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Dan Cleary signing a bad move for Red Wings, bad news for their prospects

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Daniel Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings

A cap squeeze in Philly sent veteran winger Dan Cleary, age 34, back to Detroit. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

By Allan Muir

Ask anyone. They’ll tell you that Danny Cleary is a good guy. A great teammate. A leader on the ice and in the room.

Those are qualities that carry a lot of weight in Detroit, so it was no surprise this summer to hear that both Cleary and the Red Wings were hoping for one more go-round together.

But these things don’t always work out, and when Cleary’s contract expectations clashed with Detroit’s cap limitations, he made a drawn out and painful decision to cut ties and reportedly agreed to a three-year, $8.25 million with the Flyers earlier this week. (Philly GM Paul Holmgren has since disputed those numbers).

The only problem was that Cleary couldn’t actually sign the deal with Philly until after the season opener because of the Flyers’ salary cap crunch, so he turned around and headed back to Detroit, where he came to a one-year, $1.75 million agreement this morning.

It’s easy to see this as a good news story. Cleary takes less dough to stay where he’s happy and the Wings get a player who GM Ken Holland says “makes them better.”

That assessment might meet with skepticism from many (alright, most) Red Wings fans. But Cleary’s ability to help the team now, or later in the playoffs, is hardly the point. He isn’t a player anymore as much as he’s a roadblock.

It would be easy to say here that everyone should settle down and trust that Holland knows what he’s doing. After all, no one’s ever gotten rich betting against that guy.

But despite all those skins on the wall, he’s hardly infallible. In fact, it might be the success of the past that’s clouding his judgement in the present. Signing Cleary seems like a decision motivated more by loyalty than logic.

As tough as it might have been to say goodbye to someone who’d given all he had to the team, Cleary’s departure was a blessing for the Wings, a team that already has too many aging warriors up front. If nothing else, it helped thin out a logjam of forwards that still requires a trade or two (and maybe an LTIR designation for Darren Helm) to get the team under the roster limit and the cap.

But the bonus to Cleary moving on was that it opened a door for prospects like Tomas Tatar, the MVP of the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs, and Gustav Nyquist, who was effective in a third line role for Detroit last spring, to legitimately battle for full-time positions with the big club.

That he felt more comfortable with Cleary and his diminishing game speaks volumes about the lack of confidence that Holland and coach Mike Babcock have in these players. It’s not just a slap in the face to the kids. If a player like Tatar isn’t ready after three years in Grand Rapids, it suggests that the Wings are either drafting poorly or not properly developing their prospects.

It’s easy to say that another year in the minors won’t kill their careers, but that’s not necessarily true. Guys get stale playing lesser competition. They lose confidence. They wonder where they fit. Because a deal like this suggests they don’t fit in Detroit.

Maybe I’m missing something here, something glaringly obvious that will remind me why I think Holland’s a genius. Maybe it’ll turn out that Helm and Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi are lost for the season and Cleary is back as an insurance policy, a fourth line stabilizer. If that’s the case, then signing him can at least be defended. But if his return means guys like Tatar and Nyquist don’t get the ice time they deserve–or forces one to be dealt, as might now happen with Tatar–it’s hard not to see this as a bad move for the Wings.

  • Published On Sep 12, 2013
  • 5 comments
    marti783
    marti783

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. This article needed to be written. It is almost incomprehensible that Holland would risk loosing his highly touted prospects just to have Dan Cleary back on this team.  As if Dan Cleary gives us such a better shot at winning the Stanley Cup? Tatar and Nyquist deserve to be on this team for the entire 82 game schedule, or at least until they prove they don't. Yet, Holland is either too stupid (yes, I am questioning his hockey club management intelligence), or too arrogant to realize how bad this move is. I'm going to say it's a little bit of both. And if any Wings fan out there thinks this is really just a one year deal, I hate to break it to you but when Dan Cleary decided to forgo Philly, that meant we're stuck with this guy until HE DECIDES it's time to go. Holland will continue to offer him a contract no matter how poorly he plays or how many prospects get the boot. 

    Steve Moore
    Steve Moore

    This team doesn't need more 'intangibles' - it needs production. Another wasted year of kids rotting w/Griffins while non contributors hoard ice time because KH/MB live in fear of a rookie learning by mistake . I remember when losing in the 2nd round was considered a failure for DRW, now, fans brag about losing to Chicago and bloviate.About playoff streak. This org is in decline.

    AlecHiggins
    AlecHiggins

    I'd have to respectfully disagree here. Cleary looks near worthless on a stat sheet, but he has intangibles that none of these young guys can really offer.  
    He's tough, digs and fights for the puck along the side boards and in the corners. He's an agitator that gets in peoples heads, look how worked up he got the blackhawks in the beginning of the series last year. He's a veteran with experience and, while he may not be the flashiest or most skilled, he doesn't make many mistakes. He can take care of the puck.
    We have great young prospects, and I'm sure they will get their chances, but you shouldn't have a hockey team full of all skilled players. You need some guys with grit to play the game.

    ClarenceWorley
    ClarenceWorley

    Finally someone realizes Holland is not a genius, this guy has made some awful moves the last couple of years.  Jim Nill's draft picks saved this team last year after all of Holland's free agent signings went on IR, now he resigns a 34 year old with bad knees and takes playing time away from those very same players.  His mask is slipping and he's beginning to be exposed.

    aferru86
    aferru86

    u know that Tatar cannot be sent down without being put on waivers and that Nyquist can only be 2 nhl games from being non-waiver exempt..so these players being stuck or sent down to the minors is a non-factual argument .