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Nomadic Stuart hopes to stick in Hockeytown

by Larry Wigge / NHL.com

San Jose's first round choice in 1998, Brad Stuart has racked up a plus-12 rating in 17 playoffs games this season, which ranks fourth on the Red Wings and first overall for defenseman in the postseason.
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DETROIT -- Brad Stuart is still looking for someplace to call home after way too many stops in the last couple seasons for a 28-year-old defenseman with the kind of skill the Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, native possesses.

In one of those strange and ironic stories, Stuart has spent time in Boston, Calgary, Los Angeles and now Detroit since the start of the 2006-07 season. But there's good reason to believe that the Red Wings would love to make Hockeytown a permanent home for Brad. And the feeling seems to be mutual.

Why wouldn't the Red Wings bring the potential unrestricted free agent back after he scored the opening goal, assisted on another goal and added five hits, two blocked shots and was a plus-3 in helping Detroit to a 3-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins and a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final? It was only Stuart's second goal in 27 games since he was acquired from Los Angeles at the trading deadline on Feb. 28 for a second-round pick in 2008 and a fourth-rounder next year. But the 6-foot-2, 213-pound defender who brings size, skill and strength has become the perfect partner on Detroit's second defense unit with Niklas Kronwall. And he's posted a remarkable plus-minus of plus 18 in those 27 games.

"Sometimes you don't know how things are going to go. You have to treat each game like a professional," Stuart told me after Game 1, in which he had one assist, three hits, two blocked shots and was plus-3 in 21:09 of action. "I haven't felt this way about a place since I was drafted by San Jose and it looked like I was going to be a fixture in the Sharks’ lineup for a lot of years. This is even better because of the unbelievable winning attitude in this locker room and on the ice. It's a good fit. I hope they think so, too."

The nomadic life has really played havoc with Stuart's young family. His wife, Melissa, and young sons Jake and newborn Logan are still in Los Angeles.

"I'm a long ways away from my wife and kids, but the Red Wings have really been great about letting me take time off when the baby was born and they've left me go home another couple of times," he explained. "I can't say enough about how we've been treated here. Real classy.

"I certainly don't like to be moving around so much. I want to put down some roots for my family."

Red Wings GM Ken Holland says he would certainly like to get something done with Stuart, within reason.

"I've always liked Brad. I picked him on the Canada's World Championship team two years ago," Holland said. "And against Calgary in the playoffs last year, Mike Babcock and I thought he was their best defensemen against us. We liked the way he'd hack and whack and play assertively and when we had an opportunity to get him this year, we never hesitated to deal for him.

"Would we like to have him back? Definitely. If the terms are within reason."

Stuart realizes he may have to give in when it comes to salary to stay in Detroit, but the results of the last 27 games for Brad seem to indicate the two sides should be able to get a deal done.

After Stuart was a minus-16 in his first 63 games in Los Angeles this season, the game plan in Detroit to take advantage of the defense's mobility and skills certainly plays right into Brad's wheelhouse.

"Coach Babcock spelled out what he wanted me to do, what my role was from Day 1," Stuart acknowledged. "The game plan is what you would expect from a winning team like this: Keep it simple ... and if you see you can make a play or make a hit go ahead."

"He's a presence for us," Kronwall said. "He always seems to be in the right spot. He's physical and he's always talking out there, which is good for me. His steadiness has helped me be able to play my game better."

For a while last year it looked like Stuart had found his home away from home in Calgary, just two hours from Rocky Mountain House, where Brad grew up in the town of 6,000 people. He was clearly one of the Flames’ biggest fans. He watched and listened to all of the team's games, he collected cards, had the dreams that one day he might be lifting the Stanley Cup in celebration.

With the Stanley Cup on his mind today in Detroit, he remembered he had a dilemma back on May 25, 1989, the day the Flames clinched the Stanley Cup in Game 6 with a 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

"I had a baseball game," a dejected Stuart recalled for me nearly 19 years after the fact. "I couldn't watch the Flames. I had to hear that they won the Cup. It wasn’t until later that night that we had a party to celebrate."

Then 9, Brad didn't get to see his hero, Al MacInnis, accept the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs.

He was so-o-o-o-o depressed.

"I don’t even remember whether we won or lost our game," Stuart said. "I was bummed about missing THE GAME."

In fact, he didn't forget the unhappiness until Christmas Day, when his parents gave him a video that celebrated the Flames' Stanley Cup run entitled "C (a Flaming C) is for champions."

"I played it hundreds of times," Stuart said. Then he winked and added, "I memorized most of it."

That young fan grew up to a be a big, strong, fast-skating defenseman who was selected third overall in the 1998 Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks, behind only Vincent Lecavalier and David Legwand.

Stuart comes by his straightforward approach from his dad, Dwayne, who works for Husky Oil in Rocky Mountain House. Jeannine, his mom, runs a medical supply store.

Not bad for a guy who surprised the hockey world at the scouting combine before his draft, when doctors discovered he was born with only one kidney. Obviously, his body adjusted and he's just fine. Just ask the Red Wings.

Brad Stuart couldn't make it work in Calgary last offseason. But he's now hoping he can help the Red Wings transform his Cup dream and theirs into a Motown tune that could provide him with a real home and new contract in Detroit.



 

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