Friday, June 6, 2008
I guess it’s fitting that I move on to Brad Stuart now since his team has won the Stanley Cup.
I think I felt just about every emotion while watching Stuart play this year; among them and (for the most part) in order: wonder (didn’t he used to be a Shark?), impatience, nervousness, anger, annoyance, hatred, contentment, confidence, elation, lust, sadness (post-trade deadline), and finally… acceptance. Talk about taking me on an emotional rollercoaster, Brad!!
At the beginning of the season I thought that his coming to LA with Tom Preissing seemed promising enough because they had been in San Jose at the same time (courtesy of Dean Lombardi). Subsequently, they were paired together at the beginning of the season, which I was excited about since the Sharks had done well and was hoping he could bring something big to the table. I definitely was NOT impressed. But I guess I’ll give some kudos to Marc Crawford for at least TRYING out that pairing to see if there was any chemistry left from back in the Teal days. His injuries at the beginning of the season resulted in a less-than-stellar first half of the season, which caused much boiling of my blood. He seemed invisible whenever he was on the ice; couple that with Preissing being invisible as well and you get a recipe for disaster. It just wasn't good for B-Stu in the beginning. He was soft on the puck at times and couldn't keep the puck in the zone on the attack; it just wasn't pretty.
As he got healthy through the year, he actually started to improve in all aspects. He was throwing hits left and right, taking huge bombs from the blue line, and basically earning his paycheck. He played 63 games for the Kings getting 5 goals, 16 assists for 21 points, was a -16, and had 67 PIM. But February 26th was the day my heart was broken; the Kings FINALLY had a D-man that was consistent from game to game and who provided a huge physical presence on the blueline. But when you have a one-year contract and are playing well, other teams become interested in adding to their roster for their own playoff run. Enter the Detroit Red Wings.
After the trade to Detroit he played in 9 regular season games tallying 1 goal, 1 assist for 2 points, was a +6, and had only 2 PIM. He played in 72 regular season games and in 21 playoff games he got 1 goal, 6 assists for 7 points, ended at a +15, and had 14 PIM.
I thought that once he made the move to Detroit, his play was magnified by the fact that, not only was his team leagues better than the Kings, but that his new team really needed his type of presence. I’m not discounting the fact that the Kings needed him too, but when you’re looking at a squad like the Red Wings who just needed that extra push in the size department, they definitely needed B-Stu. As much as I was irritated with Kings management for sending him off, he had the most value out of all the defensemen on the Kings roster. His leaving definitely thinned down the backend even more, but the two picks we got in return (1 2nd round in 2008 and 1 4th round in 2009) will definitely help us to either trade for an NHL player, acquire already-drafted prospects who may be NHL ready, or pick new prospects. As much as I love him now, I can retrospectively say that there really wasn’t any point in the long term picture to keeping B-Stu on the roster. His contract was just for one year and who knows what would have happened at the end of the season; he could have easily left and signed with another team effectively leaving the Kings with a gigantic hole in the second/third defensive pairing.
The small transaction at the trade deadline of Detroit trading picks to get Stuart was exactly what the doctor ordered. He got there, clicked with Niklas Kronwall, and started hammering opposing players to the ice. But I’m not going to hide the fact that he was a defensive liability at times. There were glaring errors that he committed, but, at the same time, he made plays that lead to goals in the playoffs (i.e. His work inside the offensive blueline to keep the puck in the zone in one of the games against Pittsburgh. He made a pass to Jiri Hudler who backhanded the puck past Fleury in an opening that was maybe 2 inches wide.) When you talk about someone joining a team and being a difference-maker, B-Stu definitely fits that mold.
I definitely want to thank Steph over at No Pun Intended for helping me to keep tabs on our boy and watching him get closer and closer to the Cup. At the start of the season, who would have guessed that Stuart would have been hoisting the Cup with Detroit on the last day of the post-season. It was cool to finally be able to have an emotional attachment to the playoffs in a way. This journeyman definitely had an eventful season; although, I would definitely describe it as a whirlwind after he started wearing the Red Wings jersey. The birth of his second child really showed how classy the Red Wings organization was. They let him take a couple days off from the playoffs to fly back to LA to be with his wife. This not only showed the class of the club but the depth of the team as well. He was part of the 2nd defensive pairing with Niklas Kronwall, and the Wings were strong enough to dress another defenseman and be comfortable with the situation.
In conclusion: I am happy that Brad Stuart was a part of the Kings organization for two-thirds of this season. It was an interesting journey from my point-of-view to watch a player change over the season and have my opinions of him change as well.