"We were looking for a guy to eat up minutes, play physical, kill penalties and go up against the other team's first or second line. We were just hoping he would be that good fit and he turned out to be the perfect fit."
-- Detroit GM Ken Holland on Brad Stuart
It was during Detroit's six-game elimination of the Calgary Flames in the 2007 Western Conference quarterfinal round when Holland became a believer -- so much so that he would pull the trigger to acquire the 6-foot-2, 210-pound journeyman at the trade deadline in February '08, sending a second-round pick that year and a fourth-round choice in '09 to the Los Angeles Kings for Stuart's rights.
In Stuart, who played for the Flames during the '07 playoffs before joining the Kings, Holland saw a defenseman with fire and energy, one that could provide added depth at a time when Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Chris Chelios and Brian Rafalski were all sidelined with injuries.
"We were looking for a guy to eat up minutes, play physical, kill penalties and go up against the other team's first or second line," Holland told NHL.com. "We were just hoping he would be that good fit and he turned out to be the perfect fit."
Stuart vividly recalls his arrival in Holland's office following his trade to Detroit.
"As soon as I got to Detroit, they told me they needed a good, hard, physical defenseman who could play top-four minutes," Stuart said. "They weren't going to ask a whole lot from me offensively, but that I just needed to play strong defense and be physical. When I got to Detroit, I also realized our chances of winning the Cup were even greater than I originally thought. When you get to know the personality of the team and the way these guys play, it makes it so much easier."
Holland actually got to know Stuart during the 2006 World Championships in Latvia. At the time, Holland was the general manager of the Canadian Team.
"I knew he had good character from being around him at the World Championships," Holland said. "We knew he played hard and physical and I had our scouts, Glenn Merkosky, Mark Howe and Pat Verbeek, watch him for the 4-6 weeks leading up to the trade deadline."
Holland has been so pleased with Stuart that he re-signed him to a four-year contract over the summer.
"The thing is, he eats up minutes and you need that from your defensemen," Holland said. "He's a top-four player and you just hate to lose those types of people. He's 29 years old and I believe a player's prime years are 26-32. Maybe a player's skills diminish at 32-33, but the mental aspect of the game is so important and Stewie has that."
Stuart also has provided the hard-hitting Kronwall with quite a complement along the blue line. “The Bruise Brothers” have actually worked together since the first day Stuart arrived in Hockeytown.
"I think Stewie's been huge for us ever since he came from Los Angeles and he's been one of the backbones of our team -- proving himself game after game," Kronwall said. "He means a lot to me. It feels really good to have him by my side because it's pretty easy to work with him."
For Stuart, the feelings are mutual.
"I didn't know a lot about (Kronwall's) game before I got here, but it's one of those things where, for whatever reason, we kind of just clicked from the start and understood each other's game," Stuart said. "We're able to read off each other well and that's important as a pair."
Stuart is averaging 24:37 of ice time, behind only Nicklas Lidstrom (25:42) on the Wings' blue line. He scored his third goal of the playoffs in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night, giving him 9 points and a plus-7 rating in 20 postseason games this spring. He's also third on the team with 47 hits and is second with 28 blocked shots. He also led the team with 157 hits -- 48 more than the next highest player -- in 67 regular-season games.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock compares Stuart to Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik, who has a team-leading 88 hits in 20 playoff contests.
"He's been excellent, like Orpik, is for them because he's a physical guy that plays the game hard -- on our team, he's slotted right," Babcock said. "He's way better at playoff time than he is in the regular season and that's not a knock, he just ramps it up. Because he's a big body, he doesn't have the same wear and tear on him and can play big, big minutes."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.