I’ve always thought Detroit’s current #1 defenseman Niklas Kronwall was one of those guys you despise, but would love to have on your team. There’s a fine line between a player that blatantly cheats or tries to get away with hits intended to injure a player, and someone that plays with an edge that you wish someone on your favorite team did. I considered Kronwall to be the later, but news arouse two weeks ago that may change that.
According to a story I apparently missed until a couple days ago, ESPN did a poll of 30 anonymous NHL ‘stars’. According to said poll, Niklas Kronwall was named the 2nd dirtiest player in the game, tied with Dustin Byfuglien and second only to Matt Cooke. The poll had some other Red-Wings-related answers in it, including Pavel Datsyuk being one of the most underrated players, Mike Babcock being one of the smartest coaches, and the Wings being named as the team hurt the most and helped the most by realignment.
Anything ESPN puts out regarding hockey is generally taken with a grain of salt. Although they do have some superb writers for their online content, ESPN has had some real misfires when it comes to polls or ‘panels of experts’. Such mistakes have been listed by writers far smarter than I. I’ll summarize it by saying their ‘panel of experts’ failed to list Marc-Andre Fluery when rating the top 30 NHL goalies. Sure he’s had struggles in the playoffs put there’s only 30 starters in the NHL. Did they forget he exists?
Examining the poll a bit explains a lot, to the point where Kronwall being listed #2 is hardly headline-worthy (of course that doesn’t stop me!). As mentioned before, the poll took answers from 30 NHL stars, anonymously. Of those 30, 30% named Matt Cooke as the dirtiest, and 7% named Kronwall and Byfuglien respectively. The wonderful world of math tells us that ten players named Cooke, while two named Kronwall. Two out of thirty is hardly a convincing number. It could have been Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry having a grudge against the ‘You Got Kronwall’d” chant last year. Could have been Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews still angry about the time he laid out Hanzal. Hell, for all we know Datsyuk and Zetterberg could have done it for laughs. Essentially, if two guys thought Kronwall was the dirtiest player in the NHL, I doubt Kronwall would lose much sleep over it.
But ridiculous poll aside, is Kronwall really a dirty player? It’s hard for me to tell without legitimately questioning if I have “fan shutters” on when I try to assess it. I can’t remember any particular instance where he’s slew-footing or hitting from behind, and my previous articles show I have a tendency to remember a thing or two. Assessing Kronwall’s hits is a somewhat difficult task in that there’s so many of them. Not to mention the tired debate of “his skates left the ice!” versus “They didn’t leave the ice until after the hit! It’s physics dummy!”
Kronwall’s hits are a bit like snowflakes in the sense that no two hits are the same. Some of them just look pretty incredible and clean, reminding us all just how important it is to keep your head up:
Others still make me a little sick to my stomach to watch, especially when they involve arm-straightening reflexes from obvious head injuries:
So what’s the conclusion? I can’t really say if Kronwall is dirty or not. I really don’t think he is, but I’m also not sure if I can remain entirely objective on the subject because of my affinity for the Red Wings. One good poll deserves another, so why don’t you help settle it for me?