Detroit Red Wings: Dan Cleary isn’t Ken Holland’s Fault


Daniel Cleary is back with the Detroit Red Wings. There’s only one person to blame for that.

And it’s not Ken Holland. It’s the guy 5 hours north who bolted for $50 million. Meanwhile, the Red Wings are stuck again in a precarious spot.

Yes he re-signed him, again. Yes, he values loyalty–sometimes new much. But in this particular case, we have to take off our Wings gear and look at this from a business sense. I’m telling you now–this is extremely difficult to do. My head all but exploded when my phone blew up with texts from furious friends.

I get it.

From a business stand point, Ken Holland is owing up to a promise made by Mike Babcock. It’s not allowed according to the CBA signed in 2013. From Article 19 of the Standard Player Contract section of the CBA:

"19. The Club and the Player represent and warrant that there are no undisclosed agreements of any kind, express or implied, oral or written and that there are no promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent, supplements or understandings of any kind between the Player or his Certified Agent and the Club that have not been disclosed to the NHL, with regard to: (i) any consideration of any kind to be paid, furnished or made available during the term of the SPC or thereafter; and/or (ii) and future renegotiation, extension, amendment or termination of this SPC."

My guess is the language that have not been disclosed to the NHL is how the Red Wings skirt the issue. They all but trumpeted the handshake deal through every journalist they could. After all, this is same organization that began back-loading contracts to circumvent the salary cap. It’s one of the major reasons the 2012 strike occurred–to put an end to the practice.  Regardless, the Red Wings are always looking for creative ways to bend the rules. And they did it again with Cleary.

In this case, however, it’s mind numbing that they would do it for a player who’s expiration date was three seasons ago.

It’s Business and Personal

When Vito Corelone was shot by a rival businessman in The Godfather, the standard line from everyone regarding the move was that It’s business, not personal. In the case of the Red Wings deal with Cleary, this deal was made for both business and personal reasons.

From a business standpoint, Holland can’t go back on his “word”, especially since it’s been well published. While this is a head scratcher in terms of the CBA agreement, it’s one that again the Red Wings went around in some legal fashion for it to happen. But that’s the not the point. Holland is an extremely loyal general manager, and if he says something, he will abide by it. When the “handshake” agreement went down with Cleary because of Babcock, Holland was over a barrel.

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Holland is an astute observer of the game and realized that going back on his word would damage the Red Wings. Seems ridiculous, right? A marginal NHL player at best gets pissed off that the Holland didn’t honor his word and offer a deal following a terrible season. Said marginal player complains to anyone that will listen that the Red Wings don’t honor their word. Who the hell cares? Ken Holland does because it’s his worst nightmare.

When the deal was consummated in 2013, the Red Wings were expected to be a better team but were struggling to make the playoffs when just two years prior, it was all but guaranteed in October. It was hard enough getting players since the Cap evened the odds (who can forget the Suter/Parise Sweepstakes–ten years earlier one is a Wing).  But Holland wouldn’t want to roll the dice and piss a guy off who could possibly make the Wings look bad. Not for $1.5 million or $950,000.

Again, it’s not the best business. We know that it kept Nyquist out of the NHL for almost three months and made Tatar a spectator for too long in 2013. But Holland is not going to do anything that could damage the Wings standing in the eyes of players. If it was Dan Cleary or Gordie Howe, he would have done the same thing.

Wrapped within all of this, Holland truly likes Cleary as a human being. Who wouldn’t? When you’re in it day to day, it’s hard to separate the human being from the player. It sounds sentimental, but it’s true. It’s not NHL 16 where you click a button and the guy’s traded or released because his 86 OVR is now a 78 as his age increases. It may be a business, but there’s still a human element to it. Holland’s thinking reveals that.

So he keeps signing him–and with this being the final year–it satisfies the original (illegal) agreement. You can bet it’s the last handshake deal he’ll ever allow.

Final Thoughts

I hate the deal. Hate it. It’s a waste of a roster spot and money. But it’s over. If Cleary doesn’t even break camp (which he won’t), I doubt he goes to Grand Rapids. I think he retires and the whole thing ends with a whimper.  Who knows–maybe there’s a handshake deal to the handshake deal?

Regardless, every Wings fan can only hope that lessons have been learned here. The only person making free agent decisions in the future should be Holland.

Next: Analyzing the Value of Mike Green With Numbers and Sense

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