The Red Wings are attempting to chase down the Atlantic Division leading Panthers, but if they’re going to catch Florida in the next few weeks, Detroit will have to do so without the services of Niklas Kronwall and Drew Miller.
It was announced Tuesday that both Kronwall and Miller will be out with knee injuries, but the timelines for the two players are vastly different. Kronwall, 35, will be sidelined for 2-4 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, while Miller, 31, may have played his final game this season. He’ll need repairs to a meniscus in his knee and reconstructive surgery on his ACL that will force him out of action for 4-6 months.
The time off for Kronwall is something Detroit knew was coming, and coach Jeff Blashill told DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose that Kronwall’s surgery was mapped out to coincide with the all-star break. The Red Wings’ break is seven days, Jan. 26 to Feb. 3.
The all-star break could mean that Kronwall misses no more than four games. However, if Kronwall’s out a month, he could be out for more than 10 games. Blashill said the team felt is was important Kronwall undergo the surgery to relieve any pain he’s dealing with currently and to make sure there’s no lingering issues deeper in the season. Even with the surgery being planned, though, Blashill wished Kronwall could have remained in the lineup.
“Honestly, I think (Kronwall) has played great here in the last little bit,” Blashill told Roose. “The timing that way is unfortunate. I’ve been real happy with (his) play as of late.”
Kronwall has three goals and 17 points this season and has been playing with the Red Wings’ top power play unit. With Kronwall out, Mike Green will take that spot quarterbacking the top power play unit, a spot Green is familiar with from his days with the Washington Capitals. Kronwall’s absence also opens a spot for Alexey Marchenko to return to the lineup. The 24-year-old has played 36 games for Detroit this season, scoring one goal and five points.
Of course, Kronwall’s injury looks like nothing compared to Miller’s. His knee injury occurred on a seemingly innocuous play when he took a hit from Anaheim defenseman Shea Theodore during a Jan. 10 game, but the Red Wings didn’t know at first the severity of the injury.
"We weren't sure initially what it was going to be," Blashill told DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji. "As the evaluations went, he had that done I believe on Friday of last week. We can do the math and see where that's at. I don't want to preclude anything, I don't know.”
The timeline likely means Miller won’t be able to suit up for the Red Wings again this season barring a deep post-season run. If Detroit manages to get to the Eastern Conference final, that would still be cutting it close for Miller, which means a berth in the Stanley Cup final might be the only way the Red Wings get the veteran winger back in the lineup this season. And if Miller doesn’t make it back, there’s a chance he’s played his last game in Detroit. Miller is in the final season of a three-year, $4.05-million deal he signed with the Red Wings in June 2013.
In 28 games this season, Miller has one goal and two points while averaging nearly 13 minutes of ice time per game, but his primary role has been on the penalty kill. He averages nearly three minutes per game with the Red Wings down a man. Blashill said losing Miller is tough, but shouldn’t be an excuse for the penalty kill failing in his absence.
“We're going to have to find a mix of guys that can get it done,” Blashill told Wakiji. “But it's up to us. One guy can't kill your team, one guy can't kill one of your specialty teams. You've got to be on that as an organization and I think we've got guys to do it, now we've got to execute and do it."
Blashill said Justin Abdelkader and Dylan Larkin are two players who could get minutes on the penalty kill with Miller out. While it’s been over a much smaller workload, both Abedelkader and Larkin have been better at suppressing shots while shorthanded than Miller this season. Blashill also mentioned Tomas Jurco as an option on the penalty kill, but he’s only skated 1:35 shorthanded this season. The Red Wings' penalty kill is currently 19th in the NHL at 79.6 percent.