

The Grind Line was the embodiment of what made Detroit a great city.  completely blue collar.  completely humble.  go out there, get the job done, sit down, and wait until it’s your turn again.

it’s amazing how many “you’ll never see that again” kind of things we’ve had the luck to witness in the past 20 years as Wings fans.

this is why fans of so many other teams hate us.  they know we’ve got something special.  they know we’ve seen many special things that they have never seen - and will never see.  and what REALLY eats them away is they don’t even know what most of those things are, they couldn’t make a list if they tried.  they read these threads, make no mistake.  and it BURNS THEM.

Posted by PaulinMiamiBeach on 10/05/10 at 11:44 AM ET


Nice write up Chief.  Maltby will always be one of my favorites.  I still have that SI cover.

Posted by Jeff from CO. on 10/05/10 at 11:46 AM ET

WingsFaninCO's avatar

I’m feeling a little faklempt (sp?).  Talk amongst yourselves…

Posted by WingsFaninCO on 10/05/10 at 11:59 AM ET

Drapesfan33's avatar

Who needs deep diggers? We got the Chief!

Great write up! Been a Grind Line fan since they were joined at the hip. One more to have a steller year (once he heals up) and the books will be closed on a line that is/was the work ethic Detroit has always stood for!

Is it OCT 8 yet????


Posted by Drapesfan33 from Burb Of Atlanta on 10/05/10 at 12:00 PM ET

Sullyosis's avatar

Posted by 42jeff from Minot, North Dakota on 10/05/10 at 04:58 AM ET

Agreed.  It’s an emotional read for sure, I’m certainly not ready to say goodbye to the Grind Line, even if Draper’s the only surviving member.  What they meant in terms of intensity was never matched.  Probably never will be.  What they meant to the city of Detroit and the wonderful fans, I’ll just never know because I wasn’t there with everyone during that time. 

But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s one of my all time favourites for some of the things he says and does on the ice and his ability to get anyone—ANY ONE—to punch him or cross-check him right in the face and take it like a man for the 2:00 minutes it gives guys like Stevie and Shanny and Fedorov or Lidstrom, Pav, Z and Homer to work their magic…it’s just a beautiful thing.

I don’t recommend modeling an Engineering career after Kirk Maltby’s style of play, but it’s SO much fun to get under other people’s skin and hence removing their control over any situation to dictate course of action.  And I’ll always have Kirk to look up to for that!

Posted by Sullyosis from A hateful lair in Post Apocalyptic US (or Arizona) on 10/05/10 at 12:02 PM ET

VooX's avatar

Stepping away from hockey this preseason has been tough, especially as I missed my first Wings game in Toronto in over a decade this weekend.  Posts like this celebrating Malts and the Grind Line, who were so special they have a notorious nickname unlike almost every other checking lines, as well as the TP:60 podcast ensure I get my Wings fix in large doses when I have time to think about hockey again.

Well done Chief, and other bitches, us Wings fans are spoiled on and off the ice.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 10/05/10 at 12:11 PM ET

CaptNorris5's avatar

Maltby tears it up in Grand Rapids.  Mark it down.

Great writeup, Chief.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 10/05/10 at 08:22 AM ET

You know, he was a 50 goal scorer in juniors…

Posted by CaptNorris5 from The Winged Wheel, stuck in Chicago on 10/05/10 at 12:18 PM ET

CaptNorris5's avatar

Amazing post Chief. These kinds of posts are what you do best.

Posted by CaptNorris5 from The Winged Wheel, stuck in Chicago on 10/05/10 at 12:21 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

What Rdwings28 said.

And kudos to you, Chief, for another post that’s worthy of being shared with my hockey friends.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 10/05/10 at 12:30 PM ET

perfection's avatar


this is maybe the first A2Y post to literally bring a tear to my eye.

i have to say, i tend to be more of the pragmatist type and NOT usually much of a sentimentalist. i hadn’t stopped for a moment to really let the end of Maltby sink in.

it gives me the chills to think about that penalty kill. thank you so damn much for making me remember. i definitely owe that to him.

speaking of usually pragmatic minds taking a minute for sentimentality… this reminds me of just how classy and cool babcock was to start the original grind line in that first game DMac came back for. I don’t think the three of them really touched the ice again at the same time the rest of the time, but at the beginning of the game, Babs gave the crowd a little tribute, and ode to the very characteristics you describe above. if there’s anyone who must love all that the Grind line stood for it’s Babcock. he really showed that knowledgable Detroit fan base that he understood just how important a simple line combination can be… especially THAT line. 

here here Kurt Maltby!

(cool… now waive his scrub ass and lets get to some hockey… till we do this again next year at the end of Draper… that’s the pragmatist talking again)

Posted by perfection from LaLaLand on 10/05/10 at 12:34 PM ET

PaulinMiamiBeach's avatar

this reminds me of just how classy and cool babcock was to start the original grind line in that first game DMac came back for

I should probably point out that the original Grind Line was actually Maltby, Draper, and Kocur.  McCarty later replaced Kocur.

Posted by PaulinMiamiBeach on 10/05/10 at 01:01 PM ET

FranzensMouthguard's avatar

awesome post chief, grind line forever!

Posted by FranzensMouthguard from Chicago, IL on 10/05/10 at 01:18 PM ET

MOWingsfan19's avatar

here here Kurt Maltby!

Didn’t he play with Dick Lindstrom?

Posted by MOWingsfan19 from I really like our team on 10/05/10 at 01:27 PM ET

RWBill's avatar

Truly a work of art Chief, not bad for a non-pharmacist.  This is two levels above anything the delicate genius has ever written about The Wings because it represents what we real fans feel.

Posted by RWBill on 10/05/10 at 01:30 PM ET

WingsFanInBeanLand's avatar

Stevie poached Ritola.

Posted by WingsFanInBeanLand from where free agents no longer dare. on 10/05/10 at 01:35 PM ET

Sullyosis's avatar

Posted by RWBill from boarding The Hasek, defibrillator in hand. on 10/05/10 at 12:30 PM ET

Tuesday’s with Chief.

Posted by Sullyosis from A hateful lair in Post Apocalyptic US (or Arizona) on 10/05/10 at 01:38 PM ET


Can’t say I didn’t see this one coming


Nice pick up, Stevie.

Posted by aaron in phoenix from Section 102 on 10/05/10 at 01:38 PM ET

perfection's avatar

i knew tampa would be the only team to do it… ritola’s a known quantity to stevie. sort of ironic since we poached miller from tampa. almost like we traded them.

damnit. that yzerman… i’m starting to think he actually wants the lightning to do BETTER than the red wings this season…

it’ll be interesting to see how ritola develops now that he’s being thrown in with the big boys. no more ahl developing for him after all.

Posted by perfection from LaLaLand on 10/05/10 at 01:39 PM ET

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About Abel to Yzerman

Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977.  No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y.  Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation.  There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature.  Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: wphoulihan@gmail.com