GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — During his 17-year career with the NHL, Dan Cleary spent a decade on the Red Wings’ ice, helping the team to a 2008 Stanley Cup win. But very few hockey fans now realize he’s still on the Grand Rapids Griffins’ roster.
Cleary joined the Griffins in the fall of 2015 after the Red Wings waived him.
While Cleary still regularly practices with the Griffins, the 38-year-old forward has yet to play a single game this season.
“We’re developing players to help the Red Wings in the future, and so the young guys have to play and they’ll get the nod above a guy like Danny,” explained head coach Todd Nelson. “Also, we have eight or nine veterans and you can only dress six, so the thing is, he’s on the outside looking in. But he understands his role. He’s here practicing with the guys every day, working with the guys.”
“It’s been great fun. We’ve got a great team, great bunch of guys. It’s good to be on the ice, playing with these guys, watching the games, helping out the young players, older players. Anything I see, I’m always trying to give them something,” said Cleary.
While nothing is official, there’s speculation Cleary’s role was originally created as a reward for his loyalty to the Red Wings.
After verbally agreeing to a three-year, $8.25 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2013, Cleary suddenly returned to a salary cap-crunched Red Wings on the opening day of training camp. His contract was for just one year at about one-fifth the pay.
In 2015, the Red Wings reportedly paid Cleary nearly $1 million to play in Grand Rapids. While there is no official word on his salary this year, Griffins players say he’s worth whatever it is.
“I think he’s been a big help to all of us young guys. I mean, he’s always around and giving us hints and keys. He’s always working with us after practice, and I think that’s huge,” said rookie forward Dominic Turgeon.
“It’s awesome. If you have any kind of question, you know you can go to him. He’ll usually have the answer. And if he doesn’t, he’ll guide you to somebody that does,” added rookie forward Kyle Criscuolo.
“He’s a great leader and he has a lot of experience. He has Stanley Cups under his belt and to have him around practicing with the guys, he’s a great mentor for the young kids,” said Nelson, who hasn’t ruled out putting Cleary back in the lineup.
“God, I love playing. Who doesn’t love playing hockey? But certainly I’m enjoying being out on the ice, seeing the progress of each player, seeing our team be so successful. We’ve got a great team and it’s great being a part of it,” said Cleary.
Friday night, the Griffins will host the San Jose Barracudas, who are making their first trip ever to Van Andel Arena.