Niklas Kronwall, once one of the most formidable and hardest hitting blue-liners on the Detroit Red Wings, is facing one of the harshest truths that every professional athlete must come to terms with, that the human body can only take so much punishment. Due to a lingering and debilitating knee injury, the 36-year-old veteran defenseman was limited to 57 regular season games and a career-low 13 points in 2016-17.
Prior to the start of last season, Kronwall openly admitted that he was aware of the fact that the rest of his NHL career will be plagued with unavoidable pain related issues:
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be pain-free, but hopefully, I’ll be able to be out there in a position where it doesn’t bite as much,” Kronwall said while acknowledging that there is no surgical option. “The surgery that was talked about was something that probably wouldn’t be the best idea if I wanted to play again.”
Despite turning 37 in January, and without a surgical option available to improve his battle-weary knee, Kronwall still has the ability to have a positive impact on the Red Wings as the team prepares to move into Little Caesars Arena and hopes to rebound from a dismal and disappointing 2016-2017 NHL season. Sadly, the days of furiously back-skating along the sideboards to demolish opposing players may be over for him but there are still a few ways in which Jeff Blashill and the Wings can utilize the Swedish-defender while there’s still a little gas left in his tank.
On The Power Play
Despite the team’s struggles on the power play over the last several seasons, Kronwall has always been a fairly reliable and productive member of the special teams unit. Since the 2013-14 NHL season, he has led all Detroit defenseman in power play production with 68 total points. Mike Green has replaced him as the Wings’ current top-scoring defender on the power play, since joining the club in 2015, but Kronwall has still managed to remain the team’s second best scoring defenseman with the man-advantage.
Kronwall’s would be better utilized on the power play as opposed to the penalty kill in the 2017-18 season. You don’t have to be an advanced stats guru to see the benefit of using a veteran player with one good knee on the power play instead of trying to slow down players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews on the penalty kill. There were many instances last season where it was painfully obvious that Kronwall couldn’t hold the line against some of the league’s younger and speedier stars.
The Red Wings ranked 27th on the power play last season, converting on only 15.1% of their chances. The team hasn’t acquired a special teams player to significantly help the cause in 2017-18.Instead, they will continue to rely on core players like Kronwall to bounce back into productive form. If he can manage the pain and the coaches can properly manage his ice time, he may still be able to contribute when called upon.
“Kronner” as he’s appropriately referred to by his teammates, is the type of player that the Red Wings, and every other NHL team, love to have in their locker room. He’s been a part of Detroit’s historic run as one of the NHL’s most respectable and successful franchises of the modern era, all while perfectly personifying the qualities that the organization holds in such high regard.
The team has several young defensemen who are very close to being ready for a shot with the big club. Players such as Villi Saarijarvi and Filip Hronek are climbing up the depth chart quickly and would undoubtedly benefit from Kronwall’s veteran leadership, both on and off of the ice. Look for Niklas to take the next generation of Detroit defensemen under his wing in the way that Nicklas Lidstrom mentored him. The Red Wings take pride in their culture, and Kronwall will gladly help pass the torch down to the next generation.
Even though he is not currently considering retirement, the upcoming 2017-18 NHL season will be a very telling one moving forward. If both his ice time and his knee can be properly managed, he could have a fairly productive year. Ultimately, the decision will have to be made whether it is better for Detroit to keep him on the roster or to place him on LTIR as the team continues to rebuild.