After the insanity of Dan Cleary Watch 2013 - and yes, this summer has been so devoid of anything important or interesting that we've resorted to waiting on baited breath to find out what Dan Cleary is going to do - it was announced that Cleary had signed a deal worth $1.75 million for one year to stay in Detroit.
I know we're supposed to have faith in Ken Holland and company, but this signing is just wrong. It's just objectively, scientifically wrong on all fronts. And I should preface everything that is to come by saying: this is absolutely not because I don't like Dan Cleary or think he's a bad hockey player. In fact, Dan Cleary has a lot to offer a team - just not the Detroit Red Wings. My take on Dan Cleary is essentially identical to my take on Tomas Holmstrom at the end of last year. Holmstrom (Cleary) made a lot of great contributions to the Red Wings during his time with us, and was essentially to winning the Stanley Cup, without the glitz, glammer and pomp and circumstance of some of the big names. However, Holmstrom (Cleary) is getting up there in age, the way he plays the game does take its toll on the body, and we've seen evidence of that over the past couple of seasons. Furthermore, Holmstrom (Cleary) stands in the way of some very important prospects coming up and getting the NHL exposure they need. So it was time for Holmstrom to step aside, and now it's time for Cleary to do the same.
To his credit, Cleary did manage to play the most games last season out of all Red Wings. His team leading 48 games is impressive, and during that time he managed to net 9 goals and 8 assists for 15 points. And this was while playing alongside Pavel Datsyuk, which arguably mean he should have racked up more. Meanwhile, Gustav Nyquist only scored 3 goals and 3 assists in 22 games played, with Tatar scoring 4 goals and 3 assists in 18 games played. So you might say, "See, Dan Cleary is better". To which I will respond with a rarely uttered phrase
Do the math.
Nyquist played 22 games fewer than Cleary and Tatar played 30 fewer. Goose averaged a goal once every 7-8 games (same for assists) and Tatar averaged a goal once ever 5 games or so. If they had played the number of games Cleary had played, Nyquist's numbers could have been closer to 7 goals, 7 assists for 14 points, and Tatar's could have been closer to 11 goals and 8 assists for 19 points. Meanwhile, in 44 games Damien Brunner put up 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points.
Nyquist, Brunner and Tatar all saw playing time on the 3rd and 4th line. While Brunner did get playing time with Zetterberg, that eventually came to an end and neither Nyquist or Tatar saw meaningful ice time in the top lines with Datsyuk or Zetterberg. Cleary did. Nyquist and Tatar also cost considerably less, are considerably younger, and have considerably more potential to become long term producers for the Red Wings. Dan Cleary does not.
"But Nyquist and Tatar fill a different role than Cleary does!"
And? For starters, if you told either Nyquist or Tatar that making the team and getting top line minutes would require them to be a corner/net front guy, they'd do it. It would be a drastic misuse of their talent and skill sets, but they would do it. And seeing as how Tomas Tatar is all of 5'2 and 110 pounds he may die in the process. But these guys are hungry to play.
Moreover, what does Dan Cleary bring us that Abdelkader, Miller, Eaves and Emmerton can't? They all have the ability to win corner and front net battles, they can all give us some depth scoring, they can all be defensively sound and responsible, and they can all do it faster and, arguably with the exception of Eaves, be more health in the process. Plus, they're younger, still with room to grow, which is the direction this team needs to be headed.
Let's not forget that Ken Holland doesn't buy the whole "The East is a more physical conference" notion, so the idea we need more guys like Cleary doesn't exactly hold water.
"But Cleary is a team guy! A locker room guy!"
Okay, but let's be honest, what player on the Detroit Red Wings isn't going to be a team guy? Do you think Mike Babcock would tolerate someone who is not ready to sacrifice for the team? Let's remember what he said to Stephen Weiss while they were still in the process of courting him. Forget the Babcock Death Stare, I'm sure he would bludgeon a player to death with his bare hands if they brought anything other than a team attitude to his locker room. Because that would be more fun.
Sure, Tomas Tatar's comments may seem selfish and unwise at first, but ask yourself these questions: Is anything he unsaid unfair or unreasonable, and if you were in Tomas Tatar's position, would you honestly feel any differently? And let's be clear here: he is saying he wants to play for this team, however, if this team is unwilling to let him play, then he wants to go some where that he can play.
His message isn't, "Fuck Dan Cleary, fuck Mike Babcock and fuck Ken Holland, I'm out" - although there is a tinge of that sentiment. His message is, "You drafted me to play for you, you trained me to play for you, I've worked hard, paid my dues, and helped bring your minor league team a championship. I am ready to play for you. If you aren't going to let me, then I want to go somewhere that I can compete at the highest professional level."
Again, I ask you to consider if that is an unreasonable request or if you would feel any differently.
All signing Dan Cleary has done is added some mortar to the logjam that was already present at forwards, made the cap situation that much worse, poured salt on a wound of an already aggrivated prospect, and sent a message to the rest of the kids in Grand Rapids that we will signing aging players instead of giving you an opportunity to play. If I'm Tomas Jurco, Martin Frk or Anthony Mantha, I sure as hell have taken notice of this signing. Obviously, I'm not saying that those players are doomed to never wear the Winged Wheel, and they have to spend their time developing and earning a spot. Doesn't mean they aren't scratching their heads a bit.
I sure as hell am scratching mine.