SAN JOSE -- San Jose Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart has played in 894 NHL games over 13 seasons. He's played for five teams -- he's in his second stint with the Sharks -- and is no stranger to playing games against former clubs and teammates.
Yet Stuart knows that when he takes the ice Thursday night at HP Pavilion for the first time against his former Detroit Red Wings teammates, his emotions will be running stronger than usual. This won't be just another game.
"It will be a little strange," Stuart said after the Sharks' morning skate. "Probably not as bad as if I was in Joe Louis [Arena]. That will be a little stranger. It should be fun too. I've got a lot of good memories of being part of that organization. I've moved on, but it's still going to be a little weird to play against these guys."
Stuart won a Stanley Cup in 2008 with Detroit after being traded by the Los Angeles Kings to the Red Wings late that season. He played four-plus seasons with Detroit before returning to San Jose, his initial NHL team, this season in a move he made for family reasons.
Even when he played for Detroit, Stuart made his offseason home in San Jose, and his wife and three children lived there year-round. After last season, he told the Red Wings he wouldn't re-sign with them because he didn't want to spend another season so far away from his family.
Detroit traded his rights to San Jose for Andrew Murray and a seventh-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, and the Sharks signed him to a new three-year contract in June.
"It's been great," Stuart said. "From a personal standpoint, it's been awesome, getting to be home. Obviously the lockout was part of that. But being home as much as possible and not having to jump through hoops and all that to see my family has been awesome. I think I fit in very well with this team, so that's been good too."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said he hated to see Stuart leave but wasn't surprised.
"I knew last year when we came to San Jose and his boys were on the ice skating," Babcock said. "And then I saw them in Phoenix a little bit before that and they were running around with him. I think when they were little-little it was one thing, but when they became little people, you want to be around then.
"San Jose got a good coup out of the deal and ended up with a real good player. We miss him. You're always going to miss the player, but you miss him as a man more, and he's a great person. We appreciate what he did for us. It was a great trade we made with L.A. so we could win the Cup, and he was a huge part of that."
Stuart has been a fixture on the Sharks blue line.
"He's made us a more competitive back end," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Our penalty kill's improved immensely, and he's played a huge role in that. He's a very physical player. We've seen him do that a number of times. Just the overall intensity of our blue line has gone up, in due large part to his competitiveness."
Stuart was asked to pinpoint his favorite memory -- other than winning a Stanley Cup -- from his time with the Red Wings, but couldn't limit himself to just one.
"There's a lot," he said. "I think just the fact I got to be a part of a lot of unique opportunities. Stanley Cup Finals, Winter Classics, going over to Europe and just being part of the culture and kind of learning a lot from guys like [Nicklas] Lidstrom, [Henrik] Zetterberg, [Chris] Chelios, [Kris] Draper and all those guys about how to win, how to be a winner. So all those things I think were invaluable as far as my career goes."
Even so, Stuart said he made the right decision returning to San Jose.
"As tough as it was to leave those guys and that organization, it was just as easy to make the decision that I had to do something to make it better for my family," Stuart said. "Obviously one outweighed the other. It's been well worth it. Obviously I'll have a lot of memories to look back on and it was a great time in my career, but I've moved on."
McLellan, a former Red Wings assistant who won a Stanley Cup with Stuart in 2008, said Stuart's decision to change teams is "a reflection on the human part" of the sport.
"Players have families, players have other interests away from the game, and in Stuey's case, his family was here," McLellan said. "It's hard to live away from two little ones and a teenage girl and your wife. For him to come home to them, not necessarily to us, but to them, I think was really important for him as a family man. And then him having started his career here in San Jose and be able to come in here now and hopefully finish it here I think is a real good thing for him and for us."