Down Goes Cleary (Update: Down Goes Stuey, too)

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When the Red Wings last took the ice, it was in a winning effort over the Chicago Blackhawks, with Todd Bertuzzi delivering the game-winning goal with a nifty between-the-legs move in the shootout. However, earlier in the game they lost speedy young forward Jan Mursak to a broken ankle that will likely keep him sidelined until after the Christmas break.

Mursak, who played in 19 games last season for the Wings, showed that he could be a very effective checking line player at the NHL level. Despite registering just one goal in his time with the big club, he used his biggest asset – blistering speed – to create mismatches in his favour on the forecheck.

Today, it was revealed that Mursak is not the only forward the Red Wings will be missing for the time being.

Dan Cleary, who last played in the Red Wings 3-1 loss against Philadelphia on Friday, will miss at least the rest of the preseason with an “upper-body injury”. Wings GM Ken Holland said that he hopes to have Cleary for the season opener against Ottawa. *UPDATED at 6:40 pm…Brad Stuart will also miss the rest of the season with a minor groin pull. The Wings will be carrying 7 defensemen anyway, so if he can’t go for the season opener, they won’t have to call anyone up to replace him*

It doesn’t sound like Cleary’s injury is particularly serious, but it will be something worth keeping an eye on. The Wings will be carrying 14 forwards (15, if you count Jan Mursak who will start the season on injured reserve), so they may give Cleary a little extra time off to make sure he’s completely healthy and to get an extended look at whoever wins the final two spots up front.

The Wings currently have 49 players under contract, with a maximum of 50 permitted by the NHL. That means they could sign either Ryan Johnson or Fabian Brunnstrom, or go with a prospect like Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar.

If I were a betting man, I would say Brunnstrom gets the final forward spot in Detroit, with Johnson being released from his tryout and Tatar and Nyquist being assigned to Grand Rapids.

Mike Babcock is on record as saying that Cory Emmerton and Ryan Johnson are competing for the fourth line center spot, and if you ask me, Johnson hasn’t done enough to take the job away from Emmerton. All other things being equal, the Wings would have to take Emmerton seeing as he is younger and the Wings have already invested five years in developing him. Also, he cannot be assigned to Grand Rapids without being exposed to waivers.

He’s in the same situation Mattias Ritola was in last year, except in Ritola’s case the veteran he was trying to beat out was Mike Modano.

That would leave the Wings with an opening day forward group that looks something like this:

Hudler – Datsyuk – Cleary

Filppula – Zetterberg – Franzen

Abdelkader – Helm – Bertuzzi

Holmstrom – Emmerton – Eaves

Miller/Brunnstrom (Mursak – IR)

The Wings will face off tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:30 EDT.

Danny Cleary (11) could miss the start of the regular season with an upper-body injury (Andersen/Getty)

 

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