Maloney’s career as Red Wing brief but legendary

Published Dec. 2, 2018

Before Bob Probert tantalized the city of Detroit while he terrorized the NHL, skating the circuit with the heavyweight championship wrapped around his waist on a nightly basis, there was Dan Maloney.

Before Probert teamed with Joey Kocur to provide a 1-2 punch (literally) that was unrivaled in the league, there was Maloney’s pairing with Dennis Polonich in Detroit.

Probie and Joey played for the Red Wings when hockey became chic again in the Motor City. They arrived when the team was on the cusp of rising from being known as the Dead Things, and they were there when playoff hockey returned with a vengeance—theirs and the team’s.

Maloney and Polo played in the Dead Things Era, but their place in franchise history ought not be forgotten.

Sadly, it appears that at least Maloney’s half has been wiped—judging by the local papers in town.

Maloney: he won his battles even when Red Wings lost theirs

Dan Maloney is dead. Perhaps you heard. Chances are that if you did, it was from scouring the Internet. It certainly wasn’t because the Detroit Snooze and Free Dreck told you about it—though they have finally, days later, given his demise some belated ink.

Shame on them.

Maloney was 68 when it came across the wire on Nov. 20 that the tough guy had passed. Cause of death wasn’t disclosed.

So yeah, this column comes some 12 days after Maloney passed. I would have written about it earlier had I known. I’m looking at you, Detroit papers.

But enough wasting space on the systematic lowering of journalistic standards around here. This is about Maloney.

Maloney was widely regarded in his prime—which came right smack during his time as a Red Wings forward (1975-78)—as being among the top two or three fighters in the entire NHL. 

He had the typical face of an NHL enforcer: nose out of joint, eyes seemingly forever partially closed, plus a wry smirk at the rest of the league.

The fact that Maloney played on some pretty bad Red Wings teams, and that he was here for less than three years, shouldn’t take away from his presence with the franchise.

Two big trades 

First, was that Maloney was part of two pretty big trades involving the Red Wings.

The first occurred in the summer of 1975, when the mega-talented pipsqueak, Marcel Dionne, became disenchanted with the Red Wings organ-eye-ZAY-shun and wanted out, refusing to re-sign with the team.

Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Kings, made Dionne an offer he couldn’t refuse, and so Marcel headed to the City of Angels.

But there was the matter of compensation for the Red Wings. The NHL was years away from pure, unadulterated free agency in those days.

When the announcement came of who the Red Wings were getting for the dynamo Dionne, who had scored 139 goals in his four seasons in Detroit, I think even I, as a 12-year-old, gagged.

Maloney was coming over from the Kings, along with aging defenseman Terry Harper. Straight up, for Marcel Freaking Dionne. The Red Wings got rooked.

Harper was 35 and had been a pretty valuable, albeit unheralded, piece of some Stanley Cup-winning Canadiens teams in his heyday. But this wasn’t his heyday. Although, Harper did play in all 80 games for the Kings in 1974-75. Still, yippee.

Then there was Dan Maloney.

Image result for dan maloney red wings

While reasonably knowledgeable Red Wings fans had likely heard of Harper, it was only league geeks who knew who Maloney was. 

Maloney made his league debut as a 20-year-old with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1970. He was traded to the Kings in 1972. 

His anonymity wasn’t among those in the league—especially those who had been pummeled by his right hand. Folks in the know, knew that Danny Maloney was a tough customer, who shouldn’t be trifled with.

In 1974-75, Maloney proved that he could put the puck in the net in addition to putting his opponents flat on their back on the ice.

He played all 80 games and scored 27 goals, adding 39 assists to go along with 165 penalty minutes. He would have been considered an emerging power forward, had that term been used in league circles back then.

But still, Maloney and Harper for Marcel Dionne wasn’t fair. But the Red Wings took their medicine and soldiered on.

Adding insult to injury was that Harper, like Dionne, wanted no part of the Red Wings. He fought the league, eventually capitulating and arriving in Detroit, kicking and screaming.

The second big trade involving Maloney and the Red Wings came late in the 1977-78 season, which was ironically a campaign where the team briefly rose from the ashes and became relevant again.

GM Ted Lindsay, despite his mantra of “Aggressive Hockey is Back in Town,” traded Maloney to Toronto for winger Errol Thompson, who was all hands and no fists.

The trade was a pretty big deal at the time. The Red Wings were charging toward their first playoff berth in eight years, and so were the Maple Leafs. The Wings wanted more scoring punch, and the Leafs just wanted more punch, period. They got it in Maloney.

Thompson was as advertised, tallying 77 goals in three full seasons with the Red Wings.

And Maloney?

True to form, he didn’t score as much for Toronto, but he gave the Maple Leafs a physical presence that had been missing from the lineup, for four-plus seasons before retiring at age 32.

It was a relatively young age to hang up his fists, but Maloney wanted to get into coaching, which wasn’t the usual post-playing path of pugilists. 

A power forward before there were power forwards

But Maloney was more than a fighter, really. He scored 192 NHL goals, number one. Number two, there’s more to physical presence and intimidation than merely duking it out. Maloney was fierce in the corners, won many a puck battle and created a wide berth on the ice. He was someone that you had to account for when you were on the ice—even if it was for your own physical well-being.

As for his time as a Red Wing, Danny Maloney was so well-respected in the dressing room that he wore the A as an alternate captain and occasionally the C when needed. Like Probert, Maloney could bring fans at the old Olympia to their feet. Many a time he was cheered uproariously as he skated to the penalty box, blood often dripping from his face, which looked like a Picasso.

When the Cup-contending Philadelphia Flyers, aka the Broad Street Bullies, came to town in Maloney’s time as a Red Wing, those games were always bloodbaths. And Danny was usually awash with said blood—and not necessarily his own.

Maloney’s career as a fighter was in the spotlight in the 1975-76 season, when he pummeled Brian Glennie of the Maple Leafs in Toronto, a classic beat down that led to criminal charges. 

But like I said, Dan Maloney was more than a fighter, no matter how feared he was in that regard. It wasn’t his fault that he was essentially traded to Detroit for Marcel Dionne. The Red Wings didn’t win with Marcel, either. May as well have some fun while losing, eh?

Maloney was a complete power forward, really. He represented the Red Wings in the 1976 All-Star Game, in a season in which he replicated his Kings performance from the year before: 27 goals, 39 assists.

For whatever reason, the Detroit papers failed to report Maloney’s death when it occurred. But that snub should have no ill bearing on no. 7’s legacy as a Red Wing.

Make no mistake. We lost a big, albeit brief, part of Red Wings history on Nov. 20.

From the Archives by Request: Probie!!

Faithful Winged Wheeler reader Lou Peruzzi requested something about Roger Crozier and Bob Probert. The Crozier stuff will be coming but for now—and I hope this isn’t cheating—here’s what I wrote about Probie as news of his untimely death rattled Red Wings fans. 

July 6, 2010

Probert Not Most Talented, But Most Popular For a Time

They threw a party at Joe Louis Arena on January 2, 2007. The guest list was A+.

Alex Delvecchio. Gordie Howe. Ted Lindsay. They brought Sid Abel’s ghost in, too.

It didn’t stop there.

Dino Ciccarelli. Brett Hull. Luc Robitaille. Scotty Bowman. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

And on and on. Dozens of Red Wings players, coaches, and management types—past and present.

All the former players wore Red Wings jerseys with their name and number sewn on the back.

The occasion was the retirement of Steve Yzerman’s No. 19, which was raised to the rafters that evening, prior to a match against the Anaheim Ducks.

As each of the stars was intoduced, and as they made their way from the Zamboni entrance to the dais, the ovation was of the deafening variety. These were the Who’s Who of Red Wings history. They should have served a feast.

One player was late. The festivities were beginning, the introduced principals seated as the first speaker opened his mouth.

Bob Probert rushed by me, past my position near the Zamboni, where I was stationed helping out the Fox Sports Detroit crew that night. My job was to snag players for between-play interviews.

“You’re late Probie!” someone yelled.

Probert’s face was sheepish. He didn’t want to go out there, initially. Someone nudged him, literally.

So Probert hastily pulls on his No. 24 sweater, jogs onto the ice, and you’d have thought Terry Sawchuk had been reincarnated and would be playing goal for the Red Wings that evening.

The ovation was as long and as loud—at least—as those for the Hall of Famers whose numbers Yzerman’s would soon be joining near the catwalks.

Even Probert didn’t know what to make of his reception. He blushed, acknowledged the crowd, and took his seat.

NOW the program could begin!

Bob Probert, the former Red Wings and Blackhawks player who died Monday at age 45, wasn’t a great player. Hundreds of men suited up for the Red Wings who had more talent in their left pinky than Probert possessed in his mammoth body.

But none of them owned Detroit like Probie owned it.

Probert wasn’t a hockey player, he was a spectacle.

Time was, you had a few pops in Greektown or the watering hole of your choosing, hopped on the People Mover to the Joe, and took in Probert first, the Red Wings game second.

“Who’s in town?” was the question, but it wasn’t what team was in Detroit—it was which goon from the other side was here.

The NHL of Probert’s heyday—the late-1980s, early 1990s—was also an unashamed circuit of fisticuffs. They barnstormed through the league: Tie Domi. Craig Coxe. Troy Crowder. Mick Vukota. The championship belt was mythical, but no less tangible.

Probert took them all on—and won most of the time. He was an ambidextrous pugilist, which made him so dangerous. You wrapped up Probie’s right, but then got pummeled with his left for your trouble.

Probert skated with a wide berth. Some nights, he looked like he was playing by himself. The nearest opponent was skating in Flin Flon.

Which is what made him such a great teammate.

Probert mixes it up with Tie Domi of the Rangers in a celebrated bout

Anyone who chose to take liberties with the Yzermans or Fedorovs of the Red Wings should have had his head examined. Or maybe the guy was just a hopeless masochist.

Bob Probert had one good offensive season. One.

It was in 1987-88, when as a 22-year-old on a line with Yzerman and Gerard Gallant, Probert scored 29 goals and made the All-Star team. He was so much a presence at the front of the net, I’ll bet his 29 goals traveled a grand total of 90 feet.

He continued his scoring prowess in the ’88 playoffs, tallying 21 points as the Red Wings made the Final Four.

That was pretty much it for the offense. Probert became the NHL’s Heavyweight Champion, so goal scoring got knocked down the totem pole of importance.

He popped an occasional puck into the net, but he popped out eyeballs more often.

Bob Probert owned Detroit. Pure and simple. He was every bit as popular as Yzerman for a time.

When he got caught with cocaine and when his drinking came to light, it didn’t hurt his popularity one bit. Typical of Detroit sports fans, for good or for bad.

But there was an empathy for Probert, underlying, among the fans in Detroit. They genuinely wanted to see Probie kick the bottle, dump the drugs.

He never could quite do it.

The Red Wings cut him, and the Blackhawks signed him. He thrilled the Second City folks for a few years.

Then Probert retired and he was married and was having kids and was trying to stay clean. He was growing up, finally.

He traveled overseas a few years ago, as a hockey ambassador of sorts, interacting with our military troops in Afghanistan. He began to write for a local sports magazine.

Probert was a Windsor kid, admiring the Red Wings from across the Detroit River. It was a dream come true for him to play for them.

He could have been much more, said Red Wings Executive VP Jimmy Devellano in the wake of the news of Probie’s sad passing from an apparent heart attack.

Jimmy’s probably right. But Probert was still a pretty damn big deal in Detroit, as it was.

God better look out for that left.