Well, guess again.
“I really enjoyed what I did last season, being in that role, helping the young kids grow into being future Red Wings,” Cleary said, per the Detroit News. “I’m training to do that (playing). It took me a few days (after being sent down), but after I settled into it, I really enjoyed the experience in Grand Rapids.
“It was a lot of fun, and I still want to play.”
Cleary, 37, signed a one-year, $950,000 deal with the Wings last September but lasted just a month before the club exposed him on the wire. Unclaimed, Cleary went to the AHL for the first time in more than 15 years — but rather than use the demotion as a stepping stone to retirement, he joined Grand Rapids and performed reasonably well, scoring 15 points in 35 games.
At this stage of the game, it sure sounds like Cleary is angling for another shot within the Detroit organization. He told the News “I am, and always will be, a Red Wing at heart,” and that posturing is probably partly due to the fact there aren’t a ton of opportunities elsewhere.
The UFA market has dried up, and there are a number of younger, unsigned veteran skaters with more recent NHL experience under their belts (Cleary’s played in just 17 games over the last two campaigns).
Still, there’s something to be said for experience.
Cleary’s won a Cup and has over 900 games on his resume, which could make him a quality mentor for some of Detroit’s AHL-bound prospects.