Thursday, April 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Where does Dan Cleary fit?

The Flyers have agreed to terms with the gritty 34-year-old free agent winger, according to a report.

Where does Dan Cleary fit?

Dan Cleary. (Tony Ding/AP)
Dan Cleary. (Tony Ding/AP)

Daniel Cleary is going to be a Flyer, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Cleary and the Flyers have agreed to terms on a three-year, $8.25 million deal on the eve of training camp, though the Flyers have not yet released any information. 

Officially, according to the Free Press, the Flyers plan to bring Cleary to camp on a tryout contract before inking his deal at the end of the month because they are already over the salary cap. The contract also reportedly includes a no-trade clause.

Cleary, 34, had been hoping to return to the Red Wings - where he has played since 2005 - and remained a free agent through the summer to try and work out a deal. He is coming off a 5-year, $14 million deal in Detroit, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2008.

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Cleary is a gritty, hard working, versatile skater who can move up and down a lineup. Interestingly, Cleary saw more time on Detroit’s power play (2:25 min/g) last season than he did on the Wings’ penalty kill (1:08 min/g). He can play either left or right wing and always sacrifices his body for the good of the team.

Cleary can also score. He was the Red Wings’ second leading scorer during last year’s playoffs with 10 points in 14 games. Cleary has averaged 37 points per season since 2006-07, though his production has dropped off the last two years (33 points in 2011-12, a pro-rated 26 over 82 games last year).

One of the big red flags is Cleary’s health. He suffered a second-degree separated left shoulder and fractured right index finger in the playoffs against Anaheim last spring. The lockout shortened season was Cleary’s first full season of his career. Since joining the Wings in 2005, Cleary has missed an average of 12 games per season. He is already 34 and his style of play does not help keep him on the ice.

What does Cleary’s signing mean?

For one, Cleary all but eliminates the thought of Simon Gagne returning to the Flyers next season. Gagne, 33, was in almost the same situation as Cleary - holding out and hoping for his long-time club to free up space - but it appears the Flyers have decided to move in a different direction.

It also means the Flyers are going to be in an interesting salary cap predicament to at least start the season. 

At $2.75 million per season, Cleary is now the Flyers’ sixth highest-paid forward - below Scott Hartnell, Vinny Lecavalier, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux.

With Cleary, the Flyers now have 10 forwards, 10 defensemen and two goalies on guaranteed, one-way NHL contracts totaling $66.8 million. Add in locks Brayden Schenn ($810,000) and Sean Couturier ($925,000) at their base salaries (not including their performance bonuses, since they will likely be deferred to 2014-15’s cap) and the number looks more like $65.01 million.

That $65.08 million figure does not include Scott Laughton ($925,000), who is likely to start the season with the team since he has a free 9-game window, or the Flyers’ leftover bonus payment from last year ($182,927) or Oskars Bartulis’ buyout ($100,000).

Add it all up and the Flyers are looking at $68.97 million on salary cap limit of $64.3 million for the upcoming season. That number, though, includes 14 forwards, 10 defensemen and two goalies. The roster limit is 23 players, meaning three defensemen will have to go.

Who will they be? 

Chris Pronger ($4.91 million) and Marc-Andre Bourdon ($612,500) are likely to be added to the long-term injury list. Bourdon, like Pronger, has been suffering from concussion-like symptoms for more than a year.

The only issue is that the Flyers must carry both Pronger and Bourdon on the opening day salary cap before receiving their combined $5.5 million cushion on Day Two. 

Defense is where the Flyers have their biggest logjam. Kimmo Timonen, Mark Streit, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Nick Grossmann are all locks for opening night - should they remain healthy through training camp. Erik Gustafsson no longer has waiver exemption, so he will likely make the Flyers’ opening night roster, even if he isn’t in the lineup since the team will not want to risk losing him on waivers.

Defenseman Andrej Meszaros is the wild card. He has battled shoulder, back and Achilles injuries over the past calendar year. Meszaros, still just 27, is entering the final year of his deal at $4 million. He can be a valuable piece when healthy - voted the Flyers’ top defenseman in 2010-11 - but he has been injured more than he hasn’t.

Meszaros has been skating in Philadelphia for a couple weeks training with teammates. He says he has a “fresh start,” yet one quote recently to CSNPhilly.com about his status caught me off-guard:

“Now I’m good to go and we got physicals,” Meszaros said. “Hopefully, the doctors will clear me. I feel confident. You never know what the doctor says and all kinds of tests we have to do. I feel good.”

Meszaros seemed to leave some doubt that he would be cleared to play. He was still awaiting clearance to return to skating in late July after undergoing surgery during last season on his twice-repaired shoulder. Like Pronger and Bourdon, Meszaros would need to be on the roster for the first day of the season in order to then provide salary cap relief on a long-term injury list if he does not clear.

There is no question adding Cleary makes the Flyers a better team. For now, it’s all about trying to make the money work for opening night. Somehow, they've always seemed to figure it out.

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Frank Seravalli Daily News Sports Columnist
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