DETROIT >> Dan Cleary is looking at his 10th season with the Detroit Red Wings as a chance to do one thing … redeem himself.
Because the 2013-14 season was one that Cleary would soon like to forget, totaling just four goals and four assists. He also finished with a career-worse minus-11 rating in 52 games.
“I’m training hard, working hard to have a bounce back season,” said Cleary, who’ll get $1.5 million in base salary next season and could earn an extra $1 million in bonuses. “I’m very happy to be back.”
Clear will be one of 14 forwards the Wings will carry heading into the season, but he’ll have to beat out the youngsters to earn his playing time.
“Every camp is a competition, except for a few spots that are spoken for,” Cleary said. “I’m going to go in with an open mind. I’ll work hard on and off the ice and see where the chips fall. If I go in strong and healthy, things will work out.”
Cleary caused quite a stir last year as he tried to decide on his future.
He spurned a professional tryout from the Philadelphia Flyers and wound up signing a one-year deal to return to the Wings for $1.75 million on the eve of training camp.
In the process, Cleary shot down a report that he was offered a three-year deal worth $2.75 million a season to join the Flyers.
“Dan Cleary is a leader,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We’re hoping he can bounce back. He’ll be good insurance, but he’ll have to beat people out to be in the lineup.”
Cleary had rejected the Wings’ two- and three-year offers prior to the opening of free agency last year and they moved on and signed Daniel Alfredsson (one year, $5.5 million) and Stephen Weiss (five years, $24.5 million).
“He’s a guy the coaching staff likes and so do his teammates,” Holland said. “He’s a leader in the room, who can play left or right wing and can go on the power play.”
Signing Cleary last season put the Wings three players over the roster limit and just over $2 million over the salary cap which meant Gustav Nyquist began the season in Grand Rapids, which didn’t sit well with Wings fans.
Nyquist was the only forward that, at the time, didn’t have to clear waivers and be exposed for other teams to scoop up before being sent down to the minors.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and you try not to let any of the negativity or positive comments affect you,” Cleary said. “We live in the day of social media, anyone can say anything. You can’t worry about what people think. You’ve just got to go out and do what you do.”
Nyquist wound up with 48 points (28 goals, 20 assists) in just 57 games.
Cleary’s season was cut short due to a knee injury he suffered before the Olympic break after suffering a bad reaction to an injection that caused inflammation.
It’s the same knee that’s been bothering him the last three years.
“It’s just been a lot of wear and tear,” Cleary said. “It was a rough start to last season. Then I had a reaction to the (lubricant) Synvisc, my knee blew up and got swollen and then my season was over.”
Cleary, 35, began training a week after the season and just resumed skating this week, which is four weeks earlier than normal.
“It feels good,” Cleary said. “It’s very promising. My knee’s a lot stronger and feels a lot better. I knew I needed to get my entire leg stronger to support my knee.”
Cleary’s numbers have dropped off each season since he scored a career-high 26 goals and totaled a career-high 46 points during the 2010-11 season.
However, he was the Wings’ second leading scorer (four goals and six assists in 14 games) in the playoffs two seasons ago when they lost in Game 7 in a Western Conference second round meeting with the eventual Stanley Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks.
Cleary feels he can get back to that level.
“It’s going to take hard work and dedication, but that’s my goal,” Cleary said. “I’m confident I can.”
The Wings still have about $8 million under the $69 million salary cap for the upcoming season. They still need to sign restricted free agents Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser. Another chunk of it could be set aside for Alfredsson to return.