As was probably expected amongst the pessimists of the fanbase, the Detroit Red Wings have re-signed Danny Cleary to a 1-year, $1.5 million contract, plus a possible $1 million in games played bonuses, for a possible salary this season of $2.5 million.
Why did this atrocity occur? Simple; the Red Wings organization is loyal to its veterans. In this case, too loyal. According to Helene St. James of the Free Press, when Cleary walked out on the Flyers in June of last year to re-sign a 1-year deal with Detroit, he left money and term on the table on the good faith of Kenny Holland that he would be taken care of this season in terms of getting a new deal. So in sticking with his word, Holland brought the 35-year old veteran back into the fold, even after an injury-plague campaign last season. In 52 games played, Cleary registered only 4 goals and 4 assists. He finished the season a minus-11, and did not participate in any regular season or playoff games past the month of January.
This leads into why we don’t like it; Cleary is well past his prime. 35 years is a long time for any hockey player, even more so for one with the injury vulnerabilities that Cleary has. After RFA Tomas Tatar signs a new deal with Detroit, and assuming UFA Daniel Alfredsson decides to stay another year, that will put the Red Wings at 15 forwards on contract for next season. The only youngster still exempt from waivers is Tomas Jurco, who may now unfortunately end up spending more time with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL, even after putting up a spectacular showing last season with Detroit. Cleary being re-signed also heightens the threat of an impending trade of one of our young forwards, (Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening), as the Red Wings are still in the market for a veteran defenseman to bolster the blue-line. Virtually, they signed Cleary to a $1.5 million contract to be a 13th forward, and risk having to get rid of a budding young prospect to make/maintain room for him.
While Cleary’s years with us and loyalty to this organization are greatly appreciated, he isn’t any kind of solution the Red Wings need right now. His age and injury problems make him more of a liability than an asset, and even with all the conditioning he’s allegedly done through the off-season, there are still plenty of young players and prospects that could out-perform him for even less of a cap hit, and we would stand a better chance of keeping them all within our organization, instead of having to trade them away or risk losing them to waivers. We can only hope that the front office has more plans in mind for Cleary, and that this wasn’t solely for the sake of Holland keeping his word to save face.