The traditional method of ranking individual player performance is usually some sort of “report card” or “A+” grading system. Not here. You see, we like to keep things simple at TPL. You either made the grade or you didn’t. No grey area. Black and white. This is “Pass/Fail.”
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As far as NHL defensemen go, Niklas Kronwall’s season was pretty solid. A second pairing guy, Kronwall spent plenty of time on the ice, averaging almost 29 shifts per game and failing to hit the 20 minute mark in TOI only a handful of times during the regular season. Durability wasn’t as issue for the 30 year old defenseman, missing only five regular season games and playing in all 11 playoff contests. His ice time skyrocketed in the postseason as the Wings opted to rest Lidstrom a bit more, yet Kronwall never missed a beat. In terms of production, Kronwall’s 37 points left him one spot outside of the top 30 point producing defensemen in the league, and his production was the second best output of his career (51 points in ’08-’09). That said, his 11 regular season goals this year was a career best, almost doubling his second-best output in ’08-’09 (6 goals). On the back end, Kronwall’s play showed an increased level of responsibility, focusing more on fundamentals and positioning and less on the big hit and offensive production. Given all of his time on the ice, +5 ratings for both the regular season and playoffs are nothing to scoff at.
All in all, it was a very solid season for a guy who the Wings were hoping would make a case for a top-line billing. That said, Kronwall did have a number of defensive lapses throughout the year, resulting in unfavorable comparisons to the Niklas Kronwall of yesteryear. For some reason, his mistakes just seemed to be worse than the rest of corps (save Salei and Ericsson). When he was out of position, he was out of position badly. When he got beat, he got beat badly. The odds favor a Franzen-esque mental lapse over an 82 game season since the skill level was there for Kronwall to compete and play well every night. While his game felt more consistent throughout the course of the season, there’s still work to be done in terms of putting it together over 60 minutes on a nightly basis.Kronwall also had a tendency to wander on the PK a bit, often stretching his zone and chasing the play when he should have stayed home in front of the crease. It proved costly a number of times, and an increased emphasis on PK responsibility should be on the docket this offseason.
It’s almost impossible to state just how important Kronwall’s regular season to postseason leap in overall play was. He found the extra gear on the blueline while also picking his spots perfectly when laying his patented bone-rattling hits. He about knocked Dany Heatley’s noggin’ into the third row at JLA, bringing the crowd to life at a time when doom and gloom littered the walkways. His ability to jump into the play and be an offensive threat was perfectly timed and executed on multiple occasions. And, of course, his ascension into the defensive TOI leader during the playoffs was absolutely flawless, paving the way for what should be a lock on the top pairing this coming season.
Petrella: Really tempted to go FAIL based on regular season defensive lapses, but proved in the playoffs that maybe he IS the future of the blueline, after all.
Hollis: I’ve never made any bones about the fact that Kronwall’s responsibility on the ice makes me nervous, but this year was a pleasant surprise and I’m almost completely off the ledge with him now. If he can carry this into next season – and mix in some of that playoff explosiveness – he’ll finally be the defenseman that the Red Wings have been hoping he would turn into.
Final TPL Grade
Up Next: Darren Helm.