It’s not often an athlete can consider going under the knife a good thing, but the timing of Daniel Cleary’s off-season knee surgery has worked out just fine for the Detroit Red Wings forward.
Cleary is on the Red Wings’ injured reserve list after undergoing surgery in May to repair two torn ligaments, which means the product of Riverhead, Harbour Grace is being paid his $3 million salary even as his National Hockey League Players Association colleagues are without a paycheque during the NHL lockout.
“You can’t play until the team clears you to play, and how can a team clear you to play when there’s nowhere to play?” he said Monday night.
The Edmonton Oilers’ Taylor Hall, recovering from shoulder surgery, is in the same boat, collecting on the $900,000 the Oilers are paying him this season. Hall signed a seven-year, $42 million extension last month, but the new deal doesn’t kick in until 2013.
As for Cleary, he is entering the final year of his five-year, $14 million contract and it’s somewhat ironic that someone who has been so active within the NHLPA — Henrik Zetterberg is Detroit’s player representative, but Cleary had been closely following the talks involving the PA and the owners, and attending meetings in Zetterberg’s absence — is collecting a salary during the labour dispute.
“It’s a tough spot to be in, really, but what are you going to do?” he asks.
The locked-out NHLers have been forbidden to have any contact with management, coaches or training staff with their respective teams, but because Cleary is on IR, it’s been business as usual for the veteran winger who continues to rehab at Joe Louis Arena.
“Even though I’m skating and training, the team couldn’t clear me,” he said. “So I go to rink and see the trainor. I’m there 8 o’clock (this) morning.”
Not to say Cleary is a company man. Rather, he’s standing shoulder pads to shoulder pads with his teammates, who will reconvene, along with a few NHLers from other teams living in the area, at a rink in Troy, Mich., Monday for daily practices until the lockout is resolved.
Whenever that is, no one knows for certain, not the least of which are the players.
“Oh my God,” Cleary said, “you probably know more than us. Really.”
What Cleary does get — loud and clear — is Gary Bettman’s reign as commissioner of the NHL has to take a hit with this latest dispute, the fourth work stoppage in 20 years.
“And this is Gary’s third lockout during his tenure,” Cleary said. “I just don’t understand. No one understands what he’s got going on.
“Last time (in 2004-05), we lost a full season to get what he wanted. Yet, here we go again. I mean, if I’m an owner, why is Gary Bettman running the show? He had a full year to figure it out and he couldn’t figure it out?
“Get someone in there who can figure it out.”
The crux of the matter with this latest lockout is money. The NHL is reaping annual revenues of just over $3 billion and wants the players’ share of hockey-related revenue at 49 per cent next season, down from 57 per cent in the old deal that resulted from the 2004-05 conflict.
The league also proposes that it drops to 47 per cent by the end of the new six-year deal.
The NHLPA has proposed the salary cap would be set to fixed increases of two per cent, four per cent and six per cent, reverting to a percentage-based system for the final two years.
“Our proposal will limit work stoppages for years to come,” Cleary said. “It’s all about the rich teams helping out the poor teams. Gary claims the league is losing so much money to so many teams that are hurting. Okay, we have a salary cap in place, which you wanted.
“He didn’t realize how much the game would grow. He took a 24 per cent rollback from us, and by doing that he gave us 57 per cent of revenue. That was the tradeoff. Now he wants to take the revenue back? And he wants a rollback?
“He doesn’t wants to call it a rollback. What he’ll do is take 18 per cent through our escrow. That’s still a rollback.”
Cleary is optimistic the players will be back on the ice this season. In fact, it’s not too late for an original Oct. 11 start date, though it’s highly unlikely that will come about.
The U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday (Nov. 22) has been mentioned as a possible start date, and, failing that, sometime around the Christmas holidays.
“And once you shut down the Winter Classic (scheduled Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium, between Detroit and the Toronto Maple Leafs), you’re looking at a mid- to late-January deadline when it’s all over.”