Kirk Maltby knew time was right to retire

DETROIT -- Kirk Maltby has retired from the NHL, and 29 teams are happy.

"I was a pain in the ass," he said Tuesday at his retirement news conference.

And one of the very best at it, too.

He knew his role and played it to a T. Penalty killer, checker, agitator, shot blocker and the occasional clutch goal scorer.

"Quality, quality person," Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com earlier Tuesday. "He was a consummate team player from the day he showed up here in 1994."

As part of the famous "Grind Line" with Kris Draper and Darren McCarty in the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s, Maltby shut down opposing lines and contributed at both ends of the ice as the Wings won back-to-back Cups in 1997 and 1998 and did it again in 2002.

"That was a great line for us because they all brought something different," Holland said. "Malts was the agitator and could skate and kill penalties. Draper provided energy and speed. Darren McCarty provided toughness. And they all had good enough hands that they could chip in goals, and Maltby had big goals at critical times in the playoffs."

Maltby, 37, said the decision wasn't all that difficult, although his tears during Tuesday's news conference seemed to betray that statement. He had talked about his situation with Holland in the offseason. He was on a two-way contract and knew if he didn't make the team, he'd be assigned to Grand Rapids of the AHL. When that day came last week, he knew in his heart it was time to call it quits.

"I'm very comfortable with it," Maltby said. "I want to see my kids grow up. I'm going to miss being around the guys, that's going to be the hardest, nothing having a routine and seeing the guys every day."

But Maltby will stay within the organization, accepted a job as a pro scout and replacing the void left when former scout Pat Verbeek followed Steve Yzerman to Tampa Bay. Another longtime Wing stay in the family. Chris Chelios was named an advisor to the GM in the offseason.

It was important to Holland to keep Maltby within the organization.

"Malts was a real important player for us on the supporting cast," Holland said. "As we got to the last 4-5 years coming out of the work stoppage, he accepted a lesser role, he accepted a lesser salary. That's leadership. He loved being a Red Wing. He understood what we were trying to do."

Maltby leaves with his head high. A third-round pick of the Oilers in 1992, no one could have foreseen four Stanley Cups, 1,072 regular-season games, a World Championship gold medal (2003) and World Cup of Hockey championship (2004).

"It's gone much better than planned, to say the least," Maltby said. "I feel truly privileged."