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Niklas Kronwall: Playing for Red Wings was 'more than hockey'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Niklas Kronwall retired as a Detroit Red Wing, just as he always wanted.

After announcing his retirement Tuesday, Kronwall met the media at Little Caesars Arena Wednesday to further explain his decision.

“To me, being part of an organization  this is an Original Six franchise  there’s so much around it, it’s more than hockey,” Kronwall said Wednesday. “The people, the fans, there’s just so much around it with this team.

“I wanted to stay, I wanted to see this through and I wanted to play my whole career with this franchise and I’m happy I got that opportunity.”

Niklas Kronwall meets with reporters Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena.

Kronwall, 38, spent a memorable and prolific 15-year NHL career with the Wings, the team that drafted him in the first round, 29th overall, in 2000.

Kronwall will become a special advisor to general manager Steve Yzerman, a former teammate.

“I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like but I’m super excited,” said Kronwall of the newly-created position. “I feel like I have a good perspective of things around the ice. When it comes to hockey, I’m excited to learn a different side of the game.”

Missing the playoffs the last three seasons have been difficult, after so much team success, including being part of the 2008 Stanley Cup champions.

“Of course it has (been frustrating), it has on everybody,” Kronwall said. “We used to be one of the powerhouses, we were for so many years, and I got to be part of some of those years. But yes, it’s been frustrating. There’s been some tough times, no doubt about it, but it should be tough when you’re losing. You can never be satisfied if you’re losing.

“Now, I do think there’s a lot of good pieces in here and we’ll surprise a lot of teams this year.”

Niklas Kronwall speaks to reporters inside the locker room at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday.

Kronwall has been troubled with a damaged left knee the past several seasons but was able to persevere and miss only three games in each of the last two seasons.

In doing so Kronwall was in more games than any other Red Wings defenseman  and last season he played in more games than any other Red Wings player. He had 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 79 games last season, finishing with a minus-5 rating.

“I felt real good last year, and body-wise, I felt like I was able to move better than I had the previous few years,” Kronwall said. “I felt more like I could still do this. That gave me some peace, that I could still do this, but there are other things in life. There’s a time for everything, and I just think it’s time for me to see my kids a little more than I have, and they’re at an age where there will be more activities and I’m excited about that.”

Kronwall touched on a variety of topics, talking about his decision to retire:

► On how long he’s known it was time to end his playing career: ‘I’ve probably known for a while, a lot of it was just making sure that I didn’t say anything too soon.”

► On how difficult it was telling his family: “Everyone has probably known for a while, even just going back to last summer. I went into last season thinking it was definitely going to be the last one. I didn’t even dream that the potential of playing another year was even going to be on the table. So that was obviously very humbling.”

► On how difficult the decision to retire is: “There are so many things that go into it. It’s what I know and it’s what I’ve done for the past – it’s been my profession – for the last 21 years. I’ve been playing hockey my whole life. It was a hard decision, but at the same time, it wasn’t, if that makes any sense. It’s what I do, it’s who I am, but in saying that, I’m excited for the future as well.”

► On the time and space afforded by Yzerman and coach Jeff Blashill this summer: “It’s something I’m very thankful and grateful for. They gave me all the time and space that was needed and basically said just take your time and do what you need to do and let us know. They’ve known for a little bit, and I’m thankful for them giving me the time and giving my family the time, and here we are.”

► On being asked by then-GM Ken Holland last season at the trade deadline whether Kronwall wanted to be dealt to a Stanley Cup contender: “I owe Ken Holland so much (long pause). He came to me and asked me what I wanted to do. A lot of GMs probably would just have done what would have been best for the team and organization in the long run, getting a (draft) pick or whatever. But again, it’s just another thing that stands out for me how he treated me over the years.

“If we didn’t win here in 2008, it might have been different. I’m pretty sure it would have been different. But I got to be a part of something there in 2008 that was very special and I won’t forget.”

► On whether Kronwall knew the Wings’ final game last season was going to be his last: “Part of me knew, I knew for a fact that this could have been the last one. I didn’t know 100 percent but looking back, the signs were there for sure.”

► On whether Kronwall will put away the hockey equipment forever, and whether he’ll be in Traverse City next week for training camp: “I don’t think it goes into the garage for good. I don’t know how much you’ll see me skating. I haven’t even thought about it. I still love the game, it’s a special game.

“I will be up there. It’s going to be different, but again, I’m very much looking forward to learning and seeing how things are run and finding my own way.”

► On the big hits that Kronwall delivered to many opponents over the years: “I didn’t think much about it. It’s up the media and fans to show their feelings for certain things. It never bothered me one bit, it was just part of the game. You hit and you get hit. Mikko Koivu (Minnesota) knocked me out a few years ago and that’s part of the game, so you give some and take some and you get up and go back to work.”

Twitter: @tkulfan