Last October Niklas Kronwall told the Detroit Free Press that he had traveled somewhere out of the United States to undergo stem cell treatment for his irreparably damaged knee. Nearly 14 years of playing in the NHL had forced the Swedish defender to “try a little bit (alternative therapy) everywhere” because surgery isn’t much of an option once the severity of joint degradation reaches the level that Kronwall’s has. He honestly and simply summed it:
“I am just trying to find a way to stay in the game.”
And stay in the game he did during the 2017-18 season, to the surprise of many, yours truly included. He played in 79 total games, his highest total of appearances since 2014-15, and while he may be just a fraction of the back-skating/checking powerhouse that we all know and love, he managed a way to grind out nearly a full season of NHL action on one good leg at age 37.
Going back to the stem cell article/interview, Kronwall mentions that his goal was to finish out his contract. Fast forward ten months to the present and entering the final year of his contract, it’s not shocking to hear the once formidable blue-liner admit that 2018-19 may be the end of the line for number 55.
The news isn’t necessarily ground-breaking or completely out of left field, as I mentioned earlier, I thought Kronner wouldn’t make it to/through last season. Instead, his comments on the subject were honest and spoken like a true veteran:
“I love the game,” he said. “I can’t say enough good things about it. But at the same time you have to be realistic.
“I know where I’m at right now. A year from now I don’t know where I’ll be at. I’d love to sign [for] another year but let’s face it. The team’s getting younger. I’m getting older. The game’s getting faster. I’m not the same player I was 10 years ago. But I’m going to do what I can this year both on the ice and off the ice. And just try to be as efficient as I possibly can.”
You get the sense that Kronwall isn’t delusional about how much time he has left in the league and you can also still get wind of the competitive/warrior spirit in him that is reluctant to give up the game he cherishes and loves playing so much. I began to reflect on another former Swedish fan-favorite in Hockeytown, Nicklas Lidstrom, and his comments on retiring in 2012.
While Lidstrom and Kronwall are certainly two different types of players, they both proudly and perfectly exemplify what it means to be a leader and a member of the Detroit Red Wings. Kronwall’s thoughts on his career coming to an end read as if they could be the precursor to Lidstrom’s decision to hang up the skates.
Here’s what Lidstrom had to say about the factors that led him to call it a career:
“The last few seasons, I waited until the end of the season to assess my ability to play another year,” Lidstrom said. “Sadly this year, it’s painfully obvious to me that my strength and energy level are not rebounding enough for me to continue to play. My drive and motivation are not where they need to be to play at this level.
“It’s not that the tank is completely empty. It just doesn’t have enough to carry me through every game at the high level where I want to play at. My family and I are completely comfortable with this decision. Retiring today allows me to walk away from the game with pride rather than have the game walk away from me.”
Granted, Lidstrom was 40, played 20 seasons and may not have endured as much injury and physical adversity as Kronwall, but it’s highly possible that Kronwall will find himself in a very similar situation in the near future. It certainly seems as if the process is already well underway.
Kronwall seems to at least have enough gas and enough drive to give it all go for one more season, but he also seems to realize the game is passing him by. Detroit hasn’t been able to develop a modern-era NHL-stye blue-line since Lidstrom retired six years ago - something they must do in order to begin to compete and push for the playoffs once more. Kronwall has sacrificed his physical well-being to try and uphold what Lidstrom left behind, now it appears that the time is approaching to pass the torch to the next generation of defensive hopefuls.
Kronwall’s leadership and veteran presence are undeniably invaluable but his roster spot will ultimately be of the highest value. It appears that he’s made some peace with the end of his career looming on the horizon and he may have his mind made up already to some small degree. When it’s all said and done, the decision will be, and should be, his to make.
Will Kronwall Retire After the 2018-19 NHL Season?
This poll is closed
His knee will prevent him from finishing the whole season