Re-signing Cleary on Red Wings’ to-do list

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Holland still dealing with sting of season-ending setback to Blackhawks , but he’s encouraged for the future

Detroit Red Wings’ forward Daniel Cleary, shown in this March 13, 2013 file photo, is one of four Red Wings’ forwards who are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, but Detroit general manager Ken Holland says he hopes to re-sign Cleary and the others before then. — Associated Press file photo

The Detroit Red Wings rallied to extend their post-season streak to 22, the longest in North American professional sports. They got were within a win of making an improbable appearance in the Western Conference finals.

Detroit, though, failed to finish off Chicago after taking a 3-1 series lead, losing three straight, including a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7 against the Blackhawks Wednesday night.

“It stings,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said Thursday. “Everybody in our organization is down because we had a great chance to get to the final four. But give Chicago credit because they got it done and we didn’t.”

Holland said he has mixed emotions about the year. He is disappointed Detroit couldn’t win one more game, perhaps in Game 6 when it had a third-period lead at home, to advance for a second time this post-season. Holland is encouraged, though, by how well the team’s veterans led, and the ways its inexperienced players improved during a rebuilding season.

“We have a lot of pieces in place, enough to beat the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks and to be up 3-1 on the top team in the league,” he said. “There are a lot of good things going on, but we want to get further than Game 7 in the second round.”

The Red Wings hope to get past the second round next year for the first time since 2009 — when they were a win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions — by agreeing to win-win deals with Damien Brunner, Valtteri Filppula, Daniel Cleary and Drew Miller before they hit the market as unrestricted free agents.

Cleary,  the 34 year-old from Riverhead, Harbour Grace who had 20 points (four goals, six assists) in the playoffs, had a no-trade clause for the first three-and-half years of his expiring deal. But even though he could have been dealt this spring, Holland said he felt it was important to keep the core of the team together.

“We had teams inquiring about some of them (pending unrestricted free agents) at the trade deadline, but we made the decision to keep them and see how far they could go,” he said.

“Now, we’d like to re-sign them if their finances fit in with our finances.”

Cleary is finishing up a five-year contract that paid him $3 million last season and carried a cap hit of $2.8 million annually. He has been with Detroit for eight years and only Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall have had longer tenures with the Red Wings.

As soon as July 5, Holland hopes he can sign Datsyuk to a new contract so that next season isn’t the final one on the superstar’s deal.

“We’re going to talk to Pav’s agent in a while because we would like to get an extension done,” Holland said “But we’ll see because we’re in a cap world.”

It won’t cost the franchise as much to re-sign restricted free agents Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl.

“We want them back, without a doubt,” Holland said

A year after swinging and missing in attempts to sign Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, Holland doesn’t plan to even attempt to make a splash this summer in free agency.

“There are no quick fixes and free agency isn’t the answer,” Holland said. “It is just a tool to get finishing touches, but we’ll explore trades and we’ll keep an eye on players that are bought out of their contracts.”

The Wings are counting on the return of three key forwards — Darren Helm, Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi —- after they combined to play just 12 games during the regular season because of injuries. They also lost rookie defenceman Danny DeKeyser, who coach Mike Babcock credited with helping them make the playoffs, because of a broken thumb in the first round.

In all, Detroit’s injured players combined to miss 243 games during the regular season and 34 in the playoffs.

“We were No. 1 in the league in man-games lost due to injury and the depth of our organization allowed us to stay afloat,” Holland said. “If we only add Helm and DeKeyser, we’re a little better, but we want to do more than that if we can to get a lot better.”

Goaltender Jimmy Howard was healthy enough to play 42 of 48 games in the lockout-shortened season. He started all 14 playoff games, and did enough to earn a six-year, $31.8 million contract signed in April to stay with the franchise that drafted him a decade ago.

Howard has high hopes for the future.

“There’s a lot of great things you can take out of this season,” Howard told reporters in Chicago. “A lot of guys stepped up for us. The guys have a lot of good experience here moving forward and we’re moving in the right direction.”

Organizations: Detroit Red Wings, North American

Geographic location: Chicago, Detroit, Riverhead

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