Daniel Cleary was a first round pick in 1997 by the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks would only see 41 games from Cleary before bailing on him in a worthless trade to the Oilers. The Oilers didn’t benefit much from Cleary either as he played four seasons with the Oilers producing 35 points on season but otherwise wasn’t affective. Cleary would play one more season for a Western Conference bottom feeder where he scored six goals with the Coyotes in 2003-04.
Finally, Cleary found his place the year after the lockout with the Detroit Red Wings. Though he only had three points, he’d found his home.
Last season Cleary scored 20 goals and added 20 assists in 71 games, 11 shy of a full season. Cleary was clearly a difference maker for one of the best teams in the NHL. He was the new guy on the Wings second power play unit and was an excellent penalty killer.
Cleary has continued that effort this season, integrating himself further within the organization. He’s already matched his point total from last season with 20 goals and 20 assists. This time he’s only at 57 games, though, leaving him plenty of room to top last season’s marks. However, the thing that kills the Red Wings is everything else Cleary offers.
Cleary plays excellent defense. He covers his point and back checks stride-for-stride with some of the best players in the league. That excellent defense, along with some additional offensive punch, has landed Cleary among the top 10 in the league for plus-minus, currently at +23.
Cleary’s excellent defense hasn’t just helped him in five-on-five play, it has also helped him earn more time on the ice. He has seen an increase of nearly two full minutes of ice-time per game. That includes more minutes on the penalty kill; Cleary has become one of the most effective penalty killers across the league. His time on the power play has also risen and resulted in three more power play points already, with more to come.
However, Cleary took a puck to the face on Saturday in Toronto and is now out of the lineup. This is the first big injury for the Red Wings this season and it hasn’t resulted in anything good. The Red Wings lost three games in a row.
Things will continue this way for the Red Wings, as life without Cleary will bring a team that is heads-and-shoulders above the rest down within points of their Western Conference foes. Luckily for Red Wings fans Cleary is supposed to be back fairly soon, and the Wings have such a lead that anyone actually catching them is too farfetched. However, Cleary will be a necessity if the team wants to prove themselves in the playoffs.