Let's go ahead and get two things out of the way. I hate the fact that the Red Wings re-signed Dan Cleary. It was a dumb choice. So don't attempt to accuse me of being some sort of Ken Holland/Dan Cleary apologist. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you can attest to how angry I've been.
Second, let's do that dictionary definition thing. Since "loyalty" is basically the act of being loyal, we'll define that word instead
Loyal. Noun: Faithful to one's sovereign, government or state. Faithful to one's oath, commitments or obligations. Faithful to any leader, party or cause or to any person or thing conceived as deserving fidelity. Characterized by or showing faithfulness to commitments, vows, allegiance obligations, etc.
Ken Holland has pointed to loyalty as a positive characteristic that he wants in his players, and that he wants to reward players for. He believes that rewarding loyalty in players has good and bad results, but more often than not, the results are good.
This is why, he told us, it made sense to re-sign Dan Cleary, and in fact give him a raise. He made a verbal agreement to Cleary, that if he took less money than Philly was offering him and came back to Detroit, he'd be taken care of the following year. That loyalty he showed to us, the thought process goes, is to be repaid. Apparently with serious dollar signs.
The question I raised, and others have raised is, What about loyalty to your fans and your fans loyalty to your organization? We also repay or demonstrate our loyalty with serious dollar signs. Forbes Magazine estimates the Wings to be the 9th most valuable NHL team at around $470 million dollars. And I suspect that if the Ilitch family wanted to sell the team, they'd get well over half a billion dollars for a franchise they paid $8 million dollars in 1982.
The agreement is simple: We buy your tickets, we buy your merchandise, we tune into your games on TV and radio, we visit your website, read articles about your team in papers and online; we, to one degree or another, live and breathe this team, and you, in return, put the best possible team on the ice every night, compete to win every night, and ultimately bring home the Stanley Cup. That is our Loyalty Exchange.
1) Does Dan Cleary help the Red Wings organization meet their part of the agreement with the fans?
No. Hell no! There is no way that this team is substantially better with Dan Cleary on the roster. Not even minimally better. We demand the best team possible. You did not bring us a top defenseman, especially a right handed one. You did not even bring us anything approaching that. And you did not bring us a big name forward. Not that we necessarily wanted one or the team needed one, but you did not bring such a player in. Maybe in part because you believed, or we believed that you believed that the highly touted (touted by you, touted by us, touted by sports media and experts and other teams) talent waiting in Grand Rapids was more than enough.
2) How much should loyalty mean between players and the team?
This is a tough things for us, as fans. Consider the fact that many Red Wings fans believe that Sergei Fedorov's number should be retired, and as best as we can tell, the reason it isn't is because of a presumed lack of loyalty. He didn't sign with us, he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes when he was an RFA and we matched the offer sheet. Then he left, and played in Anaheim, Washington and Columbus.
Fans are screaming their heads off about loyalty brought back Dan Cleary. However, what about when Damien Brunner left? When Sergei Fedorov left? When Brendan Shanahan left? Didn't that hurt and sting a bit? Didn't you wonder, "What about loyalty to the Red Wings? To the fans? To the team? Don't we love Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, and Kris Draper in part, because of their loyalty to the team? And their dedication to the team?
Is loyalty to the team only something that should matter if you want the guy? If it's an important quality, shouldn't it be important regardless of how little of actual hockey value the guy is.
Should loyalty alone have earned Cleary a contract? Shit no. But it doesn't make sense for us, as fans, to thumb our nose at it.
3) Remember, we used to applaud guys who took less money to come here
Sure, you could run off the Philly and get paid, Dan. Or you could stay here, in Detroit, where we'll treat you right, where winning is an expectation, where we compete for the Cup EVERY YEAR, and you just gotta take a pay cut. And when guys did that, we waved our fan nuts in everyone else's face. "HA HA! Everyone wants to play in Detroit"
We've now crashed back down to Earth, because apparently nobody wanted to play in Detroit, except for two guys we didn't really want to play in Detroit anymore. Granted, neither of them less money, per se, they both got raises over last year.
4) Is any of this Dan Cleary's fault?
No. Not really. The guy is a professional athlete (sort of). The kind of hyper-competitive mentality that is necessary to be successful at the highest professional level is not something you just switch on and off unless you're Johan Franzen.
It's hard for these guys to switch it off, which is why it's so hard for them to retire. And it's also part of the reason so many guys have had so many issues after they retire. Dude just wants to keep playing; we may all feel like his body can't anymore, but his heart and his mind want to keep fighting on. And he's showing that loyalty trait that is supposed to mean something. He wants to play in Detroit. And he wants us to be loyal back to him - or at least Ken Holland - in keeping his promise about taking care of him this season.
We shouldn't hate Dan Cleary for any of those things.
So what does all this mean? Not the situation, but my post. Well, honestly, I think it's time to re-evaluate what we want as fans, to some extent. We need to re-evaluate how much loyalty does actually mean to us. We need to consider that as much success as we have had with Ken Holland and Mike Babcock, it is time to let the best coach in hockey and one of the greatest GM's walk. Maybe, like Dan Cleary, loyalty is not enough to justify keeping those two around