TRAVERSE CITY — Daniel Cleary is a Detroit Red Wing.
Take your pick. The 14-year NHL veteran signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Red Wings on the first day of training camp in Traverse City.
After eight years in a Red Wings uniform, it appeared the 34-year-old’s days in Detroit were over. He was on the verge of a three-year deal with Philadelphia when he suddenly backed out and talked again to Red Wings management about a return.
“It’s been a hectic few days for me, for sure,” Cleary said. “I just followed my heart and I wanted to be happy.”
A deal with Philadelphia seemed like a lock just days ago after the free agent hadn’t garnered a tremendous amount of interest, despite a solid playoff performance last season.
“Tuesday, I was ready to go to Philly,” Cleary said. “And then I just couldn’t go. I decided to come out and meet with Babs and Kenny to get closure on the situation. I had to know deep in my heart, ‘Was it going to happen?’ We figured out a way to get something to happen, to get something signed.”
Cleary reportedly had an offer for a tryout contract from the Flyers, with the potential to earn a three-year, $8.25 million contract — $2.75 million a year. Instead, he took $1.75 million to return to Detroit.
“I’ve got a great relationship with Kenny (Holland) and I believe in myself,” Cleary said. “I just think we’ll see how it plays out. I know people are probably thinking I’m not the smartest guy or whatever, but I have to do what is right for me — and I did it.”
Cleary said he passed his physical Thursday and is expected to skate with the team in today’s practice and scrimmage.
“We’re happy to have Dan back,” Holland said. “We tried to re-sign him in the summertime. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a solution. The last few days, Dan had some opportunities elsewhere and I guess was close to a deal. He wanted to have one last conversation with me and Mike Babcock. He jumped on a plane (Wednesday), flew up here and we met him at the airport.”
While he was addressing the congregated media, Drew Miller and Niklas Kronwall walked by. “Hey, look who’s back!” Miller jokingly shouted over the throng of reporters.
However, Cleary’s return means someone will have to go. And likely more than one.
If Darren Helm is placed on injured reserve, that will clear up a little cap room. But not enough to get under the salary cap. That leaves several other players waiting to see if the axe falls.
“We have no choice,” Holland said. “We’re going to be cap compliant on the Monday before the season starts. We have some decisions to make. I think they’re good decisions, because we’ve got some good depth.”
Among those who could be on the way out are Jordin Tootoo, Cory Emmerton, Tomas Tatar or Patrick Eaves. And likely two.
“It’s not a rumor; it’s a reality,” Tatar said.
“At some point and time, we’ll find a way to try to keep (Cleary) in a Red Wing uniform more than a year,” Holland said.
Cleary has played for the Red Wings since the 2005-06 season and has 160 career goals and 377 points in 869 NHL games.
“The whole process was tough,” Cleary said. “Just getting phone calls from everybody. My phone, there’s no battery left.
“There’s nothing like being a Red Wing -- and I mean that. I love being here. I won a Stanley Cup here. I’ve got friends for life — not only the players, but guys in P.R., trainers, coaches, Kenny, Drapes, Malts — the list goes on.”
The courtship by the Flyers hasn’t appeared to strain that relationship, either. Neither Cleary nor Philly general manager Paul Holmgren seemed upset.
“The first thing I want to say is Paul Holmgren was a gentleman and a really class act through the whole thing,” Cleary said. “I think he understood how tough this decision was for me. I pretty much told him I was having a hard time and I needed an extra day or two. He was in complete support. For me, if I was going to go there, I needed to go 100 percent. … I figured I owed it to them to at least give 100 percent of me, and I just couldn’t do it. My heart was here and I had a change of heart.”
“I had a couple of conversations with Dan leading up to, even two days ago, when he agreed to come to the tryout,” Holmgren said. “I knew that he wanted to be in Detroit. He was hanging around all summer. Things worked out so good for him. He’s had eight years there and was hoping to continue his ride with the Red Wings.”