Niklas Kronwall spoke with Hockeynews.se’s Mattias Ek on Monday, and as Kronwall prepares for what might be his final NHL season, Kronwall reflected upon his own play and the Red Wings’ potential as a team:
Kronwall sees the end: “Not yet”
Huddinge. Niklas Kronwall can’t check as he used to and he admits that it’s made him frustrated. His seven-year contract with Detroit expires in 2019. The 37-year-old defenseman begins to see the end of his extremely successful hockey career, which may end this season.
“It’s definitely a possibility. Especially when you’re over 30 and no longer have a contract, it’s tougher to get a new contract these days,” says Kronwall to Hockeynews.se.
The NHL players who make Stockholm their hometown gathered on Monday in Huddinge to start on-ice training together. It will be the last time that “Team Pudding” is organized, under the direction of Tre Kronor equipment manager Anders “Pudding” Weiderstal, who is preparing for his final season at work before retiring.“Yes, I heard. ‘Pudding’ has been with us since day one. You have to take advantage of these moments now. Come here a little earlier and drink a coffee with him,” says Kronwall, who laughs.He is probably in his last season of his career as a hockey player. Kronwall has won in principle everything that can be won–he’s won a Stanley Cup with Detroit, Olympic and World Championship gold with the Tre Kronor, and also Swedish SHL gold with Djurgarden.
He has given and taken a lot of hitsNiklas Kronwall has played tough and physical, and made himself famous for his brutally well-timed hits in the middle of the ice. Those who have not looked up and fall victim to his hits have become “Kronwalled.”But he himself has also taken a lot of hits during his career. Therefore, it’s an easy-to-chat Kronwall that, after an ice skating session in Huddinge, says that his body feels “right okay.”“It feels almost better than last summer. And the summer before. It’s more that small issues that pop up instead. But the stuff I’ve been cheating on in the past has felt quite well.”Among other things, Niklas Kronwall has had big problems with one of his knees.“It’s nice to not be hurt. That’s a positive. It’s just damn annoying in the morning with the other stuff. It’s as it should be. You get older. It belongs to age.”Last summer, he radically changed his preseason training.“There was less lifting and less weight overall. A little more work in the pool and so on, a little more gentle for the body and leading. Last year, indeed, it felt pretty good.”Therefore, he has maintained the same structure. Last season, he played 79 of 82 games. The season before, he missed 25 games. Niklas Kronwall, who’s been a long-time alternate captain in Detroit, saw his ice time drop from an average of 22 minutes in 2015-16 to 18:31 last season.“When I was lucky, I played and felt better than I did before, so I’ve really ran the same program as last year, and again, it’s felt okay compared with previous years.”Soon 900 games played in the NHLNiklas Kronwall has played 874 NHL games, and posted 405 points as he enters the final year of his seven-year contract.“Yeah, I don’t know what to say [there]. I haven’t thought too much about it. Obviously, it’s the last year of my contract. You have to take it for what it is and just try to do all you can, try to do the best you can,” he says.
But he admits that he’s thought that it might be his last year as a hockey player.
“There’s definitely that risk to it. Especially when you get over 30, and you don’t have a contract any more. It’s tougher to get a contract today. Everything is trending much younger, faster and stronger, and the whole thing, so it’s only natural that it may happen. Absolutely so.”What would it be like to not stand here next summer?“I think the next summer probably wouldn’t be strange. It’s more when you get into October and November, and you’re sitting there and want to play. At the same time, I understand that everything has its time and place. If it’s the last, then it’s the last. It’s been a damn fun trip. I’ve enjoyed it incredibly so, and learned incredibly much. You take it for what it is and drive as hard as possible.”Do you think that the family will stay in the United States, or are you moving home to Stockholm?“Initially, at least, the plan is to move home, absolutely so. We’ve been away from here for 15 years. Family, friends, kids in Swedish school. There are some such things that attract.”Niklas Kronwall has been forced to change the style of his game in recent years, and he doesn’t lay the boom on opponents on the ice any more. But not because he’s grown nicer…“I think it’s more because I’m slower, ha ha. I can’t get there any more,” he says.
Kronwall has received some criticism for some of the hits he’s laid over the years.
“Some of the hits would definitely have been a suspension today Those who know the best are those I think would have worked today.”But the 37-year-old Kronwall states: “I’m a little too slow. You see the situation, but you don’t get to the spot.”
Is it frustrating?“Yes, but it took some time to get used to it, actually. It was damn tough. At least two years ago, that’s when it started. I wrestled a bit with myself. ‘What a fan I can be.’ But there are other ways of playing, too, not only in terms of the physical side but also in the game overall. It’s something you get to learn, to accept what it is, and try to position yourself in another way. I thought I felt better last season as it was. It’s something you can learn and in that way it’s exciting.”The Detroit Red Wings have gone through a generational shift since the great times with Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk in the lead. The change isn’t clear, and the Red Wings have missed the playoffs two years in a row after making the Stanley Cup playoffs for 25 years in a row.Generation change in progress“There will be a few more years of changing players. There are some younger players who will enter the system and take over and drive this on. We’ve got Dylan Larkin and some other guys with Anthony Mantha who will take it over in the long run. It will be exciting to see this Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno, I think, too, and Michael Rasmussen, who’s knocking on the door. We have a lot of forwards that stand to knock on the door, and also some defensemen who are interesting in the long run. Give them some time and it will be pretty good.”Detroit is working hard to try to find the right players in the NHL draft. The team and scout Hakan Andersson have become famous for finding and getting players who were picked up late in the draft to turn into superstars.Who do you think will be the next big Swedish Detroit star?“The next big thing? Gustav Lindstrom has been doing well. But finding someone like ‘Zata’ or ‘Lidas’ is very difficult. In the past, without the internet, ‘Hagge’ (Hakan Andersson) did a great job, and went and watched players who no one knew of and no one had heard of, but ‘Hagge’ found them somehow, and could take them late, and then they blossomed.”“It doesn’t happen the same way today, I think because of the internet. You can watch on your computer and see all the players. It’s difficult to find the golden grains the same way today. The best go high in the draft. Then it’s clear that there are always late bloomers, but what’s usually in the top three or four are the franchise players you can build upon, in the long run.”
“You have to have some luck, too, as in our cases with both Pavel and ‘Zata.” But if you think of Connor McDavid and Rasmuse Dahlin, say they will also be those kinds of players…It’s not every year that it happens,” says Niklas Kronwall, looking forward.“I absolutely believe that we have the opportunity to go to the finals, but to go the whole way, there have to be a lot of things that go our way.”Detroit’s Swedish team captain, Henrik Zetterberg, hasn’t given a clear message as to whether he can continue to play. Niklas Kronwall is careful to attend events in advance and not say too much about the situation.“I haven’t heard a lot, save what’s in the newspaper. Clearly, we have contact. His back has been rooting him for quite a few years.”Niklas Kronwall will be able to complete his contract with Detroit. And he’s aware that there haven’t been “Kronwalled” opponents too regularly. Sometimes he’s gotten the hits wrong.
“Yes, yes, there will still be, ha ha. But it’s like being an old man, come on now. You have to look in the mirror sometimes and see that you are somewhere. You aren’t where you were ten years ago. It’s important to find other ways to still be able to play.”