Times were good back in 2009: the Detroit Red Wings were defending Stanley Cup champions; Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg had established their status as The Eurotwins; Detroit had a legitimate top-6 defense corps headed by team captain Nick Lidstrom; and Niklas Kronwall was at the top of his game.
At 28 years old, Kronwall played an 80 game season and broke the 50-point barrier. He had 94 hits, 106 blocks, and was named an NHL All-Star for the first time. Soaking up the leadership from vets like Chris Chelios and Brian Rafalski, Kronwall was touted as the man who would take the reigns from Lidstrom one day on the blueline.
Unfortunately, the skates were too big to fill. In Kronner’s defense, though, it was Lidstrom. He was irreplaceable.
And Kronwall didn’t do too bad in the years following Lidstrom’s retirement. In the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, he put up 29 points in 48 games and in 2013-14, he recorded 49 points in 79 games. He was named an All-Star both years and ranked top-15 in Norris voting. He was by no means the best defenseman in the league, but he was the best defenseman on the Red Wings.
This is no longer the case as Kronwall has entered a decline that I don’t think he’ll be coming out of.
It’s glaringly obvious when you look at the stats. Kronwall’s numbers over the last two seasons have been shrinking from 49 points in 2013-14 to 44 points in 2014-15 to 26 points in 2015-16. It’s even worse when you consider that more than half of his points come on the powerplay. He never was a big offensive presence, but it’s gotten worse over the last two years. And the advanced stats support that:
Kronwalls CF% has dropped a whole 4% since 2013-14, despite being deployed more in the offensive zone than the defensive zone. This tells us that while he’s on the ice, the play is going in the direction of Detroit’s net and the team is scrambling back to play defense. And it’s not like Kronwall’s been shutting down other teams offensively. His xGA/60 is at an all-time high at 2.65 and he finished the 2015-16 season as a minus-21 player.
Perhaps what’s most troubling is how he brings down his linemates.
Notice how in 2013, Kronwall helped his linemates maintain their CF% and xGF%. Since then, it has been a steady decline. Kronwall brings down the stats of his linemates. Then, in the bottom half of the graph, it’s quite obvious that all of Kronwall’s stats from goal scoring to productive possession drop more and more every year.
So the decline is obvious. What’s scary is how Red Wings coaches continue to give Kronwall the same amount of ice time. Going back up to the first graph, you’ll see that Kronwall has, on average, been playing in the 21 to 24 minute range per night. It’s no secret that the bodies of professional athletes do not perform at 35 years old as they did at 28. And it’s taken a toll on Kronwall, evidenced by his nagging knee injury.
Despite Ken Holland ensuring fans that Kronwall’s offseason has been a good one and his knee is stronger and ready for the grind of a full season, Kronwall still felt the need to withdraw himself from Team Sweden at the upcoming 2016 World Cup. He was replaced by Hampus Lindholm, a much younger and much stronger defenseman.
Perhaps the Red Wings should follow Team Sweden’s lead. They should obviously not get rid of Kronner completely. The type of experience that he has in this league – a Stanley Cup, over a hundred playoff games, injury recovery – is invaluable in the dressing room. But sheltering his minutes and allowing some of the younger players to step up is surely in the team’s best interest. Brendan Smith, Danny DeKeyser, and Alexey Marchenko all statistically had better seasons than Kronwall last year.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen somebody get Kronwalled, and I don’t know if we’ll see it again. Unfortunately, “getting Smithed” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Tables courtesy of www.hockey-reference.com and ownthepuck.blogspot.com