Emotional Kronwall at peace with decision to retire
He was thrilled to spend entire career with Red Wings, now excited to move into front officeby Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com
DETROIT -- When Niklas Kronwall was out on the ice patrolling the blue line for the Detroit Red Wings, you always knew he was giving it everything he had.
When Kronwall was answering questions after a game, win or lose, you always knew how much he cared in the way he responded in that forthright way of his.
So when it came time to talk about his decision to retire from playing, it was not surprising that Kronwall had to pause a few times to collect himself and his emotions.
"Like I said last summer, I knew this was going to be hard regardless," Kronwall said. "There's a lot of things I'm going to miss.
"I think there's so many things that go into it. It's what I know, it's what I've done for the past … it's been my profession for the past 20 years, 21 years, but I've been playing hockey my whole life, so that part of … so in a way it was a hard decision but at the same time it wasn't, if that makes any sense. Hard in the sense that, like I said, it's what I do, it's who I am. But in saying that, I'm excited for the future as well."
It took Kronwall a little time before he was able to talk about his family and about their reaction to his decision.
"I think everyone has probably known for a while, I think even going back to last summer, I went into last season thinking it was definitely going to be the last one," Kronwall said. "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 and like I said, I felt pretty good last year.
"I think that gave me some peace that I know I can do this but there are other things in life. I think there's a time for everything and I just think it's time. It's time for me to see my kids a little bit more than I have. They're at an age now where there will be more activities and I'm very excited about that. For the team as well, I think it was time."
Had injuries not derailed him at points throughout his career, Kronwall could easily have reached the 1,000-game milestone.
Instead, he finishes with 953, which is something he thought about.
"Would I have hit 1,000? We don't know," Kronwall said. "I don't know if that's something that's going to change anything. I always looked at 1,000 as something extremely special. I always had so much respect for guys that have played 1,000 games. I wish I would have played 1,000 games. But at the same time, the situation is what it is and I feel at peace with the decision. I know it's the right call. I'm happy for the guys that have reached 1,000. Unfortunately, I won't."
Kronwall said he had discussed retiring with Henrik Zetterberg, whose bad back forced him out before last season, as well asJonathan Ericsson and former Wing and current Columbus Blue Jacket Gustav Nyquist.
He appreciated the way executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman and coach Jeff Blashill left it completely up to him whether he wanted to return.
"That's something I'm very thankful and grateful that they gave me the time and space that I needed," Kronwall said. "Basically just 'take your time, do what you need to do and let us know.' They've known for a little bit and I'm thankful for giving me that time, giving my family the time."
Kronwall was reminded that at the trade deadline last year, there were teams that were interested in him and former general manager Ken Holland also left that decision up to him.
"Ken approached me, asked what I'd like to do, if I wanted to go somewhere. And I owe Ken Holland so much," Kronwall said, pausing again. "He had the respect, he came to me and asked me what I wanted to do. I think a lot of GMs probably just would have done what would have been best for the team and for the organization in the long run, whether you get a pick or whatever that might be. But again, just another thing that stands out for me with how he treated me over the years."
For Holland, there was no other way to handle the situation with someone like Kronwall.
"He helped build it," Holland, the current Edmonton Oilers general manager, said in a phone interview. "When he showed up, he was the first European to ever win the trophy as the best defenseman in the American Hockey League, he did that, I think in '04-'05 in the lockout. For 11 or 12 years, came to the rink every day and helped us win on defense. Played hard, played hurt. For me, he had earned that respect. I went to him and asked him if he wanted to go to another team and let me know what team and I would try to make it happen, take one more run at a Stanley Cup. He just wanted to have his entire career in a Red Wing uniform and I certainly respected his wishes and his desires.
"I hold him in the highest, highest regard. When you're a general manager, there's lots of things you need when you build a team and Nik brought all those characteristics and qualities to the team - class, dignity, compete, skill. He's a team guy, he was all about the team, it wasn't about him or his ice time or his role, it was about winning. You can't have enough of those people in the locker room."
Holland said he approached Kronwall in March to see if he wanted to come back to play another year.
"I thought when I was manager there that he's a great role model for the younger people as you're going through a rebuild," Holland said. "He's a voice that's really respected in the locker room. He told me at that time he wasn't sure what he was going to do and obviously I heard the decision yesterday. Just an incredible career and I think very quietly was one of the great defensemen in Red Wings history."
Once Kronwall's decision was made, Yzerman asked what he wanted to do and offered him a spot as an advisor to the general manager.
"I don't know exactly what it's going to look like," Kronwall said. "I'm super excited, 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, behind the scenes, what goes into different decisions and scouting players. I think there's a lot out there and I'm looking forward to working with these guys again.
"When I came here, Stevie was here. Kris Draper was here, (Dan) Cleary was here, Horc (Shawn Horcoff), I didn't get a chance to play with him, but I've known him from skating with him through the years, (Kirk) Maltby, (Jiri) Fischer, there's a lot of guys I learned from a lot when I came into the game. Now I'm very much looking forward to learning more from them on the other side of the game."
Kronwall said he hasn't spent much time reflecting on his career or thinking about his legacy.
"I think that's something that guys do as they get older," Kronwall said. "You're so caught up in everything that you're just focusing if it's summer training to prepare for the next season or preparing for next game, you're always on your way somewhere. But it's been an amazing run. I've been fortunate and lucky to be on the right teams and the right situation with coaches that believed in me, gave me a chance.
"So I've been lucky and fortunate in a lot of different ways and I'm extremely thankful for getting to be a part of this run."