TRAVERSE CITY – Daniel Cleary followed his heart and it brought him back to the Detroit Red Wings.
“I just wanted to be happy,” Cleary said Thursday after passing his physical at Centre Ice Arena.
Cleary spurned Philadelphia’s offer at a professional tryout and signed a one-year deal to return to the Wings for $1.75 million.
“Paul Holmgren was a real gentleman and a class act through the whole situation,” Cleary said of the Flyers general manager. “I think he understood how tough the situation was for me. I pretty much told him that I was having a hard time. I needed any extra day or two and he was in complete support. If I was going to go there, I need to go there 100 percent. My heart was here and I had a chance of heart.”
Cleary, 34, shot down a report that he would sign a three-year deal worth $2.75 million a season to join the Flyers.
“Paul gave me an opportunity to come to Philly and I had a chance to be a Flyer and we never discussed numbers,” Cleary said. “It was a tryout in Philly.”
The Wings were already two players over the roster limit of 23 before signing Cleary and now they’re just over $2 million on the salary cap.
When Cleary rejected the Wings’ two- and three-year offers prior to the opening of free agency they moved on and signed Daniel Alfredsson (one year, $5.5 million) and Stephen Weiss (five years, $24.5 million).
The Wings’ two-year offer to Cleary was just below what he got from Philadelphia. It was the addition of the third year that brought the number down even more, but all three years averaged around $2 million a season.
“People are probably thinking I’m not the smartest guy, or whatever, but I have to deal with what I feel is right for me, and I did it,” Cleary said. “The whole process was tough. It’s hard for people to relate to the situation. I said it a few days ago, 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 who work in PR, trainers, coaches, I mean, the list goes on.
“I’m sorry to everybody for the drama that was created,” Cleary added. “It’s just not my style. Social media at times can be frustrating. But that’s the world we live in and I apologize to all of the writers, the Philly writers, but I’m a Red Wing and I’m proud to be a Red Wing.”
It also appears that Cleary will get his No. 11 back, which Alfredsson was assigned when he began skating informally with teammates.
“Alfie doesn’t care,” Cleary said. “He said if I signed he would have no problem with me having 11, so we’re going to try to figure it out. I’m not worried about it. I’m more concerned with the front of the jersey opposed to the back.”
Alfredsson said he’ll probably wear No. 24.
“I really didn’t have it I guess,” Alfredsson said of No. 11. “I’ve looked at some numbers. There are quite a few that aren’t available anymore. I wore 24 in Sweden when I joined the Elite league there from ‘92-‘95, so that’s probably the number I’ll go with.”
Many of Cleary’s teammates were quite pleased he was back on the team.
“I’ve been texted with him the last few days so I knew something was going on but it’s been up and down the last week,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “It was fun seeing him walk into the building. I thought he was gone but then Monday night it wasn’t done in Philly. It was nice everything got squared away here.
“He’s a big part of our group off the ice,” Zetterberg continued. “It wouldn’t be the same not having him in there. He brings a lot and helps keep it good atmosphere in the locker room. He’s part of the leadership group, does a good job.”
But then there’s the numbers game.
“Obviously we have 17 forwards signed so there will some moves that have to be made, but at the same time he’s a proven player,” Justin Abdelkader said. “He can play up and down the lineup anywhere. He’s experienced, good guy in the locker room to have. It was fun to see him. He’s excited. This is what he calls home for the last number of years. I think it’s only going to be a positive for us.”