A note to all NHL forwards: no longer must you live in fear of being ‘Kronwalled.’
The collective sigh of relief, one that emitted from all of those who have faced the prospect of receiving an ill-placed pass while skating along the boards when Niklas Kronwall is on the ice, came Tuesday when the 38-year-old defenseman officially announced his retirement through the Detroit Red Wings’ website. He will be moving into a front office role in Detroit, acting as an advisor to GM Steve Yzerman.
The shock factor isn’t high here, of course. Some even braced themselves for the possibility this was coming ahead of last season. However, despite battling injury over the past few seasons, including a lingering knee issue, Kronwall suited up for one final season and played out the final year of his seven-year, $33.5-million contract in 2018-19. In what we now know was his final NHL campaign, the veteran blueliner matched his 2017-18 output by registering 27 points, including three goals, while logging nearly 20 minutes per night.
Despite his status as an unrestricted free agent this summer, Kronwall’s options were clear: it was either return to Detroit or retire having worn no sweater other than the Red Wings’. Asked in June about Kronwall’s status, Yzerman said that if the rearguard wanted to return, Detroit would welcome him back. Tuesday’s announcement, however, means Kronwall has decided it’s time to move on.
With his retirement, though, Kronwall leaves behind an interesting legacy. One of the few players in league history whose name has become a verb, Kronwall became synonymous with his big, punishing hits that levelled and winded many an opposing forward. And while he was suspended one game in 2015 for a high hit on Nikita Kucherov, there may be no player in the post-lockout era who straddled the line and delivered as many highlight-reel hits while staying on the right side of the law as Kronwall. To remember Kronwall only as the player who threw a number of the most bone-rattling checks of the era, however, would be to entirely gloss over the fact that he was one of the more reliable defensemen in the NHL, particularly during his prime.
By his fourth season in Detroit in 2007-08, under the guidance of defenders such as Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, Kronwall had grown into a legitimate top-pairing defenseman in the league, one that any number of teams throughout the NHL would have fallen over themselves to add to their own blueline. Offensively, he could contribute. He averaged upwards of half a point per game from 2007-08 on through to 2015-16, and often overlooked was his ability to patrol the blueline on the power play. Across the aforementioned nine-season span, only 18 defensemen registered more power play goals than Kronwall’s 29 and only 15 defensemen compiled more points than his 143 with the man advantage.
Across those same nine seasons, and particularly after Lidstrom’s departure in 2011-12, Kronwall became the cornerstone of the blueline. By 2007-08, he had graduated into a role in which he played upwards of 21 minutes per game for nine consecutive campaigns, and during that time he ranked 20th among all NHL rearguards in time on the penalty kill. This is to say nothing of his 5-on-5 efforts, either. Among the 151 defensemen who played at least 5,000 minutes throughout that nine-season span, Kronwall ranked 16th in Corsi percentage (53.4).
But be it in Detroit or on a league-wide scale, Kronwall was often overshadowed. Skating on a Red Wings blueline led by Lidstrom meant Kronwall spent the first half of his career playing behind one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game. And even once Lidstrom departed, Kronwall still played something of a second fiddle to the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and even a young Dylan Larkin. Kronwall didn’t win a single major award, never once played in an All-Star Game, nor did he earn entry onto an end-of-season all-star team.
Kronwall does have a Stanley Cup – and maybe would have had another if he hadn’t come a crossbar short of tying Game 7 of the 2009 final – on his resume, however, and it was during that 2008 run that he really began to etch his name into the legend of Hockeytown. In 22 games, he skated fewer minutes than only Lidstrom and Rafalski, scored fewer points than only Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Johan Franzen and, most importantly, began to cement himself as a fixture of the organization. And that’s how he now retires.
As he skates into the sunset in Detroit, he does so having played more games in the Winged Wheel than all but eight players, having registered more points as a Red Wing than all but three defensemen and as one of only nine players to play 15 seasons with the organization. He also retires as a member of the Triple Gold Club – the Olympic and World Championship gold both captured in 2006 – and a three-time Swedish Olympian. In Detroit, though, a whole generation of Red Wings fans grew up watching him anchor the blueline, and his contributions to the franchise won’t be forgotten.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have a literal ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation to watch.
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