Babcock is convinced healthy Cleary could be impact player for Wings

If you want to understand why the Wings gave Daniel Cleary another shot, you have to understand the mindset of a professional coach.

Jerome Miron

DETROIT — Daniel Cleary’s new one-year contract with the Red Wings has created a tsunami-like effect among fans.

A constant wave of criticism has painted Cleary as everything that’s wrong with this franchise in transition.

Without question, Cleary’s numbers have fallen off drastically. Over the course of the last two seasons, he’s had just 23 points and was a minus-17 in 100 games — hardly encouraging numbers for a 35-year-old forward with a gimpy knee.

Yet, if you really want to understand what the motivation is for the Wings to give Cleary another shot, you have to understand the mindset of a professional coach.

It’s assumed that Wings coach Mike Babcock is infatuated with Cleary. The perception is that Babcock sees something in the aging, veteran forward that the untrained eye cannot grasp — character.

Heck, the Cleary signing has been panned by just everybody in the hockey world, but what we’re all missing is that this isn’t so much about Cleary; it’s about a coach who would rather have an established veteran on his roster over an untested, inexperienced youngster.

Regardless of the sport, a veteran always has the upper hand in a coach’s mind, especially a veteran whom the coach is comfortable with. It comes down to trust and, on a subconscious level, job security.

"Dan Cleary helped us be very good for a long period of time," Babcock told reporters Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena. "He played really well for us. What we try and do is not confuse the player with the person.

"We love the person, and the player last year couldn’t help us. But he’s trained so hard, and obviously we monitor this pretty closely.

"He’s done everything he can possibly do. We’ve had the testing done (on his knee). We didn’t just fall off a turnip truck. We had all that done before we made any decisions, and we think he can help our program."

Babcock did admit that Cleary’s play will determine whether the Wings made the right decision on bringing him back. But Babcock’s convinced that if Cleary’s knee holds up, he’ll have an impact on this year’s team.

"I used to say every year, ‘Tie goes to the veteran. You’ve got to beat the guy out here in camp,’" Babcock said. "Now, the best player is playing, period. So if you’re 22, it doesn’t make any difference. We’re in that stage of our development."

Before you get all excited about Babcock’s comment, he was referring to the Wings’ corps of promising young defensemen, who’ll be given every opportunity to make the team.

The Wings might be committed to a youth movement — especially on the back end — but just like Linus needed his security blanket, coaches need to feel secure too. It’s in their DNA.

Cleary provides Babcock with that sense of security. Only time will tell if it’s real or false.