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Notes: Kronwall and Vanek pondering NHL futures

Veteran defenseman will lead Wings in games played; Sabres' Dahlin has not disappointed

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- In a season that has been filled with injuries, it's kind of ironic that the oldest player on the Detroit Red Wings will lead the team in games played after tonight.

Defenseman Niklas Kronwall, 38, missed the first three contests of the season with a hip issue but has played in every game since then.

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Forward Luke Glendening was on track to play in all 82 until the vast number of ailments he was playing through finally caught up to him, forcing him to miss the final four games.

"That's just kind of how it works sometimes," Kronwall said with a laugh. "I don't know if anyone would have predicted that before the season started but like I said, we've had some injuries on some key players and some guys that pretty much play through anything. When they get shut down, you know that it's bad. Unfortunately, we've had too many guys missing too many games. But at the end of the day it's up to the guys who are playing to get the job done and we weren't good enough to do that."

Kronwall also played in 79 games last season, the most he has played since he had 80 games during the 2014-15 season.

Kronwall has played in all 82 games once in his career, in the 2011-12 campaign.

Kronwall's seven-year, $33.25 million contract ends after this season but because his troublesome knee has held up so well the last two seasons, there is the thought that he could continue to play another year.

"I think he's made a huge argument that he can for sure play one more season, and good for him, he's put himself in a spot where he can make that decision," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "He's not being forced in that decision. The decision, I think, ultimately, will be his. Not only is he kind of the last man standing on that D corps right now, but he also has arguably been one of our best on a night to night basis, certainly through this stretch where we've had success through this last little bit, he's been excellent. I would say through most of the year he's been excellent. I thought he slipped a little around the trade deadline, like the rest of the team, but he's done a really good job."

Kronwall's 27 points (3-24-27) equal his output from last season (4-23-27). He is the top-scoring defenseman on the team, one point ahead of Mike Green, who had 26 points (5-21-26) in 43 games.

"That part in that way has been extremely satisfying, to be honest with you," Kronwall said. "To be able to come back and play and not be in the same discomfort that I was for a few years there. So that part, I've very happy with the way I feel really right now. If someone would have told me this a year ago I would have taken it any day."

Kronwall said he does not have a timetable on when he'll make a decision.

"We'll sit down after the season at some point," Kronwall said. "And then just let the time take the time. I think everything is just going to figure itself out over the next few weeks or months, or whatever that might be. I'll take some time now, spend it with the family. Be a dad full-time. That's something I'm looking forward to right now."

Being away from his family and knowing the work required in the offseason to get ready for the 82-game grind will certainly impact Kronwall's decision.

"When I was younger, I've always enjoyed working out," Kronwall said. "I've always thought when guys are saying the motivation part, what's the problem? We all like working out. Now you realize you're there yourself, too. It definitely gets harder each and every year. That'll definitely come into play."

However, Kronwall, who will finish the season with 953 games played, tying Pavel Datsyuk for ninth in team history, admitted that reaching the 1,000-game marker will be a factor.

"A thousand games is definitely something I've always looked at as a huge milestone," Kronwall said. "That's something that would be, if that were to happen, a huge milestone, something I'd be extremely proud of. Given the opportunity to represent this organization all these years has meant a lot to me."

Blashill said that because of the talent that the Wings fielded on the blueline, Kronwall's achievements often went overlooked.

"Nik Kronwall was a top-15 defenseman in the league for a long time and didn't get the credit for it because he was behind Nick Lidstrom, (Brian) Rafalski," Blashill said. "He was an excellent, excellent player, brought physicality and offense, had good defense and good offense, real smarts and offense. Not many guys do that. He still had a lot of those skill sets. He still has a great mind, both offensively and defensively, and he's got lots of poise and he's been able to help us break the puck out.

"So I think he's really had a really good year, I don't know if I'd call it excellent, and he's been excellent down the stretch and he certainly earned in my mind the opportunity to have a say in it."

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VANEK CONTEMPLATES FUTURE: Thomas Vanek, 35, is another veteran who is contemplating what his NHL future holds.

For a change, Vanek finished the season with the same team he started with but his season was marred by injuries that limited him to 64 games.

"I think I had a great camp, felt really good, then we all kind of struggled right out of the gate," Vanek said. "Then I had my knee injury, which was the first time ever I've had one of those in my career. I probably came back too soon, because you're a competitor. I want to go out there and help and it probably took me until Christmas to feel really good. From Christmas on, my game was where I wanted it to be for the most part. Not every night but most nights.

"And then obviously the finger injury came and the season is over. So it's frustrating. But again, it's not always about goals and points. It's about what else can you bring to the team? And I feel like I can still, besides that, which I still feel I can do, bring something else as well."

Despite the injuries, Vanek is fifth on the team in scoring with 36 points (16-20-36).

"I think Thomas at the beginning of the year had just an OK beginning of the year and part of that is when he would get on a roll, he got injured," Blashill said. "Certainly one thing about Thomas is he wants to create offense and sometimes when it's not going or confidence isn't real high, he forces it and then all of a sudden he turns pucks over and it's not great. I would say as the year went along, he started to play, I thought, way better hockey. It took him a little while to come back from the knee but he started to play way better hockey.

"He's kind of like Kronwall in a sense that he showed that he can still play and he can still make an impact offensively. The thing about Thomas, he's a great competitor and a great winning type player in the sense that he knows what it takes to win, he looks in the mirror every day and knows when he's been good and knows when he hasn't been good. He's a good credit to have around that way and I still think he's got game in him. So it'll be interesting to see what he decides."

One thing that makes Vanek's decision challenging is that he and his wife, Ashley, have three sons -- Blake is 11 and twins Kade and Luka are 8.

While he spent the season in Detroit, they remained in Minnesota where they attend school and play hockey.

"It's been my toughest battle the last 2-3 offseasons," Vanek said. "My boys are getting older, they all play baseball in the summer. It's awesome because I get to go to practices, I get to watch them in games interacting with their buddies. In the winter, you only get to a handful of games and practices. You miss a lot. Facetime is great and they can tell you all about the game, but dad not being there and telling them good job, you had fun, that's tough. So it's gonna be a tough call again this summer."

BUFFALO IN TOWN: The Wings and the Buffalo Sabres will complete their seasons against each other tonight at Little Caesars Arena.

Both teams stand 32-39-10. Detroit has a minus-44 goal differential while Buffalo is minus-51.

While the Wings are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games, the Sabres have struggled, going 2-7-1.

The Wings are 1-1-1 against the Sabres this season but beat them in Buffalo last week, 5-4 in overtime.

The Sabres had the worst record in the league last season and won the draft lottery, giving them the opportunity to draft Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall.

Dahlin, who turns 19 in one week, has not disappointed.

Dahlin is fourth on the Sabres in scoring with 42 points (8-34-42) and is their top-scoring blueliner.

He also is tied for third among rookies in scoring, behind Vancouver forward Elias Pettersson's 65 points (27-38-65) and Ottawa forward Brady Tkachuk's 45 points (22-23-45). Toronto forward Andreas Johnsson also has 42 points (20-22-42).

Only Pettersson with 38 has more rookie assists than Dahlin.

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