Following up on the Goaltenders, the Wings' two most disappointing forwards, a couple of lumbering swedes, and the superpowered Eurotwins, today we shift our focus to a couple of classic cars. You know, those reclamation projects that turn from a first glance and a "I don't see how this can ever be done" to a shining and beautiful monument to the value of a keen eye, a firm constitution, and the willingness to work hard towards your goals. When they're done, they're certainly never the best cars on the road, but they still turn plenty of heads, as those you pass wonder to themselves how they could get one of those beauties. Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary went from rust to cherry for the Red Wings and perhaps showcase better than anybody the value of having the league's best franchise.
Preseason Expectations: In the preseason prediction posts, I called for 22 goals and 26 assists for Cleary while seeing a drop from his 2:17 worth of PP TOI per game in the previous season. I also projected that we would likely see a disappearance of comments about Cleary being overpaid from those that dogged him the previous year. Bertuzzi was expected to live up to his increased cap hit by showing that the time he spent developing the chemistry to play with the Wings and the the knowledge to play the system was well-spent. I called for 25 goals and around 30 assists for Bert while playing kind of a Homer/Cleary hybrid role that would see him working in front of the net and on the boards often.
Come down into the jump-dungeon with me to see how they stacked up.
#11 / Right Wing / Detroit Red Wings
Dec 18, 1978
Cleary entered the 2010-11 season healthier than he had been in the previous several years. His games limited to only 64 last year with a badly pulled groin, separated shoulder, and lingering trouble from a broken wrist kept him well off his expected points pace. While he only played four more games this season due to a broken ankle sustained off a late Brad Stuart Christmas present, the difference in his numbers tell a much different story. He ultimately fell two shy of the preseason points predictions, but he bested his career-high for goals by six. He and his linemates, Jiri Hudler and Mike Modano struggled to find chemistry early, but that didn't prevent Cleary from challenging the Wings' leader in goals scored, Johan Franzen. Cleary did see a drop in his power play time on ice by more than 40 seconds per game, but still managed to increase his PPG total by three.
What he did well:Cleary's relative health allowed him to get back to the board-battling, net-crashing, hard-working presence we expected. His willingness to shoot was perhaps his best asset of the season. Only Franzen and Zetterberg threw the puck on net more often than Cleary, and the two of them combined were only able to match his total of eight game-winners. His CSSI-Adjusted stats tell that he was a big part of the Wings' offense, while generally being defensively responsible.
What he did not do well: While the adjusted stats tell of defensive responsibility, there's slightly more than meets the eye to that (in something I'll cover in much greater depth later). As a winger, Cleary was one of the players most likely to be cleared of a minus on a goal, since many of the goals the Wings gave up did not directly involve one of the point men that the wingers are charged with covering. What the numbers did not catch was how often Cleary left the zone early to go on cherry-picking expeditions. While those aren't inherently bad (they can stretch defenses and make an aggressive forecheck turn passive), they need to work more often than Cleary made them. While a good cherry-picking run does that, a bad one turns defensive-zone pressure into a 10-second power play opportunity.
Overall Grade: As predicted, I'm not seeing a lot of people talking about a $2.8M cap hit being too much for what Danny Cleary brings to Detroit. He scores clutch goals, he mucks along the boards better than anybody on the team, he's not afraid to shoot, and he's the second-best goalie screener on the team (helping Zdeno Chara prove that size isn't as important as skill when it comes to standing in front and jamming those loose pucks home). His area for improvement is pretty small. For that, I'm going to give him an A-.
#44 / Right Wing / Detroit Red Wings
Feb 02, 1975
When Bertuzzi signed a two-year deal with a cap hit just under $2M, it caught a few fans by surprise who felt that he hadn't earned such a raise just yet. His 44 points in 2009-10 was very good when his hit was $1.5M, but now that his raise took up almost $500k more, his production was expected to increase as well. If we're just looking at numbers, he scored two fewer goals and three more assists to increase his points total by a whopping "one." While he dropped nine penalty minutes off the previous season, his plus/minus remained a tough -7; it appeared on the surface as though nothing had changed except his salary.
What he did well: One of the still-overlooked portions of his game is how well Bertuzzi plays defense. His backchecking was very good all season long and, while what I said about CSSI adjustments for wingers on Cleary's recap remains true, only Patrick Eaves had more positive plus/minus adjustments among forwards who don't consistently play center. Defensive play aside, he became a big fan favorite late in the season when he fought Nashville's Shane O'Brien twice in a game where Detroit had to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win during a scary part of their season. You have to be doing something right to get the Joe Louis crowd chanting your name like they did.
What he did not do well: While his role changed slightly from a shooting winger on Datsyuk's line to more of a passer/mucker for Franzen, Bertuzzi simply dished the puck off too often. He took 88 fewer shots this season than last season and was consistently maddening with his selection. His consistency has also not developed. Scoring six goals in four games from February 11th-18th is fantastic, but not when you follow it up with nothing but 1 assist in the next 11 and don't put the puck in the net for the next 16.
Overall Grade: There's a reason we say things like "in-depth" and "on the surface". While somebody looking only at the numbers would say Bertuzzi did not take the proper steps forward to earn his raise, another person who takes the entire season's narrative into account could very easily say that the intangibles he brought made him well-worth the extra money. Like I said, you don't get the Joe Louis arena chanting your name through the later half of the season being a disappointment. Still, he has plenty of room for improvement and will earn a B+.
Stay tuned this week as Casey has the grades for Abdelkader and Helm coming up later. Tomorrow, we'll also have our next in the Pro/No series.