TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The first thing Daniel Cleary wanted to do Thursday afternoon was clear the air.
Moments after he signed a one-year contract that keeps the veteran forward in Detroit, Cleary apologized to the media who descended upon him inside of Centre ICE Arena.
“I’m sorry to everybody for the drama that was created. It’s just not my style,” Cleary said. “Social media at times can be frustrating, but that’s the world we live in and I apologize to all of the writers, the Philly writers, but I’m a Red Wing and I’m proud to be a Red Wing.”
The drama started in July when Cleary turned down a three-year offer from the Red Wings. Last week, the unrestricted free agent said that he wouldn’t go to the Wings’ training camp without anything less than a guaranteed contract, at the same time claiming he had three other teams interested in him.
On Tuesday, Cleary, who has played the last eight seasons with the Red Wings, was supposedly on his way to Philadelphia for the start of the Flyers’ training camp this week. Flyers’ general manager Paul Holmgren invited Cleary to camp on a professional tryout. Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly no guarantee, Cleary said.
“Paul gave me an opportunity to come to Philly and I had a chance to be a Flyer and we never discussed numbers with Paul,” Cleary said. “It was a tryout in Philly.”
However, shortly after agreeing to attend Philly’s camp on a PTO, Cleary reconsidered.
“Paul Holmgren was a real gentleman and a class act through the whole situation,” he said. “I think he understood how tough the situation was for me. I pretty much told him that I was having a hard time. I needed an extra day or two and he was in complete support and I just said for me, if I was going to go there, I need to go there 100 percent. I didn’t think it was fair to him or to Mr. Snider and the organization, or the players, or the Philly fans, so I figure that I owed him to give 100 percent of me and I couldn’t give it. My heart was here and I had a chance of heart.”
The one-year deal is worth $1.75 million, which is approximately a 44 percent pay cut for the 34-year-old Cleary, who’s only real priority, was to remain in Detroit.
“Listen, it’s hard for people to relate to the situation,” he said. “I said it a few days ago, there’s nothing like being a Red Wing and I mean that. I love being here, I won a Stanley Cup here, I’ve got friends for life. … But I’m happy.”
The Red Wings are just as glad to have Cleary back. They like him for his versatility as a net-front presence, as a penalty-killer, for his competitiveness and leadership.
“Obviously, it’s a big plus for our team and for our organization,” forward Todd Bertuzzi said. “As much as Z and Pav and Mule and Kronner are the face of the organization, he’s always been a huge part in the locker room. If he was gone it would have been a huge role to fill.”
Now, the Red Wings must contend with having 17 forwards in camp this week and only 14 roster spots available. Currently, the Wings are over the salary cap. They have until Sept. 30 to become cap compliant.
“Obviously, these are hard decisions for these guys,” coach Mike Babcock said. “When Clears met with us yesterday he just said he's worked so hard and his knees in such good shape, he trusts himself, he doesn't care, he's going out here and he's going to earn a contract going ahead. For me I'm thrilled about that. He makes our team better. Obviously it's going to be a tough team to play on up front, we got a lot of depth up front.”
Depth is a nice luxury for the Red Wings, who battled injuries all last season and had to dip into their young talent pool in Grand Rapids.
“We got good depth and it's going to be competitive,” Babcock said. “This part of camp is a walk through in making sure we know how to play and what to do, and then get some tempo. The exhibition schedule should be competitive for us.”
Cleary will skate in practice on Friday. The first inclination for the coach was to put Cleary on the same line as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but those plans changed when Justin Abdelkader picked up three points in the intra-squad scrimmage on Thursday.
“I was going to play him with Pav and Z, but Abby got two today so I don't know what I'm going to do,” Babcock said. “I got all night to figure that out.”
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