As the 2016-2017 regular season rapidly approaches, those who are not participating in the World Cup of Hockey are starting to file back into the Joe Louis Arena for informal practices and training sessions. Among those in question this offseason, veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall sheds some concerning light on his knee injury that forced him to stay out of the World Cup:
Spoke with Niklas Kronwall, he's uncertain whether he'll be ready for start of Red Wings season, disappointed not better progress with knee.— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) September 19, 2016
If you can recall, Kronwall was sidelined in 2016 after having his knee scoped, which was in result of a nagging knee injury in the first place. Kronwall spoke with Helene St James some more, in which she wrote an article on:
“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. Similar to what he said at the end of last season, there's no real surgical option.
“The surgery that was talked about was something that probably wouldn't be the best idea if I wanted to play again,” he said.
This is all highly concerning, but not surprising if you’re a Red Wings fan. There is no doubt that Kronwall has declined rapidly over the past couple of seasons, despite the team leaning on him as their top defender. What Kronwall’s quotes tell me is that he is in dire need of an adjusted role with this team. Not limited top-pair minutes, not limited second-pair minutes, but a sheltered third-pair role where he hits maybe, at most, 15 minutes a night with limited time on the power-play. I sound like a broken record when I say this, but let’s face it, Niklas Kronwall has never been a true bonafide number-one defenseman. Now that he’s essentially playing through pain with no end in sight, the team needs to do the responsible thing and bring his minutes down. There is no other option.
With the possibility of Kronwall not being ready to start the season comes great opportunity for a glut of young waiver-eligible Red Wings defensemen. Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet, and Ryan Sproul all have to pass through waivers before being sent down to Grand Rapids from here on out. If Kronwall can start the season on injured reserve, this gives the team the flexibility to avoid having to carry eight defensemen, and 13 forwards — Something that could end up leaving players like Anthony Mantha, or Andreas Athanasiou out of the picture. The Red Wings could afford to put, say, Nick Jensen on waivers, because out of all three defensemen he could be the one least-likey to be claimed on waivers. With Kronwall out, the Red Wings could essentially use Ouellet and Sproul in a rotating role, or even use them both as even Jonathan Ericsson has voiced his discomfort with a nagging hip injury which St. James mentions in the article linked above. Ericsson is yet another defenseman that the team simply cannot afford to lean on going forward.
It’s unclear if Kronwall will be ready to go or not, but judging by his comments with the media, I’d say the odds of 55 being in the starting lineup come opening night are slim. The Red Wings will need to get creative with their lineup if they want to keep up in the vying Atlantic Division. There is, of course, always a possibility Ken Holland pulls the trigger on a trade for another defenseman, but at this point in the offseason with training camp just around the corner, a bold roster move seems unlikely.