DETROIT – If Daniel Cleary is going to return to the Detroit Red Wings there’s a lot that needs to be done with the roster beforehand.
In other words, a few players will have to be moved in order to clear shed salary before any deal with Cleary, or any other free agent the Wings may have interest in, could be made.
“We’re comfortable where we’re at right now,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “But if we do anything else we’d have to move somebody first.
“As you can see in the industry right now it’s pretty quiet,” Holland added. “Everybody is probably going into a bit of a summer mode.”
The Wings’ are about $2 million over this year’s salary cap of $64.3 million. Their cap number will rise once they re-sign restricted forwards Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson sometime before training camp begins.
Another problem will arise when Nyquist and Andersson are inked to new deals and that’s the roster size limit. Those two additions will put the Wings at 25 players on their roster, two over the league limit.
On the first day of free agency, the Wings signed Daniel Alfredsson (one year, $5.5 million) and Stephen Weiss (five years, $4.9 million).
Prior to free agency, they re-signed Drew Miller (three years, $1.35 million) and then reached a deal last week with one of their three restricted free agents, defenseman Brendan Smith (two years, $1.2625 million).
They do have a bit of flexibility with this year’s cap if they choose to apply Alfredsson’s potential $2 million in bonuses to next season since that cap number is expected to rise.
“We’d like to do a move or two, I’m not sure we can,” Holland said. “If we can’t make a move I’m OK with our team, we’ll go to camp. If we can make a move and free up some money then certainly re-signing Dan Cleary is a possibility.”
Cleary is believed to be seeking a three-year contract that will pay him roughly $2.6 million a season.
Detroit had offered Cleary a two-year deal and then added a third year at a reduced rate, but that was taken off the table once free agency started.
Cleary, who had nine goals and six assists in 48 games during the lockout-shortened season last year, has flourished since he joined the Wings for the 2005-06 season.
Cleary, who was a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1997, was the Wings’ second leading scorer in last year’s playoffs with four goals and six assists in 10 games.
He’s spent eight seasons in Detroit and has reached the 20-goal plateau three times.
Teams can go 10-percent over the salary cap during the offseason, but that’s something they don’t want to do.
“Unless we move somebody we aren’t signing anybody,” Holland said.
Detroit also isn’t completely sure if Darren Helm will be ready when training camp arrives.
Helm was limited to playing just one game last season due to a slightly torn disc in his back. He took part in the Wings’ development camp last week to test his health out and it seemed to go well.
“I’m optimistic that I’m heading on the right path,” Helm said. “I wasn’t too sure how it was going to go. It’s a good start to summer training. It’s very encouraging.”
If Helm is unable to start the season the Wings could place him on long-term injured reserve and thus create a roster spot there. It would also allow his $1.75 in salary to not count against the salary cap.
The list of possible players to be trimmed from the roster via trade includes Mikael Samuelsson, Justin Tootoo and Patrick Eaves.
Eaves’ game is comparable to that of Miller.
Cory Emmerton appears safe on the roster if Helm is unable to regain his pre-injury form to center the Wings’ third line. That would more than likely move Andersson up a line and allow Emmerton to center the fourth line, like he did most of last season.
“I think we have a lot of pieces here,” Holland said. “I feel good about our nucleus. I feel good that Pavel Datsyuk re-upped for three more years. We have Pav around for four more years. We believe that we have a tremendous goaltender in Jimmy Howard, so with the addition of Alfie and Stephen, we think that we’re going to be a lot deeper up front going to Traverse City.”
If Detroit can’t trade players off its roster they could still trim them off when the regular buyout period in August begins, but two thirds of those salaries will count toward the salary cap.