His departure represents another lost link to the Wings team of 2008 that captured the Stanley Cup. That team had an all-time record 12 Europeans on it, including seven Swedes, and the only player still active is Valtteri Filppula.
Kronwall’s arthritic left knee hastened his decision, and he now joins the team’s front office as a special advisor to GM Steve Yzerman.
“I had the pleasure of playing with Niklas early in his career,” Yzerman recounted, “and it was evident from his first season what a special player and person he would become. He…will go down as one of the greatest at his position in Red Wings history. Niklas has a sharp hockey mind and is highly respected in the hockey world. He has the makeup and work ethic of someone who will have a very successful career in management, and I am thrilled that he will remain with the franchise on the hockey operations staff.”
“I was a 22-year-old kid when I came over from Sweden,” Kronwall said in a video for the announcement. “Now at 38, I have my own family here. Detroit has become home for us. They say every journey has to come to an end," he added. "Well, my journey as a player for the Detroit Red Wings ends here."
Typical of a European drafted into the Red Wings organization, Kronwall was a good prospect who was allowed time to develop at home. He helped Sweden win silver at the 1999 World U18 Championship, and he spent four years with Djurgarden Stockholm (2000-2004) during which time the Wings drafted him 29th overall in 2000.
He played at both the 2000 and 2001 World Juniors as well as with Sweden’s silver-medal team at the 2003 World Championship. During this time he played primarily with Grand Rapids in the AHL (2003-06), learning his position on the smaller ice and under the more physical rules of play.
Kronwall played 27 games with Detroit during 2005-06, during which time he suffered a serious knee injury that would haunt him the rest of his career. It almost kept him out of the Olympics, but in the end he was part of Sweden’s historic run to the gold medal in Turin.
Just a few weeks later, he led the World Championship in scoring, was named tournament MVP, and took Tre Kronor to another gold, still the only time a nation has won double gold in the same season.
Kronwall quickly developed in the NHL as a defensive defenceman who could hit hard. He was instrumental in Detroit’s Cup win in 2008 over Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, a win which gave him Triple Gold Club membership.
He also played for Sweden at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, winning silver in the latter in Sochi, as well as the 2012 World Championship. In the NHL, he played 953 regular-season games over 15 seasons, all with Detroit, and another 109 playoff games. The Wings went to the Cup finals again in 2009, losing to Crosby and the Penguins in seven games.
The Red Wings made the playoffs nine straight years with Kronwall but have missed the post-season in each of the last three seasons as the old guard retires and the team re-builds under first-year GM Yzerman. Kronwall was part of an up-and-coming Red Wings team at the start of his career as a player, and now he finds himself in the same position as he joins the team’s front office.
“There have been ups and some downs during my time here,” Kronwall said. “Wearing the winged wheel on my chest was and always will be a huge honour.”