There has been in the last few days, a seeming run on professional tryout contracts being offered to longtime veteran NHLers as teams turn an eye toward signing them but first want to see how they stack up against rookies, or whoever.
Dave Steckel with the Wild. Guillaume Latendresse with the Coyotes. Mason Raymond with the Maple Leafs. Brad Boyes and maybe, by the time you read this, Tim Thomas with the Florida Panthers (though they might have just outright signed him to a standard player contract). Both Hal Gill and Danny Cleary with the Flyers.
And while Cleary’s is a regular-old PTO for right now, and Paul Holmgren swears up and down that that’s all it is, for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment, the rumor kicking around is that he’s been signed to an absolutely awful contract that will pay him way too much money for not one, not two, but three seasons. This is, you’ll recall, 34-year-old Dan Cleary we’re talking about. The same Dan Cleary whose knees seem to have long since done the sensible thing and called it a career, and are now waiting patiently for the rest of his body to follow suit.
A real Dan Cleary quote about the condition of his knees from the 2012 season included the words “loose cartilage” and “bone on bone” and “a lot of fluid” and that’s not a good way for any living human being to have to describe their knees. That was also a year ago, during which time Cleary just played another 62 largely ineffectual games for the Red Wings. Ken Holland wanted him back, because he does continue to have an odd fascination with Detroit’s borderline lifers long after they’ve outlived their usefulness (see also: Osgood, Chris). But he seemingly did not want him back for three years, and certainly not for the rumored $2.75 million he will receive per annum during that time. And certainly-certainly not with an accompanying no-trade clause.
Is there any justifiable reason on earth for any team, let alone the cap space-strapped Flyers, to go around giving a player like Cleary — with 377 career points in 869 games, but only 16 in 48 last year — that kind of money, even with the cap going up?
(And by the way, the only reason this is a PTO and not a contract is that the Flyers are currently more than $2 million over the salary cap and will only have room to sign Cleary once they put Chris Pronger back on the long-term IR, which can’t be done until Sept. 30. Until then, they have to shuffle some guys around the organization to keep things kosher.)
He’ll be 35 in December and still have two and a half seasons of no-trade hockey left. His role is primarily defensive in nature, I understand that, but someone might want to tell his underlying numbers. More than half his zone starts last season were in the offseason zone, and against so-so competition (sixth among Wings forwards, behind “not ready at both ends of the ice yet” Damien Brunner, who by the way remains unsigned by anyone) yet his corsi relative numbers were almost an even 0. He takes twice as many penalties as he draws, and — if you’ll forgive use of the old analogy — there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of tread left on the tire. Which is fine. Again, he’s 34 and he’s been playing a not-particularly-healthy brand of hockey for a long time now.
The reason the Flyers seem to have acquired him, and will allow him to take a roster spot from one of their several promising young players who have been toiling in the AHL or juniors for a few years, is, as one team source told CSN Philadelphia, “He’s a really good teammate.” Which is all well and good if you can also play hockey, and it doesn’t appear that’s the case. More from Tim Panaccio on what the team expects from Cleary (those given to eye-rolling may want to make sure they have a bowl around to make sure they don’t roll right out of the sockets and under the desk):
Cleary projects to put up 18 to 20 goals and 40 points, if you take his last five years in Detroit while throwing out the lockout-shortened season.
That means we’re looking at a season six years ago, also known as when the Red Wings last won the Stanley Cup. How long ago does that feel to you? A million years, right? Six years ago, Sid Crosby was one year removed from being eligible to play at World Juniors. That’s how long ago six years ago was. And for Cleary, that’s six years of going hard to the net. Six years of loose cartilage and bone on bone and fluid. Six years of being 28 and then 29 and 30 and 31 and 32 and 33 (and let’s ignore 34 because it was a lockout-shortened season). Can you reasonably expect a 35-year-old Dan Cleary to get anywhere near 18 goals and 40 points if he plays a full season, which he hasn’t except for last year because it was only 48 games instead of 82?
Even beyond that, it’s worth asking what in the world the Flyers think this signing is going to accomplish for them. Were they somehow short on physical, semi-responsible wingers? Was this the position of greatest need for a team with a defense best described as underwhelming (even if they have NINE blue liners on one-way contracts, which just by the way makes the PTO for Gill seem the definition of redundancy and/or a waste of time)? Is leadership and veteran experience really something the Flyers feel they’re lacking given that a healthy percentage of their damn team was born in the 1970s?
I asked the other day on Twitter if anyone thought anyone would even care about Cleary and be interested in signing him if not for the fact that he comes from the mythical Red Wings Organization, which is for some reason still regarded as the best-run and most wonderful and classiest and generally all-around smartest organization in hockey. If not for the reddish glow of Winningness that emanates from all players who find their way out of that team because someone was dumb enough to offer more than the Red Wings were willing to for him — remember, Holland is loyal to “his guys” to an absurd extent, meaning that this happens only rarely and thus creates even more of an aura of specialness — Cleary would be just another 34-year-old broken-down no-kneed defensive winger on a PTO hoping to catch on somewhere, rather than a 34-year-old broken-down no-kneed defensive winger on a PTO only as a technicality because he’s signed for three more years.
I know this is the Flyers and Paul Holmgren we’re talking about here, so logic likely never once entered into his decision when agreeing to this deal, but this stretches credibility even when grading on a curve.