In what might have been construed as an April Fool's prank but for the date on the calendar, the Detroit Red Wings are reportedly in contract discussions with forward Dan Cleary.
As reported by Ansar Khan at MLive.com, general manager Ken Holland is discussing a new contract with Cleary based on a gentleman’s agreement he made with Cleary last summer.
"When he signed here last year for a one-year deal we had conversations beyond one year because he had contract offers of three years from a couple of teams.” Holland explained.
Well, gentleman’s agreement or not, any talk about Cleary doing anything for the Detroit Red Wings this coming season that requires him to put on skates and carry a stick during a game is wildly disturbing.
Unlike with some of the injuries that plagued Detroit’s roster last season, Cleary’s absence was a blessing.
The 35-year-old veteran didn’t resemble anything close to the versatile, hard-charging forward he once was and quickly proved to be more a liability than an asset.
Cleary’s willingness to spurn longer and more lucrative contracts in order to stay a Red Wing might have been admirable at the time, but that loyalty didn’t translate into anything resembling a valuable return on the ice during the regular season.
Based on his 2013-14 performance, few teams—let alone the Red Wings—have any real reason to engage Dan Cleary in contract talks.
However, Holland’s promise last summer to keep Cleary in the fold beyond this past season is apparently a powerful and irrevocable commitment on which he intends to make good on. If he should actually secure Cleary to another player contract, the backlash among Detroit’s fanbase is likely to be dramatic.
If Holland wants to follow through on his commitment by giving Cleary a front-office job—even if it’s Executive Vice President of Skate Sharpening—so be it. But to sign Cleary to any player contract—even a two-way deal—seems to suggest only a halfhearted commitment to the team succeeding with the talent of its youth.
Even if Holland were to sign Cleary to a two-way, one-year deal with no guarantee of an NHL roster spot, he’d effectively be diminishing the chances of prospects like Teemu Pulkkinen or Anthony Mantha making the team out of training camp or being a first-option call-up during the season.
Indeed, if Cleary is signed and demoted to the AHL at the beginning of the season, who’s to say that there wouldn't be another verbal commitment to make Cleary the first guy called up in the event of an injury?
Adding Cleary to the 2014-15 Detroit Red Wings' roster is effectively subtraction by addition.
Much like Cleary’s signing last season famously delayed the appearance of Gustav Nyquist, Cleary’s presence this season will almost surely have the same effect on another young player’s development.
He was once a valuable member of the Red Wings, and that value is immortalized on the Stanley Cup. However, now is the time to cut ties with Dan Cleary the player and embrace Dan Cleary the Red Wings alumnus.
For as long as Holland is willing to commit to players ensconced in Detroit’s past, his commitment to strengthening the Red Wings’ future is necessarily diminished.