Loyalty In Sports Is Stupid

This is about hockey. Not that other thing.

Yesterday the Red Wings announced a contract with Daniel Cleary, a once-valuable role player and good teammate. They don't need him and shouldn't want him: Detroit has a glut of forwards, and age and injury have taken their toll on Cleary. He scored just eight points in 52 games last year, and spent the rest of the season alternating between healthy scratch and guy with chronic knee issues.

He is a fifth-line forward if there ever was one. So why bring him back? Detroit's front office promised this to him year ago.


When Daniel Cleary left $6 million on the table last fall in Philadelphia to return to Detroit, there was an agreement made that it would be ameliorated by the Red Wings.


After rejecting contract offers from the Wings – his team since 2005 – in June of 2013, Cleary verbally agreed to a three-year, $8.25 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. A day before training camp, Cleary flew to Traverse City and met at the airport with Holland and head coach Mike Babcock.

Babcock pushed hard for Cleary's return, leading to a one-year deal at $1.75 million. Along with that came with a verbal agreement the Wings would take care of Cleary this summer.

Depending on the sort of sports fan you are, maybe you think this is sweet. That Cleary loved being in Detroit so much that he forewent millions to stay. That a promise is a promise, and Detroit did the honorable thing by re-signing Cleary well past his sell-by date.

Or maybe you're the sort of sports fan who wants their team to be good, and knows that wasting money and a roster spot on Dan Cleary will just make it that much harder to win, no matter how nice a guy he is. The sort of fan who doesn't care much for a coach and a GM to be making crucial hockey and salary cap decisions based on unbusinesslike conceptions of loyalty. These sorts of fans.

Well, first, what's Cleary's deal? Surely a token contract won't dent the coffers too badly.

Oh man. I won't say that this particular move is why the Red Wings' incredible couple decades of being hockey gentry is hanging on by a thread. But let's say it's a symptom.

Ken Holland, what do you have to say for yourself?

General manager Ken Holland said the decision, "has more to do with last year. My program has been one of loyalty, and there's good things and bad things that go with that. Way more good, in my opinion."

[Free Press]