Column: Answers may be coming to the Cleary question

Brendan McCarthy
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Detroit Red Wings right winger Daniel Cleary (11) is congratulated by defenceman Niklas Kronwall (55) after Cleary scored against the Nashville Predators during the first period of an NHL hockey game on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. Kronwall says he wants to see Cleary, an unrestricted free agent,back with the team and believes he could be attending the Wings' training camp later this month, if only on a tryout contract.

It appears Danny Cleary and the Detroit Red Wings want to have a reunion. They just can’t rent a hall. Yet.

But they do appear to be engaged in a little dance.

By far, the most-asked question in these parts over the summer has been “What’s going on with Cleary?” and the answer was nothing much. At least until this week.

Cleary, the 34-year-old from Riverhead, Harbour Grace, remains an unrestricted free agent, while the Red Wings remain beyond  the NHL salary cap and with an overabundance of contracted players. However, Helene St. James, respected hockey beat writer for the Detroit Free Press, says Wings’ general manager Ken Holland has extended an invitation for Cleary to attend the team’s upcoming training camp on a professional tryout.

Cleary will reportedly skate with a number of Red Wings players in an informal workout today in Detroit, and while there was no word late Thursday on whether he would accept Holland’s offer, the feeling among many Detroit players is that they will see him at the Traverse City, Mich., camp later this month.

“I’m hoping he’s coming back,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall told St. James. “I think it will happen.”

“He’s one of a kind,” said team captain Henrik Zetterberg. “It’s going to be fun to have him back.”

All of this would seem to support the thought that Cleary believes that a spot will eventually open up for him on the Red Wings’ roster, despite Holland’s issues with numbers, both player- and cap-wise. That there could even be some kind of understanding between Cleary and team that there will be an effort to free up space to bring him back.

Whatever the reality, it is pretty clear that Cleary, who has been with the Red Wings for eight years, would prefer to remain in Detroit, which has become his year-round home. There have been plenty of reports/rumours of offers from other teams, and certainly a player with his background  — Stanley Cup-winner, proven playoff performer, dependable two-way forward and someone who will play hurt —  would have some appeal.

But it keeps coming back to Detroit, where Cleary is a favourite of head coach Mike Babcock.

A decade ago, none of this probably would have taken place. The Red Wings and the player would have worked out a deal, owner Mike Ilitch would have signed the cheque and the issue of extra bodies would have settled itself in training camp. But these days, when the salary-cap balance sheet seems to have almost as much to do with hockey decisions as scouting reports, that can’t happen.

How did it get to this?

Cleary and the Wings were talking before the free-agent period began on July 5. Most at issue was length of contract. Cleary reportedly wanted three years, while the Wings initially offered two. The team eventually relented and added a year to the offer, but sought a discounted salary.

While that was happening, Daniel Alfredsson fell into the Red Wings’ lap as a free-agent, while free-agent forward Stephen Weiss, formerly of the Florida Panthers, was also brought in. By the time they had done some other business, the Wings found themselves more than $600,000 over the salary cap and with 16 forwards, two more than they will likely start the season with, and Cleary found himself spending the summer in the cold.

Holland has said he has tried to make trades to address the situation — perhaps to accommodate bringing back Cleary — but other teams weren’t interested in what he was offering.

Releasing players wouldn’t work, because unless they were claimed on waivers, their salary would still count against the Red Wings’ cap.

Players can’t be stashed in the AHL as they were a couple of years ago. Nowadays, only $900,000 of the demoted player’s salary is knocked off the cap.

The Wings do have a compliance buyout remaining — they’ve already used one on Carlo Colaiacovo — but that wouldn’t seem to be enough to get Cleary back and stay below the cap, if it were to be used on, say Todd Bertuzzi ($2 million annual salary) or Jordin Tootoo ($1.9 million).

Placing a player or players on long-term injured reserve removes related salary from cap consideration — Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuellson both missed almost all of last seasons with injuries, for example — but that can be a complicated buisness.

Whatever move, or combination of moves, is made — if any — it’s pretty clear two salaries will have to be taken off the books to bring Cleary back to the Wings.

Thursday’s news seems to indicate there is some expectation of at least an attempt in that direction. And if it turns out Cleary does wear the winged wheel on his chest again this winter, he could take some satisfaction in the club’s efforts towards making that happen and his patience in waiting for it happen, perhaps even if the number on his back is not the 11 he has worn for so long.

Alfredsson, who had the same number all his years in Ottawa, has been sporting it in recent informal skates in Detroit. Also, the roster on the Red Wings' official website (redwings.nhl.com) shows Alfredsson with No. 11.

 

Notes

There are 13 players on the Winnipeg Jets’ roster for this week’s Penticton, B.C., prospects tournament who could conceivable play for the St. John’s IceCaps this season. They are forwards Austen Brassard, Yasin Cisse, J.C. Lipon, Adam Lowry, Mark Scheifele, Lukas Sutter, Ivan Telgin and Mitchell Theoret; defencemen Zach Bell, Brenden Kichton, Cody Sol and Jacob Trouba and goaltender Jussi Olkinuora. All are under contract except for Sutter,  a 2012 draft pick, and Theoret and Bell, who are attending as tryouts ... Hear that two AHL vets, defencemen Kris Fredheim (Houston Aeros last season) and forward Maxime Legault (Rochester Americans in 2012-13), could be at the IceCaps’ training camp later this month ... Newfoundlanders Andrew Ryan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Halifax Mooseheads (Philadelphia Flyers), James Melindy (Phoenix Coyotes) and Kurt Etchegary of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts (Detroit Red Wings) are attending NHL prospects camps this week. Melindy, a Phoenix draft pick, has an entry-level deal with the Coyotes and will likely play for the AHL’s Portland Pirates this season. Ryan and Etchegary, both undrafted forwards, will return to their junior clubs ... IceCaps’ 10-game ticket packages go on sale Saturday. Sales of single-game tickets by the team are expected about a week later... Congratulations to my buddy and long-time Telegram worker John Browne on his going into the provincial soccer Hall of Fame. John loves soccer, so much that if I won the lottery, I’d send him on a tour of English Premier League games. Same goes for another friend going into the provincial soccer hall, IceCaps’ chief operating officer and governor Glenn Stanford, although I can’t understand how Stanford, who many might say was even better on the basketball court than he was on the pitch for Holy Cross, isn’t in Newfoundland’s hoops Hall of Fame ...

 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

Updated to include Ivan Telegin's name to list of prospective IceCaps at Penticton tourney

Organizations: Detroit Red Wings, NHL, Detroit Free Press Florida Panthers IceCaps Phoenix Coyotes Winnipeg Jets Houston Aeros Philadelphia Flyers English Premier League

Geographic location: Detroit, Holland, Riverhead Traverse City Ottawa Penticton Rochester Quebec Phoenix Newfoundland

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