As if there wasn’t a mess in the forward ranks in Detroit, they added one more piece to the already cramped puzzle by signing long time Red Wing Daniel Cleary to a one year deal.
The Daniel Cleary saga started in part before the free agency market opened, when Red Wings GM Ken Holland reportedly offered Cleary two different contracts, one for two years and another for three. Cleary turned both down and opted to test the market.
Cleary had come out in the last week or so saying he had offers from three teams, which were reported to be Pittsburgh, Anaheim and Philadelphia. Sidney Crosby had even reached out to the fellow Newfie, leading some to believe the Penguins were the front runner to sign him.
It turns out Philadelphia was actually the front runner, and as recently as Tuesday, it was reported Cleary had a “handshake” deal with the Flyers to signed for three years and considerably more money than Holland had initially offered, but due to cap compliance issues he had to be signed to a PTO agreement to participate in camp, something he said he would not do with Detroit, and was thought to be the happy medium to get him to be a Red Wing for the upcoming year.
Then in another twist, Cleary was told by Flyers GM Paul Holmgren that he had “no promises” in terms of a contract after agreeing to a PTO with the Flyers. A simplistic view of this could be seen as Cleary called him on his bluff, if it was one or maybe Holmgren was trying to avoid tampering allegations, and jumped ship to try and make it work with the wings.
The interesting thing in all of this is after that decision and while other teams were supposedly “courting” Cleary with offers, he stated things like “there’s nothing like being a Red Wing” and “I would love to stay in Detroit”. While it’s true a part of those quotes came from him not seeing a way he could fit on the roster with 16 contracted forwards (15 of which are one-way contracts) but now apparently, he can. Holland had expressed interest in wanting him back, and got his wish, but at what cost?
With now 17 NHL caliber forward contracts on the book, and only 14 spots to fill for the regular season, who stays and who goes? Weeding out the obvious stars and the new signings we are left with a few names. Emmerton, Eaves, Tootoo and Tatar (the only two-way contract on the Red Wings roster currently). Bertuzzi and Samuelsson have been names called to get rid of, due to among other things age, but both have no trade clauses and it would be much harder to move them out to clear up cap space.
The other big issue now is that salary cap, pre-Cleary signing the Red Wings were already $600,000 or so in the red, now that number has jumped up to $2.3 million. Before the Cleary signing the Red Wings could have “buried” a contract in the minors and gotten a maximum of $900,000 in cap relief assuming no one wanted to pick up said player on the waiver wire. With this easy option now essentially gone, a big move or trade or buyout needs to happen to make the Red Wings cap compliant by the end of the month.
Cleary does have some good things left to offer the Red Wings but at 34 and with his knees a known issue, it would seem this is an example of Holland playing favorites. Cleary loves Detroit, no one is doubting that and no one will doubt the heart and passion he will give towards winning a Stanley cup this year for Detroit, but it seems as though this move will do more harm than good.
Can anyone imagine losing Tomas Tatar because Cleary was brought back? It just might happen because of this move. I’m sure 99% of Red Wings fans would prefer not to lose Tatar, especially if he’s compared to Cleary in a “keep only one” scenario, if he were to leave though what is the fallout from this after Ken Holland’s seemingly great track record with talented prospects? There’s only three weeks to the regular season, so we’ll find out soon enough.