Born: January 12, 1981
Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden
Contract Status: Signed through 2019, Full NTC until 2017-2018 season
I know it, you know it, and Kronwall knows it - this was not his season.
This is the time of year where all the beat writers are optimistic that Player X will get their particular issue fixed and have a "bounceback season". I'm not sure I'm prepared to get my hopes up. Kronwall has been one of my favorite players for years, but I'm having a tough time hopping on the "he's gonna be all better" bandwagon. In fact, if he racks up 35+ points next season I will personally sponsor an owl through the World Owl Trust in his honor. Your move, Nik.
Kronwall cycled through defensive partners this year, but never seemed to get comfortable. He spent a large chunk of time with Green and Ericsson during the first half of the season, and when he came back from injury he was often paired up with Marchenko...and Ericsson. Smith and DeKeyser also spent a few games with Kronwall, but those were uncommon partners. A good match for Kronwall is when he is acting defensively responsible and his partner has some leeway to be a little more aggressive offensively, then if they get caught out Kronwall is there to safely break up the opponent's rush. Pinching, especially by Ericsson, got us caught out numerous times as Kronwall was either out of position or too slow to handle the resulting turnover.
I'm not handy with fancy stats, but when a chart says bubbles in the lower right quadrant are good and for Kronwall there are no bubbles in the lower right quadrant, I can tell that is not good. I would struggle to name a player who was improved by Kronwall's presence on the ice, but I have no evidence to back up that claim except my memory. According to my calculations, pairing up Kronwall and Ericsson next season will rip a hole in the fabric of the space-time releasing an army of fire-breathing wombats led by a Squirtle wearing sunglasses (you can trust me, I'm not a scientist but I play one on Twitter).
Kronwall used to be a solid presence during the powerplay, but this season he showed all the grace and agility of one of the lumbering rock golems from Hercules Against the Moon Men. Too many times we'd see Kronwall whiff on a pass and then watch the puck slide all the way back down the ice to an exasperated Red Wings netminder. I also recall times when a penalty killer on the opposing team would break away and Kronwall would desperately loaf after him only to fall so far behind he was practically off camera. All the heart, hustle, and #grit in the world doesn't make up for knees held together by gorilla glue and Dan Cleary's hopes and dreams.
What He Did vs. Expectations
Did he meet expectations? I suppose that depends on who you are and what your expectations were, but I would say that he did not meet expectations.
He was coming off of two good seasons, and yes we knew he was getting up there in age and in the twilight years of his career but I saw little reason to expect this level of soul crushing collapse. I'm used to Kronwall jumping onto the ice and feeling a sense of calm, not "here we go again" anxiety. Maybe I was blinded by my overall optimistic expectation for the whole team this year and overlooked Kronwall, but to me his consistently poor performance was an unpleasant surprise.
On paper, it still isn't good, but it doesn't look nearly as bad as it felt (unless you worship at the altar of +/-). There was something depressing about Kronwall this year, he looked defeated, and maybe that's why it seemed so much worse than it was? He's always come across as a pretty reserved guy, at least in front of the cameras, but there seemed to be a perpetual storm cloud over his head this year.
What I was expecting this season out of Kronwall wasn't glamorous, I just expected him to be a reliable defensive partner with rare flubs here and there. Somebody who wasn't just a leader in the locker room, but a leader on the ice. Basically, I expected him to have a net positive impact and obviously that is not what happened. At (many) times he was more a hindrance than a help, and watching him struggle made me very sad on line.
Final Grade: D
He probably deserves an F but he did score that OT goal early in the season so I'll give him a little credit, and the look on his face after the goal was a priceless mix of "so glad it's over" and "I pray for death every day" with just a dash of "Mule better not be posting about me on Instagram".
Note: 83% of voters this year said that Ericsson was worse than Kronwall, and while Ericsson was bad (understatement), Kronwall may have been more disappointing because he had higher expectations, so Kronner gets the worse grade in my book.