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Stuart blended in well with Wings

by Larry Wigge

"It's no secret I've been trying to find a home -- and this seemed like a perfect fit from Day 1." - Brad Stuart
Brad Stuart highlights
When free agency begins, you see all of the names floating out there like it's Christmas in July. But behind all of the wrapping paper are the toys that add up in terms of the big money you will have to shell out for the high-end free agents.

There's a lot behind that wrapping paper you don't know about -- and the most important part of this NHL free-agent shopping is finding out if the player's skills and personality will fit with the team and if the dollars you spend make sense.

It's clearly all about impact, right?

The chemistry issue stands right at the top for the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. Maybe that's why they chose to sign a free agent they have become pretty familiar with since acquiring him from the Los Angeles Kings in a trade-deadline deal in late February for the bargain price of a second-round draft choice this year and a fourth-rounder in 2009.

You want impact and chemistry? How about the one goal -- a game-winner -- and four assists and a plus-9 in six games that defenseman Brad Stuart provided to help the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup? Or how about this? A mind-boggling plus-21 in 31 games for Detroit after being a minus-16 in his first 63 games with Los Angeles Kings.

To find a partner for Niklas Kronwall on the Detroit defense behind Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski was worth every penny of the four-year, $15 million contract Stuart signed.

"It's no secret I've been trying to find a home -- and this seemed like a perfect fit from Day 1," Stuart said after re-signing with the Red Wings.

It was clearly a feeling of belonging that the 28-year-old defenseman has been looking for since he was traded by San Jose to Boston in the deal for Joe Thornton on November 30, 2005. Too much moving for a quality defenseman, who played for San Jose, Boston, Calgary, Los Angeles and then Detroit since November 2005.

"I certainly don't like to be moving around so much. I want to put down some roots for my family," Brad told me after his game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Cup Final against Pittsburgh. "Sometimes you don't know how things are going to go. You have to treat each game like a professional."

Then he added, "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."

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 was a long ways away from my wife and kids, but the Red Wings were really 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."

The Red Wings clearly did their homework when they traded for Stuart.

"I've always liked Brad. I picked him on the Canada's World Championship team two years ago," Red Wings GM Ken 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."

And in the end, the Red Wings paid a little more than they wanted, but ...

"We paid a little more than we would have liked, but Brad also left money on the table," Holland added. "We got a contract we both can live with. What we're really happy about is that our top four defensemen were really important in helping us win the Cup and they are still together."

For Stuart it was finding a home on the ice, plus for his family.

"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."

Impact. That's what every team looks for in free agency. But that chemistry doesn't always make a perfect fit like this one in Detroit with Brad Stuart, now does it?

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