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Red Wings Season Preview: Cleary/Bertuzzi

As our season player previews carry forward towards their end, we shift our focus to a couple of guys known for having busted-up mouths in Dan Cleary, who once took a Mikael Samuelsson slapshot to the grill and Todd Bertuzzi, who likely lost most of his teeth by refusing to suck on jawbreakers until they get soft before biting down.  Dan Cleary is the 6-foot, 205-pound wing-playing Newfoundlander with the versatility to play on any of Detroit's four lines.  He was the 13th overall pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1997 entry draft.  After only 35 games with the Hawks, he was sent to Edmonton, where he played four seasons before being bought out and landing in Phoenix.  The post-lockout NHL left him without a team, but with a training camp invite from the Wings.  Cleary made the team out of camp as a utility player and has since shown the willingness to work and try to live up to the promise of his draft position.  He enters year three of a five-year deal worth $14 million.  Todd Bertuzzi is the 35-year old monster winger who stands 6'3" and 225 pounds.  Another former first-rounder with some baggage, Bertuzzi came out 23rd overall in the 1993 draft class.  He's played for the Islanders, Canucks, Panthers, Red Wings, Ducks, Flames, and Red Wings.  For more information on his past, ask an Avalanche fan, who will be quick to tell you that he's the worst thing to ever step foot on a hockey arena, despite the fan's own team having a history of hiring hurt-first goons.  Wherever Bert goes, he brings controversy and his recent two-year deal that pays him $3.875 million is hardly an exception.

Last Year's Benchmark: I used Bertuzzi and Cleary's numbers from last season as part of my 2nd-line benchmark from the Hudler/Filppula post, and I think I'll use those same numbers here.  Bertuzzi played on the first line most of last season and Cleary was a third-liner.  Split the difference and you get this.  Between the two of them, the 164-game pace benchmark was 39 goals, 57 assists, 111 penalty minutes and a -9 rating in 17:44 in ice time.  Detroit was only the 14th-highest scoring team last year thanks to the glut of injuries they suffered.  This benchmark leaves plenty of room for improvement.  After the jump, we'll look at each of these guys individually to see where they'll stack up.

Dan Cleary

#11 / Right Wing / Detroit Red Wings



Dec 18, 1978


 2009-2010 Stats












Cleary's the kind of guy who always looks worse until you take everything in context.  His early career was marred by a less-than-stellar work ethic (by his own admission) that he has since corrected.  He'll probably agree that last year was a disappointment for him, until you realize he had better than a half-point per game as a third-liner with more defensive responsibility than offensive.  All of this, plus he played last season with a groin injury, knee injury, and separated shoulder pain.  He comes into this season saying that he feels better than ever and will be expected to show that on the scoresheet.

Strengths: Nobody, and I mean nobody on the Red Wings is as good at keeping possession of the puck when pinned against the boards.  Danny Cleary is absolutely dogged and can be the difference between keeping a shift in the zone and getting your defensemen caught in a change on a breakout the other way.  He's also the best person on the team not named Holmstrom at screening goalies and collecting on the garbage in front of the net.  He's a defensively sound player who simply gives quality minutes every time he's on the ice.

Weaknesses: Cleary's style of play has worn on him the last few years and I'm starting to wonder how much longer he can hold up.  If he keeps healthy and puts up the figures we should expect from him, then it's no problem, otherwise his $2.8 million cap hit is problematic.  Also, while defensive responsibility is a strong-point for him, he'll sometimes leave the zone a little early trying to score the breakout pass.

Expectations:  Being on a line with Hudler and Modano should help him, but he's probably going to see a drop from his 2:17 worth of power play time per game from last season.  I personally believe he's a better net-front guy than Bertuzzi for the 2nd-pairing, but I'm not sure Babcock sees it that way.  Even with getting fewer PP opportunities, I'm looking for Cleary to beat his career-high mark of 20 goals in a season, collecting 22 goals and 26 assists for the Wings this year. If Bertuzzi falters at all this year or Holmstrom gets hurt, look for his minutes, responsibilities, and point totals to go up.  I foresee an end to the unfair speculation that Cleary might be overpaid this year.

Todd Bertuzzi

#44 / Right Wing / Detroit Red Wings



Feb 02, 1975


 2009-2010 Stats












Outside of Brad May, who doesn't count, Bertuzzi took the most penalty minutes per game of any Red Wings player.  There were flashes of the old kind of Bertuzzi who could take over a game with his size and skills (we called that time period "December").  There were also flashes of the washed-up shell of his former self guy that many fans were afraid we had signed.  Regardless of what we think going forward, I don't consider it a stretch to say that in his 82 games, Bertuzzi performed up to the $1.5M he earned last season.  After some worry that Bert would pull the same crap as last time where he showed positive improvement with the Wings and then ran off to a team that would pay him more, Bertuzzi signed for a two-year cap hit of $1.9M.  With this extra money will come added expectations for improvement in his game.

Strengths: Bertuzzi is a large man with surprisingly soft hands who can often find room around a goalie's pads and sometimes he can even find the net back there instead of the post.  He is hard to move in front of the net and, most importantly, really did buy into the Red Wings' style of play last year, showing a remarkable dedication to playing good defensive hockey in his own zone.

Weaknesses:  Bertuzzi is among the more feelings-dependent players I've seen.  When his confidence is good, so is he, when it's shaken slightly, his game suffers big-time.  Whether it's fair or not to attribute it to him is an argument for the comments, but the fact remains that whatever reason behind it, Bertuzzi takes a metric assload of penalties.  Finally and most frustratingly, Bertuzzi loves doing this blind spinning back-pass just inside the opponents' blue line (you know, that place where hockey announcers say is among the most dangerous spots on the entire surface for a turnover?)  When it works, it's pretty. The problem is that it never works.

Expectations:  Bert took a big portion of last season re-learning how to play Red Wings hockey and trying to find chemistry wherever he could.  This season, he'll go in as a 2nd-line winger with two of the guys he showed very good chemistry with last year: Filppula and Franzen.  His job will largely be to screen the goalie and fight along the boards using his big body.  To live up to his increased salary, I want at least 25 goals from him and around 30 assists.  Considering what he did with Franzen in game five of the San Jose series, I'd say that these are easily reachable.  Everything beyond those numbers is gravy.

Next, on a very special episode of WiM's season previews, Casey tackles the tough questions about old fast guys and the fans who love them.  Tune in Tuesday for his preview of Modano and Draper.