Niklas Kronwall plays it straight about rebuilding Red Wings, future
Detroit — Niklas Kronwall does not defer.
In media scrums, he is every bit as direct — although, obviously, less violent — as when he "Kronwalls" opponents on the ice.
His views, frankly stated, acknowledge truth.
In tough times, when losing, when mistakes have been made, when the Red Wings stumble and are humbled, Kronwall attests to the facts.
He has identified reality for the Wings, for many seasons. It is a source of his leadership.
And, the role is integral to rebuilding.
So, what about the club this season?
“I think it’s a mix,” he said.
“Maybe I’m naïve, but I think the record never lies. You are where you are at.
“But, I do find that we have a lot of good things going in the organization,” Kronwall said.
Sitting across a table in the Red Wings players’ lounge, he offered brief, positive assessments of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Dennis Cholowski, Michael Rasmussen and Filip Hronek.
“Larkin’s having a really good year. He’s our go-to guy every night,” he said. “He drives the bus for us.
“Mo’s been good for us. Double-A’s having a good year.
“Cholo’s getting time. He’s playing really well. Hronek’s getting time. Rass is playing well,” Kronwall said.
“So, a lot of the younger guys have really taken a step in the right direction.”
'Your record never lies'
Then, adjusting his perspective, it is as if Kronwall repositions a great lantern to shed light on other truths.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get enough wins,” he said. “That is definitely very disappointing, because it feels like we are better than what our record shows.
“But, in saying that, your record never lies. So, I guess, in the end, we’re not.”
If the Red Wings can look in the mirror and say they played as well as they could, Kronwall said, they should be content.
“There’s been a few times this year when I don’t think that has been the case, where we shot ourselves in the foot or didn’t give it our best for whatever reason,” he said. “That’s been a few times this season.
“They are practicing hard. They are trying to do the right things out there.
“Unfortunately, too many times we have given up goals too easily.”
Kronwall rejected the idea the Wings must suffer some lapses as they rebuild the roster.
“There’s no excuses for that, whatsoever,” he said.
“I think individually, to a man, that we need to be a few percentages better. If we are, our team will be better, and our record will be better, as well.
“So, I don’t think there’s anything to say that, well, we are in the rebuilding process or, whatever.
“I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that.”
The 38-year-old defenseman, a Stanley Cup winner, in his 15th season with the Red Wings and the last in his seven-year $33.25 million contract, said he would consider a proposed trade.
If approached by Ken Holland in the coming weeks about a deal with value to the franchise, Kronwall said he would feel duty bound to at least listen.
A modified no-trade clause allows him some control.
He expressed surprise and said he had not heard about a couple of reports that the Maple Leafs are interested in him, hoping to augment their lagging defensive corps with a veteran playoff performer.
“I haven’t really put too much thought into it,” he said. “For myself, I’ve always put a lot of pride into being with the same organization.
“But, at the end of the day, you realize also that Kenny is trying to do what he can to improve this team.
“So, if he were to come ask for something, then I think part of my job is to listen to that, to hear what he says and what he is thinking.
“I have all the respect for what he has done and how he’s treated me over the years. So, I think I owe him for what he has done for me to listen to what he has to say, if that comes up.”
Asked about next season and whether he feels obliged to play until the franchise is set on a better course, Kronwall said all players want to play as many seasons as they can.
“You also realize things are changing around you, and you are not necessarily going in the same direction as the younger guys,” he said.
“So, you try to do whatever you can, make the most of it right now and whatever happens past this year happens.
“But it definitely is a treat to come down to the rink every day and see the guys. I may enjoy it more than I ever have.”
He said much will be determined by how he feels at a time when decisions about playing next season must be made.
“My body’s actually feeling pretty good, probably the best it’s been in a few years,” Kronwall said. “Which is nice, no doubt. I’ll take it.
“There’s no excuses for anything, whatsoever,” he said, gauging his performance.
“I feel pretty good, body wise. It’s just, at the end of the day, you’ve got to be a little bit better, all over the ice.”
He is averaging almost a minute-and-a-half more ice time this season, 19:52, up from 18:31 a year ago.
His career average is 21:46.
Kronwall said that acknowledging he could not play how he once played, and that the game is changing, became a struggle a few seasons ago.
“As you get older, you need to learn how to handle it and adjust,” he said. “And, in that regard, it feels a little bit better this year, too.”
He recalls, just after the Red Wings drafted him, when he accompanied Henrik Zetterberg and his family to sign his first contract with the Red Wings. Kronwall and Zetterberg attended a Stanley Cup playoff game against the Avalanche, in Joe Louis Arena.
“It was the night Mac scored a hat trick,” Kronwall said of Darren McCarty’s performance in the first game of the 2002 series.
The excitement, the fans and the hot competition impressed both young prospects.
It is 17 years later, and Zetterberg no longer plays.
“I was just drafted, and Hank signed in ’02 in the spring, when we came over,” Kronwall said. “We got to come into the locker room and meet the guys.
“It was quite a trip.”
As for the source of his character, Kronwall talks about family and the Red Wings, including Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan.
“One of the things is obviously your upbringing,” he said. “I’ve always been taught to treat others as you’d treat yourself. That’s one thing I brought from home, especially my mother.
“And, coming in here, you see how Nick handles himself. You see how Stevie handles himself. Chelly. Shanny. The list goes on.
“There’s so many great players here. But, they have also been great people.
“And, you try to take after how they interact with fans and the media and people around the organization and on the outside.
“So, you learn a lot just being around those guys.”